In the fall of 2013, shortly after her band released its debut album, Major Arcana, Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis realized her life was changing in a major way. For one, there were “crazy offers” coming in to go out on tour with musicians she’d grown up admiring, like Thurston Moore and the Breeders. But it was the less obvious variances that made the singer and band’s principal songwriter take notice.
“It was like, ‘Look at all these weird Twitter alerts we’re starting to get,’ ” Dupuis recalls of Speedy Ortiz’s sudden, exponential growth in the wake of their debut. “And the dressing rooms at venues kept getting nicer and nicer.” She laughs. “And there was free liquor!”
Dupuis had previously “written a lot of albums and been in a lot of different projects,” including her self-released 2011 lo-fi rocket The Death of Speedy Ortiz, but the native New Yorker, who was teaching at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst by day and gigging at night, always figured music would remain nothing more than a hobby. She assumed Speedy Ortiz was going to be “just another project,” but the band, which includes bassist Darl Ferm, drummer Mike Falcone, and, most recently, guitarist Devin McKnight, immediately proved itself something far different. After releasing 2012’s Sports EP, followed shortly thereafter by Major Arcana, Speedy Ortiz quickly established themselves as one of indie’s most promising young acts. Success came thanks in large part to Arcana‘s sonically gnarly yet emotionally intimate aesthetic, driven both by Dupuis’s confessional storytelling drawn from personal traumas and Ferm and Falcone’s fluid rhythms.
“When that album came out, there was a reaction to it that we couldn’t have foreseen,” Dupius says, looking back. “You always hope for it but never expect it to happen.”
Speedy Ortiz’s career explosion was so unexpected that they felt little to no pressure when it came time to return to the studio to record their second album. “Any expectations or pressures were only coming from myself,” Dupuis says of her mindset when writing and recording Foil Deer, the band’s crisp, relentless new album, out April 21. They laid down the album over a few weeks last September with seasoned producer Nicolas Vernhes (Spoon, Animal Collective) at Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room. For Dupuis, Foil‘s slick production and methodical preparation was a dream fulfilled. “These are the kinds of records I love listening to and the kind of record I always thought this band should make,” she says. “We just never had enough time or money before.”
While Arcana may have been a product of Dupuis’s open-book candor, this go-round the fiery performer decided to step back and attack more widescreen issues.
“I’d been through some pretty horrible personal life shit in the year leading up to writing this album,” she says, “but I didn’t want that to be the focus of it all.” So she guided her pen to broader yet equally prescient topics: On Foil Deer, Dupuis examines “an unhealthiness in American culture that causes people to be marginalized in ways that seem to be quite outdated and quite frustrating.” She cites friends “who are women who are marginalized in music or in their jobs and in their personal relationships” as an unfortunate template.
The themes, she says, are universal: “All of the songs on this record discuss topics where I could sit at a table with eight of my friends and say, ‘Here’s a shitty thing that happens to me all the time,’ and all eight of the other people at the table will have very similar stories.”
Dupuis comes from a long line of female songwriters — Patti Smith, Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna, and, most recently, Courtney Barnett — who possess the rare gift of being direct without chastising. “I’m not bossy/I’m the boss,” Dupuis snarls atop serpentine guitars on the propulsive “Raising the Skate.” On the metaphor-laden “The Graduates,” she’s a second-place lifer raging over guitar crunch and mild distortion, angry at a world that values a useless law school degree over intellectual, albeit sloppy, barroom debate.
Despite McKnight joining the band mere months before Speedy Ortiz began recording Foil Deer, the foursome sounds as tight as ever. The guitarist and longtime friend of the band says his only obstacle was learning exactly where he fit into their collective conversation. “I like collaborating with people, but it’s always something new,” McKnight explains. “So most of it actually has to do with just figuring out how to get along with people personally — less so musically.”
Speedy Ortiz hit the Bowery Ballroom this week, an early stop on a cross-country tour behind their new LP. It’s a welcome return home for Dupuis. “We’ve always found an accepting home in a lot of the DIY spaces in New York,” she says, citing both Shea Stadium and Silent Barn as prime examples.
Over the past few years her band may have reached major heights, but she knows where her priorities lie. Says the singer: “I never want to get to the point where we can’t just go play a gig with our friends.”
Speedy Ortiz play the Bowery Ballroom April 25 with Mitski and Krill. Tickets are available here.