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May.15 Cover - Speedy Ortiz
Written by Bobby Moore   
ImageFrom Summer Camp to Shaky Knees
Bobby Moore Catches Up with Speedy Ortiz

It makes sense that Northampton, Mass. five-piece Speedy Ortiz is likened to guitar-driven alt-rock giants, as its members likely soaked up the sounds of home state heroes Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies in their formative listening years. Plus, a band that uses Livejournal for its official website hardly avoids an air of nostalgia. But a deeper look at the band’s D.I.Y. roots, and closer listen to guitarist and singer Sadie Dupuis’ biting wit, reveals forward-thinkers helping shape indie’s future instead of dwelling on ’90s rock clichés.

Dupuis agrees: “It would be just as accurate to say we're rooted in the '70s or '80s or '00s. More than anything we feel a kinship with contemporary bands and friends, and I think our sound has a lot more to do with our local scene than any kind of reverence for the past.”

The band’s backstory is well documented. While teaching kids songwriting lessons in 2011 at Buck’s Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp in New Milford, Connecticut, Dupuis was inspired to pen original material and record it on her laptop. These songs became the basis for Speedy Ortiz. After a pair of solo releases, Dupuis formed a full band to play the burgeoning D.I.Y. house show scene in and around Boston.

Northampton alone had quite a scene when Speedy Ortiz began the punk house basement phase of its indie rock conquest, including fellow buzz bands California X and Potty Mouth. “We are like peas in a pod,” said bassist Darl Ferm of his hometown peers. “It was a lot easier to see everyone when house shows were more common a few years ago, but you still see the usual folks around.” This kinship was captured for posterity when Dupuis made a brief cameo in Potty Mouth’s 2013 video for “The Spins.”

With hype surrounding each vinyl and digital release that followed, and the Boston area house show scene tapering off since the band’s nascent days, venues have gotten bigger and bigger for Speedy Ortiz. For instance, the band’s next outdoor festival appearance on May 9th at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees festival. The band sees benefits in playing the big stage, without feeling the need to abandon its D.I.Y. roots, when a house show opportunity arises. “We flop around between all different kinds of venues – from big festivals to basements to club shows to art spaces--and there are benefits and drawbacks of each,” Dupuis said. “We're generally most excited about playing festivals because it affords us a chance to see a lot of the touring bands we can't see in Boston because we're always on tour ourselves. And there's a certain kind of energy that comes only from playing for a really big crowd, which festivals certainly lend themselves towards. On the other hand, there's less of a sense of immediacy and it's harder to get close to our audience, which are aspects we really value at smaller club shows or D.I.Y. shows. So we like to keep a balance between the big stuff and the little stuff.”

Shaky Knees offers those chances to see touring acts and friends from other cities. “They offered us a spot and we were like, ‘Yep’,” said Dupuis. “We’re stoked to hang with our buddies in Metz on Saturday. Hopefully, we can get there a day early to see Mitski, too.”

Critically-acclaimed music, appealing to a wide audience, is the bridge between D.I.Y. spaces and outdoor festival stages for Speedy Ortiz. Having a lyricist in the band with a Master’s degree in poetry, and a quiver full of guitar riffs and verbal quips, helped the cause, too.


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