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Speedy Ortiz: tricks and treats

At the start of their latest UK tour, Speedy Ortiz are feeling more confident than ever before.

Speedy Ortiz: tricks and treats
Speedy Ortiz
At the start of their latest UK tour, Speedy Ortiz are feeling more confident than ever before.
Words: Ali Shutler.

I’ve been complaining that it’s the first time ever I’ve not been home for Halloween,” smiles frontwoman Sadie Dupuis. “I’m a big fan of Halloween but from what I understand, no one does it like America.” Despite the lack of trick or treating potential, Sadie is looking forward to Speedy Ortiz’s upcoming European tour. It’s been a year since they were last over and, with a fantastic new record to their name, it promises to be a different experience.

“The first record was angry, very rooted in the past and is highly specific,” Sadie explains. “On this one, I wanted to do something that could be applicable to people other than myself. Even though I’m still somewhat of a pessimistic writer, ‘Foil Deer’ is forward looking. It looks at addressing problems and healing from them instead of dwelling on them. It’s not just a music evolution, it’s about trying to get better and be better instead of firing shots at the demons of my past.”

Named after a sculpture in Amsterdam and recorded over three weeks instead of the four days that ‘Major Arcana’ took, ‘Foil Deer’ set out to be “more expansive and nuanced.” Months after its release, the record is still revealing secrets. “We never had expectations for it,” says Sadie. “Whenever anyone likes it, we’re like, ‘Yes! Us too.’ It’s my favourite thing I’ve ever worked on, ever.”

“We’d toured our first album extensively before we recorded it but with these news songs, we barely played them live before we went in the studio. We didn’t have a set way of how they would sound live which resulted in more interesting recordings, which was the point. To figure out the best way to way to present them live is always an evolution,” says Sadie before recounting the glee she gets from trying to recreate the keyboard parts on ‘My Dead Girl’ live. “Rearranging songs and figuring out how to trick my preexisting ear into sounding like vintage synths is funny. I’m so excited every time we play it. It’s always been important to me to play complicated guitar parts while I’m singing or I’d get totally bored. Everything we write is slightly harder than I know how to play, just so I can get better by writing that song.”

It’s not just their album that tenses with musical growth, as Sadie ventures. “I think we’ve all become more confident as musicians and people. Before I did this full time, I was a teacher. I taught at a university so I’ve worked with kids before. In that job there was a level of mentorship that came with it. I always assumed that our audience was our age but we’ve started to see younger people at shows. They want to talk about how to start a band or how to get good at guitar when the very male-dominated scenes they operate in, intimidate them. I‘m always having fun on stage but looking more confident or that I’m having fun has become more of a focus for me. I have these people I’ve met who are now seeing women visible in rock. Playing proficiently is important to me because it doesn’t exist in my town. That’s a big aspect that’s changed; now I’ll throw in an extra riff or jump around a bit more.”

From its inception ‘Foil Deer’ deals with the role of performing. “I used to have to drink a lot play and I was nervous,” continues Sadie. “I was pretty shy and I still am. Steeling yourself to have this public face and persona, not only for yourself but for the people who might take meaning from you, can be useful or important.” ‘Foil Deer’ came from this idea. “I used to have to get drunk to play shows and I didn’t want to drink anymore, so I got real into glitter and real into getting dressed up to play and that bolstered my confidence. I could do whatever I needed to do without getting messed up to do it. You go on stage and if you have a message you want to deliver, sometimes you have to sugarcoat it a little bit.”

That message may be a personal one but the songs of ‘Foil Deer’ also draw from the narratives of the everyday. “Usually there’s a reason for me to write a song in the first place,” she explains. “For me, there’s a specific meaning to every song but I prefer that more open interpretation especially with this record. A lot of the stories I was writing about, I was frustrated about hearing other friends with identical stories about being devalued in their professions or their personal relationships because of their gender identity or their sexual identity. It’s funny, I don’t think about them when I’m playing them though. It’s the way I set things up for myself. One of the reasons I used to get nervous playing is because there’s a lot I need to remember to do. Between the guitar and the singing I’m mostly thinking, ‘How can I not fuck this one up?’”

It’s never a case of steely eyes and by-the-books recreation for Speedy Ortiz though. “I’m always making stuff up on stage,” laughs Sadie. “There are certain songs where I’ll sing a harmony for a verse because I fucking can. It keeps things fun. In the same way, we change up setlists up every night. I can’t understand bands who go on tour and play the exact same set every night. It must be mind numbing and I think it would feel the same if we did the songs the same every night. The songs are generally evolving the more we play them in terms of music and the performance.”

“While I really admire performers who have elaborate live shows, that’s never been something I’ve sought out or got excited by. All the shows I like, ten people go to,” she admits. “The more we’ve been playing these bigger venues, it’s hard for me to know what I should be delivering because the way I like listening to music most is at home. I’m just trying to play the songs in a way that makes me feel good about them and is interesting to someone who likes the records. More than that though, I want people to feel safe and have a good time. The best thing at a show is a space that’s welcoming.

“Usually I’ll be selling our merch because we want to meet the people coming to our shows and find out what they’re about. I like hearing about people. There are friends I’ve made just from people who came up after shows,” says Sadie. “They tell us, ‘Hey, you guys came through here a year ago and there weren’t any bands with women in our scene, so now we’ve started a three-piece that’s entirely compromised of women. Maybe we can play with you in a year when we’re ready?’ I tell them to send me their demo immediately. That’s exciting, that’s the most gratifying part of this.”

Taken from the October issue of Upset Speedy Ortiz’s album ‘Foil Deer’ is out now..

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