In Reading List, our favourite artists share five books that are particularly meaningful or influential to their music. This week, verbose indie rockers Speedy Ortiz talk comics, postmodern literature, and give an oral history of punk's oral history.
Speedy Ortiz are a tough band to pin down. They've always seemed like the perfect candidates for this feature. Though their members hail from New York, Maryland and Connecticut, they all themselves in Northampton, Massachusetts as students, bonding as much over Pynchon as Malkmus. Lead singer Sadie Dupuis recently completed an MFA in poetry at UMass. Their winkingly poetic, occasionally hilarious lyrics command as much attention as their spiky guitar leads. They're as literal a "college rock" band as you're likely to find outside of campus open mic night (and considerably better).
After months of back and forth emails from their tour van, Dupuis was finally ready to do this interview at NXNE, but without a Canadian long distance plan, their publicist couldn't reach them. Then, days later at Chart Attack's showcase at Sonic Boom, boom, there she was, standing right in front of me, rocking out to Creep Highway, snapping photos with a disposable camera. It's probably a good thing I chickened out.
"Oh my god, I was so sick," she remembers, talking over the phone before a band bowling trip in New York. "I was at that Chart Attack show and I kept running to the bathroom thinking, oh no, am I going to throw up here, right now in this record store?'"
I finally managed to track down Speedy Ortiz over two separate phone calls, getting a book pick from every member of the band, plus one particularly illuminating group pick. Instead of the usual stiffness of a phone interview, it was a headspinning whirlwind of book top as band members passed the phone back and forth, yelled answers from the passenger seat, and shared some real wisdom about comics, postmodern fiction, regional American music scenes, and the outlandishness of first wave punk rock.
Michael DeForge, Ant Colony (2014)
Sadie Dupuis: I’m a big fan of Lose, which is Michael’s annual series. I always used to tweet when I was in Toronto "Michael DeForge, please come meet us, we love you." And I think eventually we somehow wound up emailing with him, and he’s done some posters for us and our shirt design. He’s also a mutual fan of Ariana Grande, so we can’t say enough nice things about him. But Ant Colony is Mike's pick, so I’ll give him the phone.
Mike Falcone: We stayed at his house [during NXNE]. He was a really nice guy. And we love his band, Creep Highway.
Sadie: ...and I will say that I threw up in his bathroom in Toronto. So we now feel a special kinship with Michael DeForge, celebrated author of the graphic novel Ant Colony.
Mike: I probably would have chosen him regardless of whether he had helped us out with t-shirt designs and posters, or whether or not he showed me his amazing collection of Bee Gees LP’s. He's such a nice guy, but his comics can get a little disturbing and dark. I don’t know the title of his position, but he does...
Sadie: Character design!
Mike: Yes, he does character design on Adventure Time. There’s certain episodes of that show that get kind of darker, but Ant Colony is like an extreme version of the darkest Adventure Time episodes. The ants are anthropomorphic. There’s relationships and things that happen in the ant colonies, but overall it’s a pretty realistic version of what ants would have to go through if they had the same brain capacity as humans. If they were smart enough to figure out how shitty their lives are it would probably be pretty intense for them.Pill.
And it’s so subtle and so quick and his tone is so… You almost imagine that these characters would be speaking in a monotone, so seemingly flat but there’s so much quick thinking going on underneath. So I think in addition to how beautiful and weird his drawings are and how smartly conceived the characters are in terms of their design – the spiders all have dog heads and they kind of look like Disney dogs – but just the pacing of what’s going on underneath is so quick. You can’t even tell how quickly it’s moving until you finish the book and it’s like, holy shit, he just covered such an expansive terrain of stuff and did it in this sort of flat delivery that you can’t even tell how impressive it is.
Mike: The things she mentioned about the tone is similar to how the voice actors on Regular Show or Adventure Time speak. The dialogue is a big part of what makes it special. The artwork is definitely very intense, but the dialogue is a big part of it, which is often an underrated aspect of comics.
Roberto Bolaño, 2666 (2004)
Sadie: I don't know why I avoided reading this for so long. I feel like it’s a running joke among people who like to read on tour: everyone likes to bring Infinite Jest on tour, but nobody ever winds up finishing it on tour. Because it’s such an elephant of a novel. So I guess I always shied away from bringing really long books on tour because I just assumed I wouldn’t finish them because I failed with David Foster Wallace.
But when we’re travelling, when we’re flying, I can’t bring a lot of short novels with me because I’m going to get charged overage on my luggage. So I brought this Bolaño book and I just couldn’t put it down. In college, Pynchon was sort of my arena of study. So I really like these sprawling novels that don’t tie up their loose ends and work on multiple levels. 2666 was perhaps the most engrossing tour read I’ve ever had.
It’s divided into five books, which at some point before he died he was attempting to publish separately, and they cover different spans of time from the mid-19th century until present. We were on tour in Europe and a lot of the countries that are mentioned – it’s all over the place, through Europe, America and Central America – were places that we were visiting. And it’s such a long book that we happened to be in Germany or Hamburg or London at the part of time where that’s where all the action was taking place. So it was nice that we were travelling and my thousand page book was also in the same place that we were. So serendipitous.
Mezzo, King of the Flies (2010, ongoing)
Darl Ferm: It’s pretty similar to Black Hole by Charles Burns. And it’s about teenagers, doing lots of drugs and sex and whatever. I just really like the artwork. The stories are really cool. There’s two volumes out right now. The first volume is really nice the way all the short stories flow and connect and come back to each other, in a kind of subtle way. It’s cool how it doesn’t feel connected at all and then it connects at the end. It’s not in an annoying way.
I got it at The Beguiling in Toronto. They recommended it. I think we’ve been there most times we’ve been in Toronto. It’s a really awesome place.
Paul Auster, Moon Palace (1989)
It's about this dude who went to Columbia and dropped everything he was doing, almost in an On The Road sort of way, but less contrived than just "this is why I’m doing this.” It's about a turning point in the dude’s life and a mental collapse. I don’t want to ruin the book in case anyone out there wants to read it, but Paul Auster enters his characters' brains and deconstructs their view of reality in a way that I really like.
Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Please Kill Me (1997)
Sadie: Let me talk about my own mother!
Mike: I’ll pass it to Sadie, she has a lot to say about her mom.
Sadie: I think I know my mom pretty well at this point in my life. So this is a book that has been in my house since it came out because my mom used to work for Punk Magazine. And she actually dated Legs McNeil and lived with him. So I was afraid to read this book, despite the fact that it was in my house as a teenager, because I was like "I do not want to know what the fuck my mom was up to hanging out with the New York Dolls or whatever." Because those were her friends at this point when she was living in New York in the ‘70s. I knew that the book was lots of drugs and sex and whatever the fuck, and I didn’t even want to think about my mom hanging out with any of these people. So I just didn’t want to know.
But the reason that this is our group pick is because Darl brought it on tour when we were on Europe. The book that I used for my pick is a long labyrinthine book and I thought it was going to last me a lot longer. So I ran out of books on tour and I thought, well, I guess it’s time for me to read Please Kill Me. I picked it up and there’s so much ridiculous, unbelievable stuff. I just couldn’t stop reading it after that. These people were doing so many drugs and having sex with so many 13 year olds that they should have all died or been in jail.
So after that Mike read it and Devin read it. So we all read this book on tour and I don’t think we’ve ever done that before. So we were kind of like, oh, this is our book club now. And now we keep joking now that we’re going to get a…
Mike: ...summer reading list.
Chart Attack: That's funny you all passed it around because there's that bit in the intro where they write...
Sadie: ...yeah, that nobody actually pays for the book because they just give it to ten friends.
Mike: Nothing wrong with that.
Sadie: But Darl bought it. And I have a copy. I just was afraid to read it before because I didn’t want to know… There’s like three people my mom dated and they’re interviewed heavily in the book.
Does your mom come up in the book?
Sadie: No, she doesn’t come up. But a lot of her friends do. Like Bob Gruen is quoted a lot. My dad is Jewish, but I used to go to Bob Gruen’s Christmas party with him. And my mom is Catholic but I would go to Bob Gruen's Passover with her. So there were people that I grew up knowing who were definitely inebriated throughout the book.
So you're sort of an O.G. punk?
Sadie: Well, I think Manhattan in the late ‘80s and ‘90s is pretty different from the scuzzy Manhattan of Please Kill Me. It was a very clean childhood.
Mike: My favourite story is probably when Elton John jumped onstage during a Stooges show when Iggy Pop was laying on the ground too stoned to stand up, too strung out to even get off the floor and he’s just yelling “nooo.” And Elton John jumps onstage in a gorilla suit and picks Iggy Pop up by his head and Iggy Pop is so messed up that he thinks it’s a real gorilla.
Sadie: We all had taken a shining to young Iggy Pop. All of the stories in that book about Iggy are so just outlandish. And there’s the one of him breaking glass and just rolling around on it onstage. You know that kind of glass that’s like made out of sugar for stunts, like if someone has to jump through a window in a movie? We’re all so shy and boring, so we've been joking that maybe we’ll get some of that sugar glass and roll around in it. With fake blood and stuff.
Devin: It's interesting in the sense that you got to see where a lot of punk, or the popularized versions of punk rock, came from. But it was also interesting reading it on tour and then seeing the stark differences between our realities as a band and, you know, Iggy Pop & The Stooges’ reality as a band. You know, because there’s was always a very drama-filled, drugs everywhere, stereotypical rock star life. And, you know, we have a book club and watch cartoons in the van.
A lot of the bands I didn’t actually know that well except for Television and The Velvet Underground. But I live in New York now, so it’s kind of cool to see where that scene has progressed. And geographically, even, where it’s moved to. It used to be all Lower East Side stuff. That neighbourhood used to also be way, way different. Now everything, even when I wasn’t living here, it was concentrated into different little hubs that would spring up in Brooklyn. I don’t think that would be the case then. Now most bands just kind of like comprised of middle class kids that listen to a lot of cool music and just like to hang out and smoke pot and stuff. Pretty different.