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The Weekly interview: Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis and Mike Falcone

On ‘snack rock,’ the lowest common denominator of pop and the band’s master poker player

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Drummer Mike Falcone (second from left), vocalist/guitarist Sadie Dupuis (second from right) and the rest of Speedy Ortiz open for Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks.
Photo: Shawn Brackbill

You’ve been compared to a lot of ’90s bands—but the one that makes most sense to me is the comparison to Helium, especially lead singer, Mary Timony. Who else has have influenced your singing and guitar style? Vocalist/guitarist Sadie Dupuis: Mary Timony is an accurate one. There’s certain women of the ’90s that get brought up that don’t actually speak to me in terms of songwriting, but she was a huge influence on my guitar playing and songwriting, so it was very cool to get to hang out with her a bunch last week [with Ex Hex]. Fugazi is a big influence in terms of the kind of guitar writing that I like to do. Elliott Smith is another one, in terms of chord progressions and melodies.

You’re about to tour with Stephen Malkmus. What excites you most about that? Drummer Mike Falcone: We’re psyched as hell we get to see The Jicks play 12 or 13 times, which I don’t think any of us thought would happen in a million years. I heard through a few friends who saw them in Boston that they have been playing a few Pavement songs here and there, so that’ll be fun.

I read you have plans to go in a new direction, sonically, for the next record. MF: We’re not going to make any decisions on that until the songwriting’s done, and we haven’t really gotten into that just yet. At the moment we have minimal plans on what we’re planning on recording. I don’t think there’s a conscious decision to sound that way or not sound that way. The only other plans we have are a couple one-off singles we’ll release at the end of the year.

Sadie, your Josie & The Pussycats cover, “Pretend to Be Nice,” just came out this morning as a part of a Record Store Day compilation called Faux Real. How did you get involved? SD: They asked if Speedy Ortiz wanted to do it. I think I had tweeted a bunch of stuff about Josie & The Pussycats, because I really am a fan of Archie comics, so I think they saw me post about that and were like, “Hey, does Speedy Ortiz want to do a Josie & The Pussycats cover for this compilation of fake bands?” And I think I asked everybody else and they were like “No f*cking way.” So I was just like, “Fine, I’m gonna do it on my own.” So I did that. It must’ve been around Christmas, in my mom’s basement. I just used a bunch of instruments I had laying around in her house from high school or whatever. I had a partial drum kit down there, which was covered in this weird plastic. I just did a lo-fi demo for this project. I was happy to be involved. I didn’t even realize it was coming out today.

I’ve seen where you describe Speedy Ortiz as “snack rock.” Is that a real thing? MF: Snack rock, I suppose, just refers to snackage, and, you know, enjoying the flavors and the snackage of life.

The snackage of life? MF: Yeah, we use this band as an excuse to indulge in junk food and snacks as frequently as possible. I noticed it especially the first time we toured. There’s an episode of Home Movies where Brendon refers to Jason and Melissa as his fat enablers. Brendon and Jason will hide somewhere, like underneath a tree surrounded by junk food and just make themselves fat for like three hours. So that’s kind of how I felt not long after we started on our first tour (laughs).

It seems like Speedy Ortiz prides itself on its DIY ethos. What else, aesthetically, is important to you as a band? MF: Yeah, we do enjoy performing and presenting ourselves more on our terms, as a DIY-based project I guess, mostly because we like the connection you can have. When you go and see a band playing in a basement or a DIY space it just feels different and stronger than, you know, seeing like Bret Michaels playing up on a stage at Madison Square Garden or whatever. It’s obviously a different feel.

Is there any genre or trend, musically or otherwise that you guys can’t stand? MF: Anything that’s just bland and mediocre. Even when anything is especially bad or comically bad, there’s still something to get out of it. But the stuff that’s just mediocre, the most bland these days, like Imagine Dragons and Mumford and Sons type sh*t. I don’t really personally get a whole lot out of that. It’s cool if people are into it, but it seems like the lowest common denominator of pop music at the moment.

Sadie, you’ve been a music journalist, taught college writing classes and songwriting classes, you’re in a band and you went to M.I.T. briefly. Is there anything left on your to-do list? SD: When I was applying to MFA programs I was mostly working as a journalist and I kind of had a thought at the last minute: I should be getting a masters in media studies. So assuming that we’re not going to be full-time touring forever, that would probably be the next thing I’m most interested in, shifting academia focus to something in new media. I don’t know if I would return to teaching traditional writing at the college level—it wasn’t totally something I intended to do in the first place. I just kind of applied on a whim and wound up getting a fellowship to teach; it seemed like a way more stable job than freelancing and living in Brooklyn and not having enough money to exist. I don’t know, we’ll see how long we do this stuff, but I like being involved in academia.

You’ve been praised for your lyricism but also criticized for being “too literary.” As a Barnard graduate and poet, has it been difficult to maintain a certain level of accessibility? SD: I think I know one of the reviews you’re referring to, the extent of which was like, “Why doesn’t this sound more like David Berman?” People can take whatever they want away from the lyrics. I’m writing the songs because they come to me like this, and they’re really for me. So I guess if I’m being too self-referential, don’t listen. They’re gonna come out the way that they come out.

I don’t think, for any of us, we ever have any real agenda other than making music we find personally appealing or that makes us feel good. It’s not a bad thing to have a variety of interpretations … someone might find me too obtuse or too introspective, but I don’t think that would have any bearing on songs that we’ll produce in the future. We’re not trying to make feel-good choruses for the masses.

Have you been to Vegas before? MF: I personally haven’t. Our bass player has been to Vegas before, and he’s a master blackjack and poker player. Maybe I’ll rent a tux for the show. I’ll get super dressed up. We’re going to put shiny things all over our instruments and make it glamorous and we’re gonna bedazzle all of our equipment and our clothing, special for our Las Vegas show. Make it super Celine Dion-esque (laughs).

SD: I may take $20 to a slot machine and call it quits. A childhood friend of mine lives right outside, so I might try to do that while we’re there rather than anything too traditional Vegas. But if we happen to run into Britney Spears I would not be opposed.

Speedy Ortiz opening for Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks with Same Sex Mary. April 2, 9 p.m., $17-$20. Beauty Bar, 598-3757.

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Local and independent music lover Leslie Ventura found her passion for journalism as a UNLV undergrad, contributing to Las Vegas ...

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