Before the start of his band's current tour, Speedy Ortiz guitarist Matt Robidoux was vacationing with his family in Maine. One morning, they were flipping through the New York Times, and there was a photo of Robidoux, his shirt ripped open, borne aloft mid-guitar solo by the crowd at the Brooklyn venue Death By Audio. Below the photo, a pretty glowing review by Times music critic Jon Caramanica.
"It was the most surreal thing," Robidoux says with a laugh. Praise from the Times isn't the only positive piece of press Speedy Ortiz has received since Carpark released Major Arcana, a near-perfect college-rock record, in early July. Pitchfork hung its vaunted Best New Music tag on the full-length debut; NPR, Spin and Rolling Stone, too, have critically lauded it. This after explosive and acerbically witty songs like "Taylor Swift" and "Ka-Prow" earned big blog attention, and fast.
And just a few months after congealing as a band last year in Northampton, Mass., the quartet — Robidoux, singer-guitarist Sadie Dupuis, bassist Darl Ferm and drummer Mike Falcone — landed a coveted opening slot on Thurston Moore's solo tour. They'll tour with Moore again in September, opening for Moore's band Chelsea Light Moving, but before that they'll hit the Milestone on Aug. 8 with local support from Bo White and Little Bull Lee.
Like seeing his picture in the New York Times, Speedy Ortiz's swift success from the give-no-fucks D.I.Y. scene to next-big-thing hype has been surreal, Robidoux says.
"It's definitely exceeded all my expectations tenfold for this band," he says. "We still show up in cities and we're like, 'Oh, there'll probably be like five or 10 people at the show.' And then people just come out of the woodwork."
Speedy Ortiz is a band that readily wears its influences on its sleeve — that much is clear from "Pioneer Spine," the lead track from Major Arcana. Its fierce, buzzy wall of sound and barbed, twisting arrangements recall the best of Massachusetts' indie rock legends, namely Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies and Helium.
And though Robidoux cops to those bygone as pronounced influences on Speedy Ortiz's loud-quiet-loud squall, "I don't really listen to that stuff anymore," he says, adding that the band listens to friends' Western Mass. bands and "not rock" in the tour van. "But those bands are influences for sure, whether we're conscious of it or not."
"We're all big Mary Timony fans," adds Dupuis.
Dupuis is especially reminiscent of strong and sharp-tongued '90s-rock frontwomen, like Helium's Timony, The Breeders' Kim Deal, Throwing Muses' Tanya Donelly or Liz Phair, her delivery alternating between a droll deadpan, a cheery chirp and a wicked, witchy shout. She's also an especially incisive lyricist, filling her songs with pointed accusations ("You picked a virgin over me," from "Plough") and dour self-pity ("I was better off just being dead," from "No Below"). Such kiss-offs and confessionals might not be expected from someone pursuing an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but poetry, Dupuis says, isn't the point.
"They're different processes," Dupuis says of her poetry and her songwriting. "The vocabulary is the same because I'm making both of them, but they're different mediums."
And Speedy Ortiz doesn't simply exhume the ghosts of indie rock's past. Speedy Ortiz is neither retro nor revisionist nor recidivist, rooted firmly in the now. It references indie rock's greatest hits, yes, but the band drips with personality, carving out a voice uniquely its own.
"That's just how it works when something is getting written up a lot," Robidoux says, shrugging off the '90s revivalist tag. "I don't feel like we're a throwback. We're just creating music that we like."