The Speedy Ortiz interview experience, at least for this interviewer, is very much like their music: challenging. Angular and jarring moments frame and punctuate the more melodic chit-chat. Their approach, from the start is one of neutral restraint. Don’t get me wrong – they’re not impolite, or particularly guarded, but they’re also quite content to let throwaway questions be, well, thrown away. But, like their music, if you’re up to the challenge you’ll be rewarded with something of real substance. Speedy Ortiz are musicians who take their craft seriously, and that’s why it turns out to be a special pleasure to meet up with Sadie Dupuis‘ band, huddled in a smaller-than-small dressing room on a cold and wet saturday evening.
The band are touring Europe, promoting their excellent second album Foil Deer, an album that DIY magazine described well as “A snarling, twisted, mischievous creation […] a leaping, high-spirited joy of a record”.
“With these songs we wanted to take a lot more time getting the right sounds, the right overdubs, and we didn’t want it to sound like we do live” Sadie explains, talking about how Foil Deer differs from the first album (Major Arcana). “Personally I like records that have a lot of small details, and are a different experience from what you’d see from a band live. So, we went in not having played the songs too much. The first record we were limited in terms of how much money we had, and how much time we could afford, so we did the whole thing in four days; we had fourteen songs so it was three or four songs a day. For that reason it was a very live album, like us playing in a super-well-miked room with a couple of overdubs. Those were songs we’d been playing on tour, hundreds of times in some cases, so we knew how they sounded live and it didn’t really matter to us that the recording was a reflection of the live sound, because that’s all we needed.”
I like music that’s surprising. If a melody is too easy or too uncontested, it becomes a super complacent sounding song, and I don’t think we like to take the easiest route in terms of what we’re at so…
Extra studio time is an obvious advantage to any artist, but does it bring with it certain risks? Plenty of bands, from Fleetwood Mac through to My Bloody Valentine, have dissapeared into an artistic fog when offered extra time, suffering from too many options and possibilities. “In songwriting I write very quickly, and I when I make a decision about how something should be, that’s how it should be,” Dupuis responds shaking her head, while the rest of the band look at me as if I were a lunatic. “We have a similar approach to recording as a band. Even though we took three weeks , that’s how long it took to get all the overdubs, which we had already plotted out for the most part, so I don’t think we’re the sort of people who would deliberate for years in the studio, unless everything gets stale.”
Labeling music is always problematic, but our conversation takes an unusually inarticulate turn when I ask the band to describe their music to the uninitiated listener. At first there’s complete silence, before Dupuis, slightly irritated, asks her bandmates if anyone else wants to answer (she has been doing the majority of talking up to this point). “Snack rock,” bassist Darl Ferm offers half-heartedly, while guitarist Devin McKnight, with a good-natured smile explains “I usually just say ‘rock stuff’, but i’m not very good at getting people interested in labels. Rock stuff, that’s what I’d say.” Sadie chimes in with “Guitars – that’s what I’d say”, while Darl adds “Loud stuff – rock”.
“We’re very vague – that’s probably not doing us any favours. Vague rock,” she shrugs. It’s right and proper that musicians would want their music to be listened to on its own terms, but Speedy Ortiz are hard to classify even by journalists who spend unhealthy amounts of time labelling and classifying tunes. Maybe, I suggest, the thread running through all their music is a certain tension and balance between melody and dissonance? “We’re all kind of drawn to music like that” – Sadie agrees – “so it makes sense that it would show up in our music. I like music that’s surprising. If a melody is too easy or too uncontested, it becomes a super complacent sounding song, and I don’t think we like to take the easiest route in terms of what we’re at so…”
Vague questions may provoke vague answers, but when we shift the discussion on to texts and more particularly when we discuss the relationship between poetry and song lyrics, the answers are more concrete, probably in part because this is a subject the band are consistently asked about, given that Dupuis holds an M.F.A in poetry (I ask if she gets tired of being described as a poet, and she answers, laughing “no, I don’t get fed up about it, because I am a poet”). What’s the difference between poetry and a song lyric? “What’s the link between football and tennis. You can be an athlete and develop muscles for both of those sports, and maybe being good at one might help you at the other, but…They’re not the same art form.”