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Speedy Ortiz Declare War on Boring Old Guitar Solos (and Hairspray)

Speedy Ortiz

Who: In 2011, Sadie Dupuis packed up and left her native New York — as well as the Brooklyn grunge trio she fronted, Quilty — for the decidedly less crowded streets of Northampton, Mass. It was there, while pursuing an MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (where she would later become a teacher), that she met drummer Mike Falcone (a library science student), guitar teacher Matt Robidoux, and bassist Darl Ferm; the newly formed quartet adopted her solo moniker, Speedy Ortiz. Inspired by Happy Valley’s legendarily fertile rock scene, the band became fast friends with the roster of local label Exploding in Sound, which released their debut EP, Sports. “We all come from a background of really loving historical, small scenes,” Dupuis says. “I think we all feel extremely lucky to be part of a scene that includes so many of our favorite bands right now.”

Poetic License: Locally, the turnout at their shows has always been strong, but Speedy Ortiz began to garner serious attention across the rest of the country following the release of their first full-length, Major Arcana, in July 2013. A widely lauded collection of dark, discordant, angular fuzz, the LP also showcases Dupuis’ sharp wit — gleaned, in part, from years of parsing the work of great poets. And where that record paired “big spooky images to narrations about relationships,” as she put it, Dupuis turned inward for the just-released four-song EP Real Hair, written shortly before Major Arcana‘s arrival last year.

“The lyrics came from a time in which I was so busy with teaching classes and working on a degree,” she says. “My time was being fully occupied by other people’s major issues I was helping to handle. When I did have any down time, I wanted to think about how I felt for a second. Writing the songs was a little bit of therapeutic self-analysis.” Her lyrics have not gone unnoticed, as she recently learned. “I went to a friend’s birthday party at a bar the other day and, on two different occasions throughout the night, a random kid came up to ask a question about lyrics, which is really bizarre,” she said. “It’s nice that they’re interested, but it’s not something I expect to be doing at my friend’s birthday.”

Playing Pavement: Inquisitive bar patrons aside, Speedy Ortiz have also earned a fan in band hero Stephen Malkmus, with whom they will tour this spring. The Pavement frontman comes up often in interviews, with many critics pegging the group as a ’90s throwback act. “I was kind of relieved that in two interviews I’ve seen with Malkmus he said he’s a fan of us and he doesn’t necessarily see a ’90s revival — he sees a continuation of the lineage of rock bands,” Dupuis says. “That’s somewhat comforting.” While the band possesses the trademark nonchalance of their college-rock forebearers, Dupuis said it’s her former all-girl Pavement cover band (delightfully dubbed Babement) that is likely to blame for the tag. “I think people took that and ran with it,” she says. Adds Robidoux, “It’s a blanket term that’s applied to a lot of guitar-driven bands. I guess I feel neutral about the ’90s tag, but I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into the genre.”

Sans Solo: Robidoux is equally disinterested in pulling from a conventional bag of tricks onstage, having becoming known for turning the hallowed guitar solo on its head by shoving objects into his strings, wandering out into the street in front of venues mid-song, and passing his instrument out to the crowd. “I feel like I’ve always been anti-guitar solo, since I was 17,” he says. “I like taking the idea of the guitar solo and exploiting it, sticking a drumstick or rock in between the strings, and waving it around for awhile, and having that be the guitar solo. It’s bringing more of a visual element to it and creating a wall of noise instead of doing a flashy, blues-derived kind of thing.”

Hair Brand: That scrappy, give-no-fucks ethos caused some clashes as the band gained attention in the last year. At a photo shoot for a fashion magazine shortly after the release of Major Arcana, the band was primped, preened, and encouraged to “project personality,” much to their discomfort. “The (hair stylist) put a bunch of hairspray in my hair and teased it out,” Dupuis recalls. “I said, ‘Oh, this is really bizarre. This isn’t how I look at all.’ And she gave me this really long lecture about how I should’ve told her not to use hairspray because my hair is my ‘brand.’ It was fucking weird. If we have any brand, it’s that we enjoy playing music.”