There is a certain joy that comes from experiencing unexpected changes. When you are caught off guard, your anticipation is flipped on its end and all you can do is revel in stunned surprise. That is the experience I had the first time listening through Major Arcana, the brilliant full-length LP that Speedy Ortiz released in July of 2013. So what makes the record so incredible? Well for one, it takes everything you understand about conventional indie rock music and throws it out the window. Trying to deconstruct the sum of all the parts in a song like “Tiger Tank”would be a heavy task for any connoisseur of musical theory: weird chord progressions, weird vocal melodies, weird guitar harmonies, weirdly sudden time signature changes. But the weirdest thing of all is when it’s all put together it sounds fantastic (and dare I say, catchy?). Fantastic enough to have any songwriter wondering, “How the fuck did they make this sound so good?”
I had the pleasure of chatting with the band on their way to Kansas City and Sadie Dupuis (the brains of the whole operation) was able to shed some light on just how these masterful auditory creations come about.
“I always try to surprise myself with chord changes,” she explains. “If I am writing something and I come across a chord that seems to be the obvious choice I try to not play it. Even when I was first learning guitar, I always felt that if I was going to write a song, why bother just using open chords that could resemble any song? I have always tried to introduce chords that, even if the melody suggests something that may be typical, have some sort of element that makes it unexpected.”
“It’s something that I really appreciate and something that Sadie definitely does. The changes are not what you would expect and it’s refreshing to the listener,” says Mike Falcone, the stick swinger in the band’s incredibly tight rhythm section.
And the listeners love it. With the release of Major Arcana, the band received an abundance of well-deserved praise from media sources around the globe, including the title of Best New Music in a review from Lindsay Zoladz in Pitchfork. Following the release, the band has been playing shows full-time with stacked tours of the UK, USA and Canada and, most recently, a borderline overwhelming, busy schedule at SXSW festival in Austin, TX.
“It’s certainly encouraging!” says Dupuis. “I think we have all been playing in bands for so long without attaining that kind of success that we would be doing this kind of stuff anyway. It’s an obvious bonus to have more people coming to shows and an easier time booking show (and people who want to call us up when we are driving to Kansas City and ask about chord changes). It has enabled us to kind of make touring a full-time job, which is great and very lucky for any musician. We feel very lucky to have people interested in the stuff that we would be doing anyway.”
Personally, I don’t think luck has anything to do with it. We live in a world where popular acts seem to rely on the brittle charm of lo-fi recording, or the convoluted mash-up of tripped-out sounds and over-production to get our attention. It is refreshing to hear a band that can pique our interest without the need for those things, a band that values an interesting melody over an interesting effect, good lyricism over good vocal reverb, having a ton of heart over a ton of gear. Speedy Ortiz is this band.
Do yourself a favour and go check them out on tour as openers for Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks at the Republik. This is a band that you do not want to miss.
Catch Speedy Ortiz at Republik (Calgary) on April 7 and at the Starlite Room (Edmonton) on April 8.
By Taylor Cochrane