In the 1990s, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and The Breeders harvested the plentiful anxiety of Generation X and distilled it into a carbonated alt-rock sound that helped define the decade. Twenty years later, the Massachusetts-based quartet Speedy Ortiz has established itself as an indie-rock powerhouse whose tangled roots are deeply planted in the angsty foundation poured by those bands.
Make no mistake: Speedy Ortiz doesn't subscribe to the tropes of referential nostalgia or borrowed aesthetic that have led other revivalists to moderate success. Their sound is like an episode of Mad Men—a thorough appreciation of a bygone era captured through the lens of modern auteurs.
Boasting a wide variety of influences that include anime, comic books (the band's name was inspired by a character from Love and Rockets), Adventure Time cartoons and David Lynch films, Speedy Ortiz's music is steeped in surrealism and psychosis. It's easy to spend hours delving into their labyrinthine arrangements and spellbinding lyrics, but surprisingly difficult to find your way back out again. The music finds its way into your bones, if you let it.
With Speedy Ortiz's first albums The Death of Speedy Ortiz (self-released, 2011) and Major Arcana (Carpark, 2013), vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter Sadie Dupuis created a strung out tapestry of lyrically bruising songs, perfectly complemented by the ambling bass of Darl Ferm, the crystalline guitar of Matt Robidoux and the dissonant drums of Mike Falcone. Arcana is an arrangement of songs about loss and regret, with lyrics like "Oh, my gut absorbs the fiercest blows/ you never thought you'd have to throw," which tattoo themselves to your auditory cortex.
For 2015's Foil Deer, Devin McKnight replaced Robidoux on guitar, and Speedy Ortiz capitalized on Dupuis' songwriting skills to create a distinctly feminist album that doesn't feel like one. Lyrics like "I'm not bossy, I'm the boss/ shooter, not the shot" succeed in making anyone feel empowered and badass. "I can't really do 'hitting you over the head' with anything," Dupuis says, "Any time I write a lyric that seems too direct or obvious—it's kind of a turn-off."
The fact that Speedy Ortiz's music is naturally inclusive makes their powerful stories about the marginalization of women (like "My Dead Girl") reach a much wider audience. "It's been cool to see different people attach themselves to different songs," Dupuis says. "We see people of all different ages and genders shouting out the lyrics along with us, and it's awesome." Art that is geared to inspire change so often becomes exclusionary to other schools of thought, but Speedy Ortiz makes sure that everyone has a place at the table, and also enjoys themselves.
Inclusivity and anti-harassment are concepts that Speedy Ortiz take very seriously; the band created a hotline for fans to contact if they feel threatened. Dupuis got the idea when she was watching a performance at a festival. "I was in the crowd, and I got harassed by this guy who wouldn't stop touching me," she says. "Since I was playing the festival, I could just go backstage and get that person removed, but someone else might not have a way to get out of the situation." This innovative approach helps performers share in the responsibility of maintaining a safe concert environment, while reminding attendees to look out for each other.
As part of the first leg of their national tour—after which, they'll release a remix EP and begin tracking their fourth album—Speedy Ortiz will bring their powerful stage presence to Kilby Court, along with folk-rockers The Good Life and power-pop outfit Tancred. "We love Salt Lake, and are excited to come back," Dupuis finalizes. CW