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Hopscotch

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz singer-guitarist Sadie Dupuis’s craft is in full focus on the album Twerp Verse, released earlier this year on Carpark Records. Complex lead lines twist and careen alongside tightly crafted power-pop hooks that have the record already being counted amongst the year’s best.

After playing a catchy, caffeinated set at the 2018 Hopscotch Music Festival, Pedal Fuzz sat down in a cluttered greenroom with Sadie Dupuis, to talk pedals, songwriting, and fingernails. THE FOLLOWING EXCERPTS HAVE BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED

Sadie Dupuis. Credit: Em Grey

Sadie Dupuis. Credit: Em Grey

Pedal Fuzz: So first I would love to know about the guitar you were playing last night.

Sadie Dupuis: Yeah, I don't think they're making them anymore. The company was called Moniker, Austin-based—and they would do different custom guitars. That particular model is the Anastasia. It’s shell pink. It has like a like a crescent moon cutaway, and there are pearl details throughout it. And then the headstock has my Sad 13 logo on it.

PF: Cool, so it was made for you?

SD: Yeah!

PF: And do you move through the three pickups, or do you usually stay on one in particular?

SD:I put Strat pickups in the middle, but there are humbuckers on either side, so it's a little unusual. If I'm recording, I'll switch them, but for live I'm pretty much just in the middle.

PF: Is there a piece of gear—it could be an instrument or a device of some sort—that has changed the way you play, or changed something stylistically?

SD:I think every piece of gear has some impact in that sense. But I think the biggest thing for me over the past two or three years has been that I stopped playing with a pick. So, that's not so much adding a piece of gear as much as getting rid of a piece of gear. When we would record I would always have parts that I would need to fingerpick because I wouldn't be able to play them with a pick, and then live I was always playing with a pick. Going back and forth between the two felt kind of clumsy to me.

Or the things that I did have to fingerpick live wouldn't have the same presence or attack as the stuff that I would play with the pick. And so I would be modifying the parts to play it with a pick, and I kind of wasn't into that at all. I could never wear nail polish because—guitarists know—it just scrapes off. Especially the second fingers just get scraped off.

And we had a front of house engineer whose girlfriend was a nail artist who was like, “let me just do your nails. There's this kind of nail polish that won't come off. It makes your nails stronger.” And I was like, “Okay, I'll try it.”

And I sort of realized that I could just grow my nails out, have polish on them, and use these as picks [brandishes canary yellow fingernails]. So now I—Dolly Parton-style—have very long nails on my right hand, and I don't play with a pick at all anymore, because I don't have to - I’ve got five.

So that's been the biggest change in my style, I'd say, in the past couple years.

PF: You modded your hand! So, what pedals do you use now, or what are some ones that are important to you?

SD: I have a ton of pedals at home, and if I'm home-recording I tend to use totally different stuff then I use for the live setup. And that's partially in the same way that I don't want to eat hummus when I'm not on tour because I'm used to having it fed to me in greenrooms every day. Or I don't want to wear the clothes that I wear on tour when I'm home from tour.

The first thing on my chain is an Earthquaker Devices Monarch Overdrive, which is discontinued. It's just an overdrive pedal that's meant to model an Orange amp, and I use that basically as my clean tone, so that's on all the time. I have the gain turned up with not too much volume at 12 o'clock, bass at 9, treble at 12. I don't totally understand why they discontinued it. They do sell the Stew-Mac kits so people could theoretically build their own.

I got used to playing with that pedal because I was playing with certain Fender amps that just felt too common, you know what I mean? Like, a Deville is such a backline amp, which I like a lot, but I played it forever and I liked having this as part of my “clean tone” because it just made the clean a little bit different than the Fender stock sound.

Then I have a Catalinbread Callisto, which is a chorus/vibrato pedal. Again, it likes very mild settings.

And the Dispatch Master, which is another Earthquaker pedal. It’s a reverb/delay, but I'm using it to just give a little bit of reverb. Those are the three pedals that are on all the time. They make up my clean tone.

The second two that I mentioned kind of came onto my board later because I started playing with the Divided by 13 amp CJ 11, which I love, but the only knobs it has are master volume, volume, bass and treble. So, having played Fender amps forever, being used to having the vibrato and the reverb, I wanted to have a little bit of that so that’s what those two pedals kind of accommodate for me.

Beyond that, my overdrive, for when I want to do a cool solo or something, is Earthquaker stuff. I really like their tones. So I use The Dunes for when I'm playing a solo or I need to be loud. It’s another overdrive - I’m weirdly anti-fuzz.

Past that I have Earthquaker’s Pitch Bay, which is an octave plus overdrive pedal, so I'll use that if I want to make a solo a little weird and outerspacey, or sometimes to simulate a synth I played on the records, particularly older records. There would be a synth part that happens for eight seconds, and there was no reason for me to play a synth, so I would just learn the part and play it through that pedal.

PF: An octave up?

SD: Yeah, I have the tiniest amount of octave down that's basically inaudible but pitched off a little bit so it sounds like a weird synth, and then the octave up is pretty gainey.

I used to play a POG 2, but I could never make it not sound like an organ, which is why I like the Pitch Bay. I've always had an impossible time finding any kind of synth-emulating pedal that doesn't sound like it’s just an organ.

PF: I have an old Electro Harmonix Microsynth—one of the big ones—and it's pretty dirty and cool.

SD: Those are cool. I do have a Synth 9 on my board right now, also from Electro Harmonix. I use it on the Prophet-V setting for some of the songs from the new album that I didn’t even play guitar on during recording. The Pitch Bay is great, but it doesn’t really sound like a synth. It makes the guitar sound spacey and digital. So, I wanted something that could be a little more filtered and sound like the synth I play on songs from the new album.

I also have the Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain delay on my chain. Beyond that I use an ISP Technologies Decimator G-String, which is a noise gate. All of these overdriving pedals give me some signal noise.

PF: Is it noisy all the time otherwise?

SD: It's not. It depends on the electricity of the room. It can get pretty bad when the electricity isn't up to snuff, so I have that [Decimator G-String] in case of emergencies, and that's why I play on the Strat pickup live because if I'm on anything that's humming at all, it’s just magnifying…

Oh, I also use the Walrus Audio Deep Six Compressor, so obviously that's also propagating any kind of signal noise I get. So, there's a fair amount of a harm reduction that has to happen in this chain. [laughs]

PF: I was going to ask you if your setup changes when you're on the road versus recording.

SD: If I'm recording a record, and we're in a studio, anything is kind of fair game. I'll use what the studio has in addition to whatever I brought. But at home when I'm just making demos, I'm like, “I've accrued all these pedals that I don't get to use live so I'm just not interested in even opening my stage pedalboard.” I assemble a separate chain for whatever the song kind of wants. On a lot of the stuff that we've recorded, I didn't use any of the pedals I just mentioned. But it doesn't have to be the exact same sounds live, right?

PF: When you're thinking about your next record, writing songs and demoing at home, is there an ideal Speedy Ortiz song you’re reaching for out in the ether? And what does the ideal Speedy Ortiz song do?

SD: That’s a tough one, because I think it depends. I mean, not every song has the same goals or forms or changes, but there are things that I try to make happen with every song, and I don't really like when a song gets in, like, a groove, and it's too comfortable - I always want a weird surprise.

So whether that's in the lyrics, or whether that's in the time signature, or whether it’s just how many measures something repeats, I tend to change things. So even if a chorus happens three times in the song, it'll be slightly different every time.

So usually my goals are to get somewhere with the writing of it that surprises me, and that I think would be like a fun Easter Egg for the person who's heard it a few times, and then is like, “Oh, the chorus starts on the three this time rather than the one.” Or something like that.

PF: Something surprising.

SD: Yeah, and, by extension, even if the form stays the same, maybe the sounds will be different. One thing I love is to have a second verse in which a lot of stuff drops out, and maybe a weird sound is introduced. If I go back through all my songs, I can probably check that off happening a lot of the time. [laughs]

So there are certain tricks that I definitely pull from song to song, but I just like it to change throughout.

PF: Are you aware of things that you do habitually in the structure of your songs?

SD: I don't think about it when I'm writing a song, but when I show something to my bandmates, they're like, “Oh, of course it's a measure of six this time at the end of the chorus, sounds like you!”

So, I'm sort of aware that there are certainly compositional tools that I lean into more often than not, but I think also they're not super common, so I feel fine repeating them.

PF: So that's, like, your…

SD: Little signature.

PF: Yeah! It’s part of your architecture.

SD: [Laughs] You know all those condos that look the same? That's like the choruses of our songs.

*main photo courtesy of Hopscotch Music Festival / Garrett Poulos

TOM SOWDERS PIROUETTES ANGRILY THROUGH THE STREETS OF DOWNTOWN RALEIGH. LIKE REALLY AGGRESSIVELY, REALLY WINDMILLING HIS ARMS AROUND. HIS HOBBIES ARE NOT USING HIS PHD AND FRONTING THE BAND TOOTHSOME. 

W00dy

W00dy

She’s not a healer. But her music is medicinal. The revitalizing melodies and rhythms of Philly-based techno musician W00dy enter the personal and communal consciousness of her audience, targeting trauma through a sort of frenzied, dance-driven catharsis. Her live shows have created a kind of musical safe space, satisfying the hunger of the marginalized for an experience that is memorable, tangible, and genuine. Pedal Fuzz spoke with W00dy just before she travelled to Raleigh for Hopscotch 2018.

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Pedal Fuzz: You’ve evolved from mostly vocal solo performance to producing dance music. Do you prefer to disappear?

W00dy: Up until fall of 2016, I was making experimental pop music where I would sing during my performances. It was getting increasingly hard for me to write lyrics and I was becoming frustrated with performances being centered around me as a vocalist. I was listening to so much techno and dance music that I had an epiphany--why am I still making "pop"? It was clear that I was more passionate about dance music so I dove in full force. I hope to maybe incorporate vocals in my music again someday, but playing this style of dance music feels very genuine.

PF: How are marginalized groups responding to your work?

W: I'm always humbled and excited to see that people are connecting with my music, especially with movement...healing through dance. Creating space for marginalized folks is something that has always been extremely important to me as someone who struggled to find my own place in the electronic music community as a queer woman.

PF: Is the final mix in mind when you’re developing an idea?

W: I’ve realized that I can't really go in with any expectations. As of late, the goal is the same: making fucked up but danceable rhythms. One of the most exciting parts of exploring dance music is the rhythmic possibility. Growing up I was classically trained on melodic instruments, and I never felt that rhythm was my strong suit until I started using the computer to make music. I try to always challenge myself with complex sounds and rhythms that I wouldn't expect on the dance floor.

PF: How are you getting those sounds?

W: Some might laugh, but I'm still using Ableton Live 8. All my music starts in Ableton, and then I run ten channels from Ableton out of an audio interface and into a 16-channel mixer. I have three different delays and a distortion pedal as aux sends in the mixer, and a midi controller that controls Ableton. I also use an Korg ER-1 Electribe (she's moody and doesn't always work right) to transition between songs.

PF: Is touring through the South different from going other places?

W: I think right-wing conservative people in the south are more open about their backwards views because that rationale has been normalized in the South for centuries. Driving around there it's clear that racism, xenophobia, transphobia, and homophobia are alive and well--just based on the conservative propaganda all around the highways. It's important to note that I am a white cis-woman. The South is significantly less safe for a person of color or a trans person.

PF: How do you keep spontaneity on stage?

W: The music is very preset, but the way I perform the compositions and process the effects can be totally different each time. Each song has its own customized patterns in Ableton: 20-25 clips that I play through. I design my own effects racks, which completely transform the original sound. As a classically trained musician, it took me years to figure out how to play electronic music in a way that feels tangible--like a real instrument.

Dustin K. Britt is a Durham-based performing arts critic and award-winning theatre artist. He is the managing editor of Chatham Life & Style and provides content for IndyWeek and Carolina Parent. In your spare time, you can stalk him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Shane Parish: Part One

Shane Parish: Part One

Asheville, North Carolina based guitarist Shane Parish is the Jazzmaster wielding half of the rock band Ahleuchatistas. The duo is not bound by genre, mixing jazz/prog/post/Eastern-and-Western music traditions into a tightly wound whole. At once precise and improvisatory, grounded and space-bound. 

On his recent solo album Undertaker Please Drive Slowreleased on John Zorn's Tzadik label, Parish wrings new life out of traditional song. Themes emerge reversed, in fragments, in extension, with vigor, or with delicate intricacies. It is a truly masterful album, and that mastery translates effortlessly to the stage.

You can see Shane Parish play solo during the 2017 Hopscotch Music Festival on Thursday 9/7 at 9:30pm at Fletcher Theater. And the mighty Ahleuchatistas will play at Slim's on Friday 9/8 at 11:30pm.

Pedal Fuzz's Eddie Garcia sat down with Parish at the Big Ears Music Festival in Knoxville, TN in the Spring of 2017. This is Part One of the conversation.

Eddie Garcia: When did you first start playing guitar?

Shane Parish: I started playing when I was 14 years old.

EG: What was your first guitar?

SP: I think it was called a Striker or something like that, this white Fender Strat knockoff. (Made by Kramer)

striker.jpg

EG: Were you self-taught in the beginning?

SP: Yeah, for a long time. In a way I still feel self taught. I haven't had steady instruction or lessons with anyone. When I was a teenager my main thing was to really just write songs. I had a friend who would sing and so we had a band called Union Prayer Book. He wrote all the lyrics and did all the singing and I just wrote all the songs and I just kind of put together things that I thought sounded cool. I kind of mixed up chords and wiggled the fingers until things sounded cool and called that a song.

EG: Who were you listening to in those days?

SP: Pink Floyd was probably the biggest influence around that time, but also a lot of metal, bands like Megadeth. It's hard to say, it was such a such a blur of of music: Iron Maiden, The Beastie Boys, a lot of classic rock when I was first getting the ball rolling. Also folk singers, I'm a huge Bob Dylan fan.

EG: Did you start using pedals around that time?

SP: Not at first, cause I was playing an acoustic guitar with the singer, and we had our set of like 12 songs that we would play at open mic nights around South Florida, Fort Lauderdale area. And then I started getting into the more psychedelic music like Pink Floyd and then King Crimson. Once I got into Prog Rock I just started accumulating massive amount of pedals.

So I had a ton of pedals. And I had something like a revelation one day that I need to get rid of all of them. I had 12 pedals or so at this point, and then one day I realized I can't really play guitar. So I got rid of all the pedals.

EG: Then what did you do differently?

SP: I played guitar more. If you listen to the early Ahleuchatistas music it’s militantly dry tone electric guitar. On our first couple albums there's not even reverb on the guitar. I was trying to make sounds with the instrument without the pedals. Then gradually they kind of worked their way back into my palate. And I have quite a few now, but I really play them like instruments.

Each pedal has so many parameters to it, and if you see the show, I’m up and down a lot because I'm changing the delay speed, and using the pedal to manipulate the sound. 

EG: The band has changed too. It used to be a three-piece and went to a two-piece. So was it during that transition the pedal situation started to amp up? Were you trying to fill in the low end?

SP: Yeah, for sure. We needed some low-end cause we decided to move forward without a bass player and so I got the octaver going on, and started using the loop pedal more - which I had already been doing, just not in Ahleuchatistas. You know I've been kind of using loops and then started to explore more textural soundscape type of arrangements and recordings. I put out a solo album in 2010 The Vacancy of Every Verse that explored a lot of that stuff.

EG: During this time when the band started changing, did you do any musical study with anyone, formal or informal?

SP: Well when Sean Dail and Derek Poteat were still in the band I was at University of North Carolina-Asheville, and I ended up getting a philosophy degree from there. But I did take four semesters where I was also doing some jazz theory and took some lessons from the late Tim Hayden who was their jazz guitar instructor for a number of years. I don't know how much I really got out of that. Just because of where my head was at. It took me awhile to finally get centered and focused enough to think and absorb things about performing on the guitar. Things like optimum technique, or applying theory and things like that. I was too scattered and disassociated or out of my body to actually be present enough to do the real work that's involved. It's a very slow almost meditative kind of work.

EG: I’ve talked to a few players who said similar things, where it takes a while to find the subtleties. When you're playing when you're younger and really throwing everything in there, then some sort of shift happens, you step back and appreciate nuance a little more.

SP: Right. Well the guitar was like a real lifesaver for me. You know I had a very rocky childhood and when I started playing guitar at 14. I was like ‘this is it, this is all I’m gonna do, period. I dropped out of school, and I just ate a bunch of psychedelic drugs and listened to music. My family was somewhat alarmed at my choices at that time, but I think it was a real way for me to escape the harsh realities of the time. So I had a great time cause music is amazing. You can really just go into this sort of other realm of existence and consciousness.

The early Ahleuchatistas music that I started in my early-mid twenties I was really still in this very agitated state of, like you’re saying - throwing everything at it, without any kind of sense of embodiment. I wasn’t really in my body playing. I was playing so tensely - crazy things! Things executed so sloppily, and agitated. Which might be what was appealing to some people about it. It was an honest state of expression that resulted from a more visceral place.

Trying to convey feelings without the advantages of being able to play in an effortless way and know what I was actually doing.

EG: It sounds like maybe you found a certain inner peace in your music.

SP: Right, so like therapy. You start to look at it, like ‘what were those conditions?’ You know it was interesting I came to this discussion in talk therapy. Where it was like ‘you were actually operating remotely’ - it was as though I was playing the guitar from a distance, like I was faraway. In the last 10 years I've really got into classical guitar a lot. That's kind of my main focus for the most part, at least that type of technique. Where you’re very interested in what is it to touch the instrument? What is it to produce a sound on the instrument with your fingers and just be in that moment?

EG: Okay with the classical music, have you also been teaching yourself that, or have you had anyone to help you on that path?

SP: I'm self-taught, but you know what there's a number of books and methods that I think are really interesting. The Natural Classical Guitar by Lee Ryan is one. And then Eduardo Fernandez’ book Technique, Mechanism, Learning. Or Aaron Shearer’s method, he’s a Winston Salem University of North Carolina School of The Arts professor for decades.

But these are just methods of very gradual technique accumulation, in this kind of very present kind of way, very goal-oriented. I had a daughter two years ago, and my practice time now is limited, and that's great, I love my daughter, and I love being a family man.

But I actually accomplish a great deal more in a lot less time. I used to have wide-open time; I’d practice for eight hours and get nothing done.  Now I have an hour and a half, two hours in the morning, and I get so much done cause I know how to organize my time. And I think to be able to grow you really need to work in smaller increments anyway.

EG: Something I notice with both your sets - solo and with Ahleuchatistas - such intense precision. But yet, there seems to be a lot that's improvised. Where does that come from, and how do you merge those two seemingly disparate approaches to the instrument? Did you have a “here’s Derek Bailey for the first time, mind blown,” did you have a moment like that?

SP: I think I've always improvised. I think because I was self-taught that creativity came first and spontaneous composition came first because I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I can tell you if I look back at some songs, like okay that’s a sus (suspended) chord, I can analyze it. But it was really an issue of having creativity first, having that as the emphasis. So I think that helped me to have a voice on the instrument. People have asked me “how do you avoid cliche, or how do you find your own voice,” because it's difficult. I think it's cause that was the first thing, it had primacy. Even in the classical guitar tradition there's certain educators that emphasize this.

Don't wait to insert your creativity into the work that you're doing. I teach a number of guitar students, 25 students or more and some of them for years it now. And there's a lot of song learning or lick learning or things that you learn from other musicians, and I think it's great. You're doing a master study right? You're just like a painter would do a master's study of a Rembrandt or something. But I think you have to really develop your own voice at the outset. Even if you're learning, you're never going to sound like Jimmy Page, I don't care how hard you try, you will never be that person. We need to have an emphasis on your own voice from the beginning, and combine it with all these other things. You can study those things, but they have to become a part of who you are.

For me it took a really long time to get to where I can kind of blend all my interests, because I have so many interests musically, and I’m talking decades. I’ve been playing for 25 years now. Within the last couple years I think I’ve come to place where there's a certain seamlessness about throwing those things together without trying. Do you know what I mean? All the interests - I like classical guitar, I like Brazilian music, I like noise music and punk rock and jazz. But I'm not genre hopping either. I’m not trying to do a post-modern thing where I'm going to jump from one style to another.

Eddie Garcia plays guitar and all the pedals as 1970s Film Stock. You can also hear him reporting on NPR affiliate 88.5 WFDD in Winston-Salem, NC. In the wee hours he runs Pedal Fuzz, which is a proud recipient of a grant from the Arts Enterprise Lab / Kenan Institute For The Arts. 

Look for Part Two of Shane Parish's Pedal Fuzz Interview in the coming weeks!