Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Speedy Ortiz Grows Up and Out

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 8:00 AM

Speedy Ortiz: Unexpectedly affecting. - SHERVIN LAINEZ
  • Shervin Lainez
  • Speedy Ortiz: Unexpectedly affecting.

The Fantagraphics comic-book series Love and Rockets once featured a young man named Speedy Ortiz. The comic character started as combative gang member, but later became more introspective. The Massachusetts-based band has done the opposite from a lyrical standpoint.

On Foil Deer, Speedy Ortiz's latest album, the band's familiar guitar melodies are accompanied by aggressive, almost combative lyrics — a departure from the lamentations threaded though the liner notes of the group's previous releases.

"I'm just older," says singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis of the lyrical shift. "The things that seem worth writing about are on a larger scale."

Much of the material on earlier releases, Dupuis explains, was culled from demos that she hadn't initially planned to release with a full band. But as her group began touring, Dupuis says, she began meeting people — specifically younger fans — who were forming their own projects, citing her work as an inspiration. It was a revelation.

"I felt I didn't have many role models," Dupuis says of her youth. Now that she's unexpectedly influencing others, she has consciously shifted her lyrical focus: "Less intrapersonal, focused more on the systemic."

The band's music has undergone some changes as well. Foil Deer's sixth track, "Puffer," differs from the rest of the album. Occasional bursts of feedback and droney guitar work are held together by a prominent bass line. With tongue in cheek, Dupuis described the track as Speedy Ortiz's "industrial number" at a performance in Virginia earlier this month.

"People might have thought we lost our minds," drummer Mike Falcone says of the distinctively different track. But, Dupuis counters that the sound is similar to many of the band's early demos. The difference, she says, is that the band had more time in the studio for this album.

That, too, yielded a problem.

Just before the band was ready to go on tour, Dupuis realized there was no way to play "Puffer" live. So Devin McKnight figured out a how to use a MIDI computer program for the previously impossible parts of the song.

"We've been big fans," Dupuis says of McKnight, who joined Speedy Ortiz's ranks after the release of last year's Real Hair EP. "The boy's got riffs."

During the live show in Virginia, McKnight moved to a laptop so the group could include "Puffer" in its set. On the opposite end of the stage was Dupuis' amplifier, significant for its distorted sound and for a jersey draped across it that read: "Gender Is Over."

"It means what it means," Dupuis says, explaining that it was given to her by friends who run a boutique in New York. It's representative of "people who don't align to a polar gender — who refuse to let gender define."

"Rye Silverman, a gender-fluid comedian living in Los Angeles, further explains the idea.

"It goes along with the concept of gender fluidity, not the binary idea of male and female," she says. "If you stop adhering to these constructs, they will cease to exist."

Silverman pushed against her birth-assigned gender as a teen in Ohio, and she remembers the impact of the Garbage song "Androgyny."

"The whole idea was to get rid of gender barriers," Silverman says. "That was a big thing for me at that age." Seeing a band like Speedy Ortiz make a similar statement would have meant a lot to her in her youth.

These progressive sensibilities seem to permeate Speedy Ortiz's musical approach. In an April interview with the New York Times, Dupuis said, "You can't have a Kurt Cobain anymore — or you can, but it's not going to be a white guy."

The ability for diverse bands to release their music online, she says, is the difference between our current environment and the one that bred Nirvana in the late-'80s. Bands distributing their own music digitally has led to a new dynamic, she says, "the most compelling of which is not a straight white man."

"At the time, no one had a voice like Kurt Cobain," Falcone says.

But now that we've had twenty years of people trying to emulate him, "it's time to move on."

Speedy Ortiz 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 2. The Firebird, 2706 Olive Street. $12 to $14. 314-535-0353.

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