If there was an award given out for hardest working band, Speedy Ortiz would certainly be a contender.
Since 2012, the Massachusetts-based group has released two EPs and two full-length albums, while maintaining a relentless tour schedule.
Led by singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis, also a poet and visual artist, Speedy Ortiz’s sound is steeped in ’90s alternative rock influences and framed by Dupuis’ dense and sardonic lyrics.
Debut album Major Arcana (2013) received glowing reviews and came across as the love child of Veruca Salt and Pavement. The band’s latest record, Foil Deer, released on April 21, builds on that promise with improved production and even adds some electronic nuances.
Intense touring has fostered a relentless buzz for Speedy Ortiz, which was evident in the group’s high profile at the South by Southwest music conference in March.
As the group prepared to launch another U.S. tour, I chatted with Dupuis about Foil Deer and other topics.
Sadie, tell me about your recent experience at South By Southwest. Whenever I saw reports from the conference, it seemed a lot of people were mentioning your band as a highlight and an artist to watch.
Well, I think that’s the nature of playing eight times in a week, people are bound to see plenty of you (laughs). So I think it might just be a numbers game. It seems like other bands had a more toned-down time there, but we ended up playing way too many shows.
Maybe you should receive some type of prize for playing the most gigs there.
I think the prize is that we did shows that paid us, so we get to pay our rent another month (laughs).
The attention must feel good though, with the new record coming out.
Yeah, it was nice.
Where did the title Foil Deer come from?
It came from a sculpture in the modern art museum in Amsterdam. It’s like this wooden deer that’s painted gold. And I had written the phrase “foil deer” in my notebook where I jot down stuff for songs and poems and circled it. When I came back later while writing the record, it seemed like an appropriate phrase for the performance elements that go along with being in a band—about being a naturally anxious, shy person but having to put on this bright sheen in order to be in front of people and tell them what your songs are about, when they were originally very personal to you.
I think the new album is nice progression in terms of your sound. The songs have a little more depth to them and the production is enhanced. Was your songwriting approach any different this time?
I think that lyrically, the songs are coming from a different place, but in terms of the music itself I think it’s pretty consistent with the last few things we’ve released. I think the biggest difference is the production. There was a lot more attention paid to detail on this record, as opposed to Major Arcana which was basically a live recording. I think we’re more attracted to records that have production elements that can make the album sound distinct from the live performance of the song. That didn’t really exist on our first records.
I really like the vibe of “Puffer.” Stylistically, it stands out from the other tracks on Foil Deer, it’s more of a groove-oriented tune with a prominent bassline.
I was listening to a lot of Kelis around the time I wrote that song. And I think I was swimming when I wrote it. I was humming in my head along with the rhythm of my swim strokes. So it’s very beat-oriented.
Are there any songs from the Foil Deer sessions that didn’t make the record, that might still be released?
Yeah. We recorded a little extra during the session, so we’re figuring out what to do with it. I think there might be an EP for “Puffer,” but I can’t say yet definitively. But we should have some cool stuff in the works with some of the bonus tracks as well as some of the songs already on the record.
Sadie, when Speedy Ortiz first began you were teaching music at a summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains. What was that experience like?
It’s called Buck’s Rock—it’s like an arts colony for teens that’s been there since the 1940s. There’s a recording studio and glass blowing and video editing and all kinds of things. I was the director of the music program, so I taught a bunch of classes and oversaw that department.
Do you enjoy teaching? Is that something that’s in your blood?
Yeah, I was at the camp for years and I was teaching writing at UMass Amherst for three years, up until about a year ago when I quit to do this full time. I’m sure I’ll return to teaching, whether it’s at some girls rock camp or back at the college level.
Do you still write a lot of poetry?
Not as much lately, because I’ve been so busy with all the band stuff.
Does your poetry ever influence your songwriting, or vice versa?
Not really, other than sometimes I’ll have a poem that I think sucks, and I’ll scrap it and steal one line of it for use in a song. I also write non-fiction and work as a visual artist, but I think if you have these different artistic disciplines, they’re not necessarily informing one another so much as informing you as a person overall, which obviously has a direct impact on any kind of art you create.
You’re gearing up to go out on the road again. You’ve always been such a heavy touring band, but I know you actually had a little downtime after your last tour leg.
Basically, we were all sitting around reading a lot of comics and watching other bands play, doing stuff we’re not able to do while we’re on the road. But I think we’re all antsy to have a real schedule again.
Speedy Ortiz will perform at Bowery Ballroom in New York City on April 25, and Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia on April 26. Foil Deer is available now on Carpark Records. For more information, go to speedyortiz.bandcamp.com.