Speedy Ortiz have hit the road to tour their latest record, Twerp Verse. A total of eleven infectiously good tracks, the album is chockablock full of verses that’ll resonate with anyone who’s ever asked “How is this even real life?” over the course of the last tumultuous year or two. (And/or since the dawn of time.) I was able to catch up with the inimitable Sadie Dupuis by phone to talk about this latest batch of songs, the super fun and vibrant accompanying music videos, and about how to stay sane on tour. We also talked about how Speedy Ortiz is featured in an upcoming issue of The Archies (this is a good time to remind you it’s Free Comic Book Day on Saturday), and SD even revealed that she is a revealer of spoilers when we got on the topic of Riverdale! (Don’t worry, I didn’t re-spoil, although it was v. tempting.)
Internet-eavesdrop on our full convo below, and if you’re in DC on Saturday, be sure to catch Speedy Ortiz at Black Cat! If you’re in Chicago you can catch ’em at Subterranean on May 12th, and if you’re in NYC, hang tight until they hit Music Hall of Williamsburg on May 17th. In the meantime, grab a copy of the record and NEVER LOOK BACK!
So it was just Record Store Day, and I meant to go to Rough Trade to check out the installation you guys have inside, but it was SO CROWDED. So I’ll have to go back. What can you tell me about that?
This awesome designer did an art installation based on some of our music videos, and we kind of talked back and forth about different concepts. We ended up coming up with this faux fur room that has Velcro teardrops and different things you can interact with. It’s taking over the gallery space at Rough Trade right now.
That’s rad! And since you mentioned your music videos just now, that seems like the natural segue into some of the newest ones, which are so visually amazing! Were those things primarily your own concepts, or were you pitched ideas by other people?
It was mostly other people that came to me with the ideas. I talked through some visual points with Emily, who did the first video, just to convey what kind of tone we were looking for and what the song was about, and she came up with that totally on her own. We loved it so much! That’s the one with the slime taking over the world, and this disinterested person being too absorbed in social media to engage with the collapsing world outside. Then the second video, I emailed the director a proposal for a concept that I had, and she just completely ignored it and sent me something a million times better. So we went with that, this idea that she came up with, how people that purport to help their friends with mental health but just give them totally unhelpful advice like, “Just try yoga and you’ll be fine!” And she really loves doing clown stuff, so it was a very bright and colorful video. And then the last one I did have a concept for, but I just didn’t know how to execute it, and the director’s an old friend who’s done video for us before, so I emailed her and she totally knew how to do it the right way. So that’s how that one came to be.
Amazing. And I know that with this record, you kind of had to scrap the first round of songs since the whole turmoil of 2016 changed your outlook. Obviously it was a necessary move, but did you feel like it was at all difficult to cut all that work loose?
It was not so difficult, only because I wasn’t close to them. A lot of them had been written in 2014, and I always want to be working on the next thing. Enough time had passed that they weren’t dear to me anymore, you know what I mean? Whenever I do a new song, I’m like, “This is the best!” and I’m so excited on whatever’s new. So I’d just been growing… not dissatisfied, but just, you know, wanted to do something new. So it did feel pretty easy to make that call. If I’d written a song a week before we’d tracked them, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to scrap them, but because it’d been a few years, I had some perspective. Especially with my own shifting perspective about what matters.
Right. Well, I know for me, having a creative outlet to kind of process whatever the fuck is happening with regards to planetary turmoil is helpful, but sometimes it also just feels like a lot to not ever shut off from it. Do you ever find that to be tough? In terms of wanting to talk about things, but also not being completely consumed by them?
I guess I don’t really approach the writing with an agenda, these songs just happened to be more about our present context because of when they were written. So I’m not sitting down like, “I need to get rid of all these negative feelings about us bombing Syria today,” I just sit down and write whatever I’m thinking about at the time, and that becomes the song. It doesn’t feel like I need to strike a balance, because it’s really just mediating whatever I was thinking about when I do sit down and do the lyrics.
Do you remember which were the first couple to come to you off this record?
Well, we kept some of the songs from the first pass, so I think the earliest one that’s on the record would be “Villain”, which is from 2014. But after deciding to do more songs, I think the first one was “Lucky 88”, which I wrote in December of 2016.
Do you have any sort of process that you find yourself going back to when you sit down to write? Or is there any sort of environment that you find you’re most productive in?
I’ve done different things depending on the year. Lately I just tend to keep a lot of voice memos, and if a good idea comes to me, I have to run outside and sing it into my phone. That was the case with one of the songs – I was in a museum, and I had this idea based on something I saw, so I ran outside and left my mom inside to sing the whole thing into my phone. [Laughs] When I went home that night I sat down and did an actual demo. So usually I don’t really sit down to try to work on the songs, I just have melodic ideas that I can kind of translate into a recording. That’s sort of the process at this point.
Cool. Now, you you were recently (or are soon to be if it’s not out yet) featured in The Archies, which is so rad! How’d that come about!
Oh my god, I’m losing my mind about that! I’ve been on an aggressive campaign to be featured on Riverdale, which is my favorite TV show right now. I was listening to their Spotify playlist two falls ago, and when I was working on “Lucky 88”, I was like, “I’m gonna try to make this sound like the stuff that’s on the Riverdale soundtrack.” (So I was thinking of BANKS and Lorde.) And so ever since the song has come out, I’ve just been tweeting at Riverdale being like, “Hey, I wrote this song for your show! Put it on there!” [Laughs] And because I’ve kept doing this, it turns out that the person who wrote that issue of The Archies (the co-President of Archie Comics, Alex Segura) is a fan; he reached out to say, “I’m a big fan of your band, would you be in The Archies?” It’s the best DM I’ve ever gotten, and that was basically it. He described the plot of the episode, and I don’t know if I should reveal it since I don’t know if this will be published before the issue comes out, but I’ve been reading Archie Comics since I was a kid; my mom got me into them when I was like five years old, and I’ve kept up with them, so it’s a real dream to be involved in that universe. I joke about this all the time, but it’s true – I learned to play guitar because of Josie and the Pussycats. So the issue involves Speedy Ortiz judging a battle of the bands between Josie and the Pussycats and The Archies. So it’s very cool.
That’s dope! I haven’t been watching Riverdale much, but I watched last week’s episode and now feel like I’m emotionally invested. What a stressful ending!
The musical episode?! I know! [SPOILERS REDACTED!] Oh my god I spoilered it! I’m so sorry! Well, we don’t actually know if [SPOILERS REDACTED] but I’m so sorry! Fuck! Megan, look what you’re causing! [Laughs]
[Laughs] Ruining lives over here! Well, back to non-spoilery things, The Archies thing is super cool, and I love that it essentially happened because Alex Segura is a big fan. What’s been the coolest thing to come of people being fans of yours, that you’re maybe mutually a fan of? Because it seems like there are some really rad ones. Not to sound mega-cheesy, but I feel like it’s a pretty good meter when people say they like Speedy Ortiz for me to be able to gauge whether or not we’re gonna vibe.
Well thanks! I’m happy to be that meter! [Laughs] I think an interesting thing about being in a small indie band is… I mean, I don’t know, our record sales aren’t much, but I’ve been able to play with an absurd amount of my childhood heroes. I’ve just described a few of the artists we’ve been lucky enough to work with that I really care about… we had Jaime Hernandez, who created Love and Rockets, and who created the character Speedy Ortiz that we’re named after, do an illustration for us for this record that’s a portrait of the band. So that one is pretty surreal. His comics are really meaningful to me. They’re my favorite, he’s like, the master. And on the musical side of things, we’ve just been so lucky to tour with so many people that I probably wouldn’t be the musician I am without listening to. Like we toured with Stephen Malkmus, we just did a tour with The Breeders, Mary Timony… we toured with Ex Hex, but Helium was really important to me when I was learning guitar. And there’s more stuff coming up. So I don’t know, we’ve been really lucky in that regard. It feels validating to hear from anybody that they like the music that we work on, but to hear it from the people that inspired you to do it in the first place is like, very surreal.
Totally. Speaking of touring, you’ve got a lot of gigs coming up. What have you learned is essential for you to be able to maintain your health and sanity when you’re on the road?
[Laughs] Stopping to get some tea. I don’t know, I read a lot when I’m on tour, and I try to do a lot of healthy adult stuff. We try not to stay out too late or drink too much, and we still mostly stay at friends’ places when we’re on the road, don’t really do hotels, so sometimes that can be really nice, just getting to cook a meal with friends and feel like you have some sort of normalcy in your day to day schedule. Nothing too interesting, though. We don’t really do any rock star shit, we just go to Whole Foods and try to get eight hours of sleep. [Laughs]
I guess that’s how you can tell I’m thirty, because that sounds hella appealing to me. [Laughs]
I’m catching up to you in a couple of months, and I can’t wait.
It’s great! It gives you the excuse to be the couch grandma you’ve always wanted to. And what else besides the shows and the tunes are you super stoked on for the next few months coming up?
We’re really just touring for the rest of the foreseeable year. I’ll be stoked not to reveal any more spoilers to my poor bandmates, which I’m feeling very bad about right now. [Laughs] But we have a couple of things planned right now, like we’re doing some collaborations with a few different vegan restaurants, all of which are places that I frequent on tour. So we’re doing special Speedy Ortiz themed items, and a lot of them are giving a percentage of the proceeds to charities that we’ve agreed on together. I’m really excited about that, because it’s always cool to get to visit my favorite restaurants, but it’s even more cool to be working on a menu item with them. I’m really excited for that!
Photo by Shervin Lainez