Darl Ferm ’12, second to the right in the hat,
called his band’s new exposure a “surreal experience.”
When new bands emerge, press coverage revolves around two major aspects: the recorded music, and the live show. Nailing one will get you talked about; both, and you’re the new rising stars. Speedy Ortiz, coming out of Northampton, Mass. and featuring Darl Ferm ’12 on bass, have been hailed as funny, sharp, and explosive by blogs, magazines, and newspapers galore, gaining praise equally for their concerts and their debut full-length, Major Arcana. They are “best new music,” “best new artists,” and pretty much best new everything else you can think of.
Although most publications talk about the rock band’s witty and outspoken front woman Sadie Dupois, Speedy Ortiz’s lo-fi but finely constructed ’90s-esque sound stems just as much from the extra guitar, drums, and bass piled on top of each other. Darl Ferm ’12, a film studies major at Wesleyan, is the most recent addition to the band. He spoke to me about the recent success and popularity of Speedy Ortiz, how Wesleyan makes it difficult to be in a band, and his own personal influences and musical contributions. Oh, and Speedy Ortiz wants to play a show at Eclectic this fall, so somebody should make that happen.
You’re a 2012 Wesleyan graduate. How did you get involved in Speedy Ortiz?
I had been listening to Speedy Ortiz. They were a band before I joined, and I’d played a show with them with my old band, Day Sleeper. They also played Wesleyan a few times. They opened for us, and I knew Sadie [Dupois] and Mike [Falcone] already, and they needed a new bass player. I wanted to play bass cause I didn’t play a lot of music in college.
You studied film at Wesleyan, and now you’re playing in a band that’s really “breaking out” right now. How did you come to make that transition?
I joined the band right before I graduated, in January, so that definitely affected it because we were already gaining a little momentum by then. I’d never really been in a band that played so many shows, and it was really exciting and still is, to be with people who take it so seriously. Pretty quickly I switched all my plans when joining the band, I thought I’d focus on this band because I don’t know when I’d get this opportunity again. I’d been playing music for a long time, but it was never anything I wanted to study in college.
Did you play music while you were at Wesleyan, even if you didn’t study it?
No, not really. I actually think Wesleyan’s pretty bad about cultivating bands because there are really no good practice spaces. I wanted to practice with my band but booking the Usdan practice spaces is the most difficult thing ever. You pretty much had to have a house to play music. I didn’t play a lot of music when I was here. I went to a lot of shows and I was in the Sound Co-op though, so I was pretty involved in that way. I threw house shows at 64 Fountain when I live there, which I never really saw anyone do in my 4 years except for one other time. And I never really understood why people don’t do that. Because those shows are awesome and as long as people are willing to get past the fact they might get in trouble with Public Safety, they’re really fun shows that escape the whatever about Eclectic or one of the larger venues you have to pay.
Your full-length debut, Major Arcana, just came out on Carpark Records. What was it like writing and recording the songs, and what part do you play in that process?
The writing part’s a little strange because some of the songs are old, a lot were written while I was at Wesleyan. And so, the way it kind of works was Sadie would write the core of the song, the melody, and we’ll write over it. We don’t write the melodies, that’s just her, but we’d help out with the arrangements. Recording, I play it, and I’d help mix it and give suggestions about what to do and how to record, how it should sound, how it should be equalized. It was kind of a collection of songs Sadie had written, and some I had a bigger part in than others in writing.
Songs like “Pioneer Spine” just came together because the beginning harmonics riff was just something I’d be playing while we were setting up our instruments, I think during our first tour, so when we were at a show and I was already set up I’d just be playing that. Sadie wrote a guitar part and they just matched up. In that, I write all my bass line there, and sometimes Sadie will bring the rest of the song to me or the band.
Speaking of live shows, the group’s sense of humor, especially in its concerts, is a big part of the personality of Speedy Ortiz. Why is that so important, and how do you take part in that yourself?
I think it’s important just because we’re not super serious people anyway, so it’s just honest for us to be doing that. I think humor is a good way of not being serious and being serious at the same time, because at least the parts that are planned out like the lyrics, stuff like that is thought about but it comes off as natural. I think that’s kind of a vibe people might get from us: humor makes it seem like we’re not concerned about the technical aspects, but if you watch us play live, it’s complicated what we’re playing, or at least more complicated than it sounds.
It gives us a balance, it gives us a lot of room to have fun with a lot of aspects of the band and not take everything super seriously. You just play shows every single night, or lots and lots of nights, and you have to mix it up and keep it interesting. In terms of what I add to the humor, during the live shows, I don’t know if I add much to the humor. I move around pretty weirdly. But I don’t have a microphone and I don’t do awkward things in the audience. I don’t actively think about it at all.
It’s kind of a strange question at this point. It’s kind of a surreal experience, but it makes a difference in some ways and in other ways it doesn’t at all, in terms of this tour, a lot more people are coming out to every single show. So that’s awesome, but it wasn’t booked before all the press came out. It’s also surreal because we come from a DIY aesthetic and community so it’s strange to us to be getting this press, because a lot of our favorite bands we play with aren’t getting the same press even though they’ve done it 6 times longer than us and have done a lot more touring.
It’s kind of strange the way it is, but it’s cool, and if it helps, we have to wait and see. We’re going to be touring with Thurston Moore’s band Chelsea Light Moving in September, so I don’t think that would have happened before. It’s opening a lot of doors, but it’s kind of just the beginning of it, the Pitchfork review just came out the other day, so I don’t know exactly what it’s like. A lot of these don’t have an affect that’s immediate, aside form getting Facebook friend requests from people I don’t know. A lot of people from Naples want to friend me, I don’t know why.
Maybe Naples is a fan base worth exploring.
Maybe, I don’t know.
What are your personal musical influences, and how do you integrate that into your playing style?
I think in terms of my bass tone, it’s a direct riff off of Polvo or Helium or Unwound, just because I like all those bands, but I also think the bass amp doesn’t has too many settings on it. That was also a big thing. It’s weird when people tell us we sound very nice, but we never sat down as a group to discuss being ’90s sounding. I really like the band Morphine and what I was saying before, and of course Nirvana. There are a lot of modern bands from Boston I really like, like Fat History Month, Krill, and that’s probably my biggest influence and our biggest influence as a whole. I listen probably to hip hop more than any other kind of music, like J. Dilla and Madlib a lot. I also listen to hardcore music, and a lot of shoegaze music, too, like My Bloody Valentine. I don’t really know. I don’t listen to music that sounds like us, unless it’s a band I know personally.
Anything else you want people to know about the band or your current tour?
People should definitely come by and say hi if I’m stopping by their hometown. We also want to play Wesleyan sometime in the fall, so hopefully that’ll be arranged.
Do you have someone already to book the show?
I’d like to do it at Eclectic, but I don’t know. I tried to get a show there this past year, but it never came together, mostly out of laziness on the person I tried to get to book the show’s part. I really hope it’s something that happened. Whenever I played with my last band, which never got any press, we always got huge crowds. If anyone wants to throw a house show we can play at, we will probably just do that.