By Katherine Flynn of Consequence of Sound
After consuming what she describes as a “lifetime quantity” of cheap beer over the past nine months of touring, Sadie Dupuis is getting into soda.
“Soda’s fun, man!” the Speedy Ortiz frontwoman says. “I don’t even like beer anymore. I drink ginger ale, I like Orangina, [bassist] Darl likes Coca-Cola – we’re all about sober life right now.”
Bucking peer pressure (or beer pressure, as it were) is exactly what one would expect from Dupuis. As the primary lyricist and most recognizable face of the Boston-based four-piece, she exudes a brand of competency and aloofness that other musicians – male or female – can only hope to emulate.
“I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” she declares on “Raising the Skate,” the first single from Speedy Ortiz’s recently-released sophomore effort, Foil Deer, and it’s hard not to take her at her word.
Dupuis says that the album is about gaining self-confidence, but it also contains a multitude of thorny warnings for anyone who dares to cross her. It’s more polished than the band’s 2013 debut, Major Arcana (an admitted breakup record), but no less creative or visceral.
In three years, Speedy Ortiz has navigated a swift ascent from obscurity to critical darlings, but with Foil Deer and an upcoming international tour, the band is establishing itself as an act with, yes, a fresh take on fuzzy guitar rock, but also one with some staying power. And for the first time, Dupuis – who recently completed an MFA in poetry at UMass Amherst – and her bandmates are making Speedy Ortiz their full-time job.
She’s really serious about the soda thing, too.
“I recommend all of the Brightest Young Things readers get into soda,” she says, without a trace of irony.
You’ve talked about how when you toured for Major Arcana, girls would come up to you after shows and talk about how you inspired them to start bands of their own. How do you feel about being a role model?
I think that because I’ve taught middle schoolers and high schoolers and college kids, it doesn’t seem super crazy to me. I think even that position is sort of a more foundational role in terms of being a role model. But it’s weird to try to do that when you’re also writing songs about your personal life. On this record, it seemed important to focus a little bit less on that and a little bit more on being outspoken, speaking up for yourself, and all that good self-esteem kind of stuff.
One thing that I love about your music is how angry you allow yourself to be. There’s not a ton of space for female artists to be pissed off in popular music. It felt like there was even a little more of that on this album.
The point of this record isn’t anger as much as it is self-confidence.
But I don’t know if I agree that there’s an absence of that in pop music lately, because I think even, like, super bubblegummy pop music has sort of crossed into more of that threshold of independence and self-esteem. Especially the stuff that Neon Gold puts out – Charli XCX has kind of got some of that going on; Tove Lo, as well.
And then in the same world we operate in – Priests. Katie is definitely angry about a lot of things, and rightfully so. She’s has been tremendously outspoken about the sort of issues that inspired their music.
So, I don’t know that there’s necessarily an absence of that. If anything, I think it’s better clarified now than it has been in a long time.
What was it like recording Foil Deer over a period of three weeks, versus the four days that you had for Major Arcana?
It was fun. We stayed [in New York] with Dan Goldin from Exploding in Sound, which was our first record label. It was sort of nice to only have to work on [the album]. When we did our first record, it would be, like, Darl recording a bass take and then going to deliver some pizzas, or me doing vocal takes, going to teach a class, and then going back to finish. For this, we were just staying close by and in the studio all day long. I think that made it much more of a seamless project than rushing to fit all of these different pieces in a four-day window when we’re all trying to work our day jobs.
Now that you’re writing and recording and touring full-time, do you ever miss teaching?
Yeah, I really like teaching. I did a guest lecture at BC last year right after I quit teaching, and that was pretty fun. I’d like to do more of that – I was supposed to go do a workshop at this private arts high school in upstate New York this year, but I had some family emergency stuff going on so I had to cancel it. But I’m hoping to get into some of that.
I’ve always liked working with kids, especially late teens. It’s basically the only job that I’ve ever had. When I was in high school, I tutored and I worked at a summer camp for a long time as part of a music program.
I imagine that in about a year, that’s probably what I’ll wind up doing again.
Would you go back to teaching college-age kids?
I like teaching college. In terms of the benefit that you get from teaching, there’s certainly a lot to be learned from teens. So, I like teaching freshmen and sophomores. I think that’s a pretty cool age group. When I was 18 or 19, I was probably a lot cooler than I am now.
I talked to Katie Crutchfield from Waxahatchee a couple of weeks ago, and she said that one of the ways that she experienced sexism as a female artist was that a lot of guys in her music scene would make her the butt of a lot of jokes. Have you ever had any similar experiences?
You know, I’m very lucky in that the friends that I’ve surrounded myself with have never especially been that way. The Boston scene is one that I’ve sort of claimed as my home base, even before I moved to Massachusetts, just because of bands like Devin’s – which is Grass Is Green – and Pile and Krill. We’re such good friends, and they were always really big fans of all the bands I was in. It was definitely a community of mutual respect and admiration, and we’re all still really tight knit.
The times when I encountered things like what Katie was describing have always been when we’re out of town or with people we don’t know. I think I’ve always had pretty little tolerance for it. For me, it’s never been the people that I’m close to. I’ve never been made to feel the way that Katie has been made to feel, but I do know that that happens often in many kinds of scenes, and I guess I’ve always had such little tolerance for it that if I ever get the sense that I’m being disrespected that way, no second chances – that person’s cut off.
There was this band that opened for us – it’s one of the only times that I’ve ever really felt like I was being disrespected for reasons other than, like, they hate my band, whatever, that’s fine. But it seemed like something else. We basically made it a policy to never play with that band again.
Do you mind me asking which band it was?
Maybe in like a year. They know who they are.
The album’s first single was “Raising the Skate” – were you guys trying to set any kind of tone?
Yeah, it’s sort of the same thing I was saying – this is an album that’s more about self-confidence and sticking up for yourself and whatever else, and that seems like more of a mission statement than some of the other songs. It’s a clear entry point to what the rest of the album’s about, so we sort of used that one to set the tone.
You created the album art for Foil Deer, and you have a background in art. What’s your favorite medium to work in?
I worked with comics and I made comics when I was a kid. My mom’s a portrait artist and does landscapes as well, and works in oils. So I always worked in oil paints when I was a kid, but she also collects art, and she got me into collecting comics at a pretty young age. I’ve always kind of drawn in that sort of style, because that’s what I spend a lot of time reading. That’s probably my favorite medium to work in.
But as far as our own artwork goes, I’m not really trained in any way as an artist other than just doing it on my own, so it’s sort of like a “plunge in and see what happens, maybe it’ll be functional.” I used to do embroidery in high school, so I’ll embroider stuff on paper, and sew the paper to other paper. A lot of the aesthetic bit that was done on the past few album covers featured some of that sort of visible, obvious handmade element where the stitching is pulled out a little bit and you can sort of see that it’s a human hand.
I understand that your father passed away in early March. What kind influence did he have on your music?
He was involved in the music industry for a lot of his life – mostly from the business side of things. He worked as a manager for some blues musicians, and he was an A&R guy in the South for a couple different labels.
Well before I was born, he had sort of bounced out of that industry, but he was always a pretty avid music fan. It wasn’t necessarily the kind of music that I liked or played, but it was fun to go to shows. We would go to shows when I was way too young to get into them, and he would go record shopping with me. He got me into wanting to buy albums and listening to them and dissecting albums.
He played piano a little bit too, so I learned piano when I was a kid because he had one in the house.
Can you just talk a little bit about your relationship with the other guys in the band, and especially your new band member? How do you guys all work together?
I’ve known all those guys for a long time because our old bands have toured – not really toured together, but played a lot of shows together on the East Coast. I’ve known them all five or six years. Devin had been in the band Grass Is Green, who my old band played with a lot. Whenever he played New York, he would sleep on my floor and stuff. Darl was sort of same deal. He went to high school with the drummer in my old band, and we played with his old band in North Carolina.
We’ve all just kind of been friends for a long time and when I was trying to start a new band, Mike and Darl were playing some shows, and then it sort of turned into a full-time thing. And then Devin, obviously we’ve known him for a long time, so it wasn’t a crazy transition to have him join the band.
Do you feel like he’s brought any new ideas to the band?
He’s a pretty distinct guitar player. He’s got an ever-growing pedal collection, but somehow it’s always pretty easy to tell when Devin’s playing on a track. He’s played in most of our friends’ projects. It’s nice to play with a musician who you can sort of tell right away that it’s them playing, even if you weren’t in the room watching them.
It’s a style that I’ve always admired in Devi. There are certain times in the past where I can point to parts that I was playing and trying to do it in Devin’s style. So if I was already trying to rip him off, having him in the band is even better. There’s lots of little touches that he thought of for this record that, otherwise, the song would have been pretty different. It’s way better for his contribution.
You’ve discussed your love of rap and hip-hop, and its influence on you. What rap have you been listening to lately?
It depends on the period of time, I guess. I just went to Coachella, and I saw Azealia Banks and Ghostface and Raekwon, so that was cool. I think all of us in the band are pretty avid dweebs about keeping up with what’s new and what’s coming out, so what we’re all listening to kind of depends on the week. Lately, I’m really into that Shamir EP, so I’ve been listening to that a lot.
Hannibal Buress played drums for you guys at SXSW – were you a fan of his beforehand?
Yeah, we’re really crazy big fans of all the shows he’s on. I’m going to go see him on Saturday, I think; he’s in Boston.
Obviously, he didn’t have a ton of experience playing drums –
[Laughs] No, none. I think absolutely no experience.
But it seemed like you guys kind of made it work.
Yeah, we’ve all been to SXSW a bunch of times. We played like eight shows this year, and that’s the least any of us has ever played at this festival in any of our bands. We’re like, “Well, we got out here, we need to make it worth our while to pay for this shit.” I think last year Speedy did, like, eleven shows or something. Devin’s old band Grass is Green has been a few times, and they would do like fifteen shows or something idiotic.
So we’re like, “Well, if we’re going to play eight shows in a week, it’s going to be pretty monotonous. It’d be cooler to hang out with Hannibal Buress even if he doesn’t know how to play drums than just play another totally regular set.”
Wow, eight shows in a week.
We were like, “Oh, lucky us, only doing eight shows.” So it was slightly less strenuous than last year.
As far as touring goes, do you have any tour snacks that you’re really into, or any rituals that you have on tour?
I’m pretty boring – so, a lot of health food stuff. sSeaweed snacks are a pretty big one lately. Always a fan of the kale chips. When we get to a town, I immediately try to go to a health food store and get a bunch of stuff like that because I’m vegan. It’s not the easiest to find food at a rest stop.