One thing is certain: Sadie Dupuis has never been shy about expressing her opinions.
“I don’t think it’s ever felt foreign to me to use art to voice discontent, or using art to evoke change, or using art to fall back on when your emotional resources are drained because the world is fucked up. I don’t think this is anything new for me,” she says, the words flowing quickly and confident.
The multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer-songwriter sits in her childhood bedroom in the small town of Washington, Connecticut. Best known as the frontwoman for grunge rockers Speedy Ortiz, Dupuis is enjoying a day off in the middle of touring in support of Slugger, the first release as Sad13, Dupuis’ more pop-friendly solo project.
While fans might be more accustomed to hearing her play some grittier tunes, the shift to lighter melodies has not blunted the edge of Dupuis’ lyrics or subject matter. She still holds no punches, nor does she shy away from important conversations. Dupuis cuts a thoughtful figure, more than ready to embrace the challenges ahead of her.
“This stuff has always been part of my lyrics but I’m used to playing in cryptic-sounding rock bands, whereas in a pop project you have to put your feelings up front,” she continues, enthusiastically.
“It’s been exciting to do that for topics I think are important and often underrepresented in pop culture.”
Sad13 plays Washington DC’s Songbyrd on November 18. Slugger is out now on Carpark Records.
Brightest Young Things: What is the biggest difference for you in creating music for a solo project versus writing for a band? Have you recognized any benefits or drawbacks in your own creative process?
Sadie Dupuis: I think the songwriting is quite similar. Even for Speedy Ortiz I’ll record demos at home, and those are usually pretty fleshed out: there will be a couple of guitar parts, maybe some keyboard, and I might drum on it or use programmed drums just to get an idea of what it should sound like with a band. With Speedy, my bandmates learn from the demos, and we might make some changes depending on how it sounds live. Obviously by the time we get to recording everyone’s got their own parts and I’m not playing every instrument.
With this project, I sat down and recorded a demo as if it was for Speedy, but I kept working on those demos rather than teaching the parts to other people or have somebody else playing them. So, the songwriting is really the same, it’s just that I didn’t have the whole “road testing” songs phase, or collaborating in the studio with other people kind of thing. [Laughs]
BYT: How has moving back to bedroom production affected your process? What was the impetus to going back to making music in intimate/DIY settings?
Dupuis: At first I was just making demos, and thought I would redo the songs. I had this idea that I was going to do every song with a different producer, and I had this list of producers that were sort of “dream collaborators” for me – and some of those people ended up trying out mixing some of the songs. But at the end of the day, I tried to accomplish it on my own and it felt like a cool opportunity.
You read so many pieces – you read Bjork interviews where she talks about how she’s been producer or co-producer on all of her records, and people tend to focus on the co-producer’s contributions rather than crediting her. Certainly, 99% of the time I’m described in an interview they’ll say “the singer of Speedy Ortiz”. I think it’s unconscious for many people but we’re not inclined to refer to women musicians as multi-instrumentalists or producers or songwriters or even guitarists, you know? If she’s a singer, she’s a singer.
I got really into the Bjork record and the Grimes record, Computer Magic, Empress Of – all of these really awesome women who had important things to say and were producing their own records because that was the best way to get their messages across. And I felt that applied to me too.
Also – so often, engineering jobs at professional recording studios are filled pretty much exclusively by white men. It felt important to add another name to the list of women producers. I think whatever small fan base I have, if this record inspires a kid who thinks she couldn’t record to start picking it up as a hobbyist and ultimately it becomes her job – that would be the dream. I wanted more visibility for women who engineer and produce and mix.
BYT: Going back to this list of female engineers, producers, multi-instrumentalists, and really – auteurs, if you will: are there any specific albums by any of them that you had as an ideal or a touchpoint?
Dupuis: A lot of the things I was really inspired by don’t fully relate to my own production techniques. While I was into these records I wasn’t trying to sound like them in any particular record – although the Charli XCX record from…was it last year, I guess? Sucker. No – it was from the year before! Anyways, there’s a lot of stuff on that record that I was trying to rip off in my own dinky home recorded way. [Laughs] Obviously she’s working with tons of huge producers, many of whom are in Sweden, and with like, Rostam [Batmanglij, Vampire Weekend]. I’m not going to have the tools to replicate that but I tried to think about it in terms of the attitude and the feel of the songs, and some of the small details came to mind.
I love, love, love the Grimes record (Art Angels) and I think I was thinking about her in particular with some of the ways I processed vocals on Slugger. But a lot of the producers I’ve cited are more in the electronic sphere than this record is – there’s still a lot of guitars on it, and live drums on a lot of it. I think my background playing in rock bands maybe tethered me a little bit to the rock side of the pop-electronic sphere. [Laughs]
BYT: Yeah, I can definitely see the influences Charli XCX and Grimes had on this album. Actually, I also thought of Sky Ferreira a lot when listening to the record.
Dupuis: For sure! Well, I was definitely thinking of Blood Orange’s production. Specifically his work on Solange’s album from 2013 for some of the drum sound stuff – the name escapes me right now.
BYT: Yeah, the True EP – with “Losing You” on it.
Dupuis: [Enthusiastic] Yes! Specifically “Losing You”. [Laughs] Particularly on “Get A Yes”, I was thinking about that song.
BYT: Funny you mention that, my first impression was that it sounded like a Dev Hynes drum beat when I heard that song, but I knew you had produced it.
Dupuis: [Laughs] Don’t sue me Dev Hynes, please! I love you. His new record is amazing. It’s funny – a lot of the influences, Blood Orange and Solange – they both put out new albums after I finished putting this one together. Part of me was wishing that I had waited a bit longer and been able to hear their stuff before I completed Slugger, so I could have those influences on it. [Laughs] It’s cool to see the artists that inspire you evolve and surprise you.
Someone else who was a big influence – and since you’re in DC, I should mention him – I’m a huge, huge, massive Chad Clark and Beauty Pill fan. The last Beauty Pill record was such a big influence on me. It’s amazingly written and the production’s so strange and cool. He actually wound up doing some of the additional recording on the first track, “<2” – he did the vocals, and some of the guitars. I went to DC for the day and did that stuff with him at his studio, and it was really cool. I asked a lot of nerdy questions about his own stuff.
Speedy did a tour that was a benefit for Girls Rock Camp Foundation, and we I’ve been such a long term crazy fan of Beauty Pill – we somehow convinced them to play the Baltimore date of this fundraising tour. [Excitedly] I mean, Devin Ocampo is one of my favorite drummers, I was just nerding out really hard. I was really lucky to get to meet them, and that he was kind of fond of me. It was at their small studio, Inner Ear, and I got to talk to Chad and he was pointing out historical facts about some of my favorite records. Cool nerding out experience. [Laughs]
BYT: You sound really excited – you’re about as excited as I get when talking to some of my icons.
Dupuis: [Big laugh] Yeah! I’m like stuttering and lisping over here because I’m so excited.
BYT: You shed light on some important issues in your music, such as affirmative consent. Given the current political (and cultural) reality in this country, it’s particularly relevant. Have you always been this outspoken? If not, when did you find your voice?
Dupuis: I think so. It’s funny – I’m in my childhood bedroom right now and I’m looking at my guitar case from high school and it has all of these stupid political stickers on it. [Laughs] I grew up in New York City, and my mom moved up to a very rural part of Connecticut. Much of the politics up here reflect those in many rural parts of America – conservative, and it can often be quite bigoted here, think.
So I moved from New York, and had grown up going to public schools, and had definitely not been surrounded solely by white kids. Moving up here, it was weird I was Jewish or something. [Laughs/scoffs] I was definitely in the minority of people who were vocally outspoken for progressive causes – I started to volunteer for marriage equality when I was 14, and I think volunteered for John Kerry. That’s the influence of my parents, and I can’t take much credit for being that way.
BYT: You have an MFA in poetry – how much does that background and training in terms of critical thinking or framing spill over into your songwriting?
Dupuis: I would say an MFA in poetry is the most loosey-goosey corner of academia. [Laughs] I’d say that half the time I’d try to propose an independent study I’d be told like “we already know you read a bunch of books — just keep doing that.” I don’t feel like a lot of structure was imposed upon my writing from the UMass Amherst MFA, which is a great program. It was also great because I was funded while I was there, which left me a lot of opportunity to fiddle around and write.
I think I got into poetry because I was a songwriter, rather than the other way around. I’ve been writing songs since I was in elementary school, and I’ve been recording since I was thirteen, so I’ve been doing that forever. I didn’t really start writing poetry formally until I was in college. If anything, the thing that stuck with me most from that program was teaching – I was an adjunct. I was teaching freshmen and sophomores expository writing, and a lot of my music comes from them. I can’t extract this part of my personality from the songwriting, but I’m always thinking about kids when I’m writing, I guess.
Even before I taught at UMass-Amherst, my first job was as a summer camp counselor, and I kept doing that for a really long time. I’m always thinking about what influences music will have on kids, and especially kids who need to hear certain kinds of songs. I think teaching 18 year olds for three years, and reading their essays as to why they don’t vote, or reading essays about a kid who moved to UMass Amherst from China, and is feeling really isolated – that informs the songwriting more than academia specifically.
The nice thing about the UMass-Amherst program is that everyone who is in it for poetry is already reading and writing really actively; it’s just helpful to have a community that informs your work. Learning how kids feel is a sample of how the world feels, and I’m certainly always thinking of the kids I thought when I’m writing.
BYT: You’ve talked about wanting to put out an album each year for the rest of your career – which sounds super ambitious to our generation, but was kind of the norm back in the 60s and 70s. Why do you think it takes most contemporary artists so long to create new content?
Dupuis: Part of why artists were able to be so prolific in the 60s and 70s had to do with record label budgets that are nonexistent today. Unless you’re very wealthy or funded in some other way it’s not really viable for most groups to go into a professional studio to record annually. At the same time, more people than ever have access to technology that allows them to record at home–myself included. That’s why we’ve been able to hear so many great records from super-prolific young artists who fall under the category of “Bandcamp bands”–Alex G, Frankie Cosmos, Carseat Headrest.
I don’t think people are slower about writing songs than they were 50 years ago, but perhaps because good record deals are harder to come by, artists are more inclined to sit on their work waiting for a perfect opportunity. I think that’s a really easy way to let your work stagnate, and I hate letting my own songs become stale to me.
The things that matter to me this year may not be relevant in 2017 or 2019. It’s important to me to put things in the world so i can let go and move on and focus on new projects. And it’s sort of inconceivable to me that so many artists wait on labels to release their albums and then wind up breaking up before anything gets put out. If you don’t have a supportive label, why not just self-release? And why not do it as often as you’re moved to do so?