words: Nicolette Natalie
photos: Shervin Lainez
On April 27th, Speedy Ortiz released their newest album, Twerp Verse, through Carpark Records. We recently spoke to Sadie Dupuis, “frontdemon” of the quartet about how the album was shaped by the current political climate as well as the relationship between activism and music.
The Grey Estates: In “Raising the Skate,” you sing “Holding a package from a total stranger / who claims to know me / naw, you never knew me, man, not even a fraction.” There’s an accessibility to musicians through social media that makes fans feel as if they “know” the musicians whose music they’re fans of. How does this awareness shape your interactions or the way you use social media?
Sadie Dupuis: This is earlier in the interview than I usually start talking about astrology! But as a Cancer sun with Sagitarrius rising and Mercury in Gemini, I was probably BORN to overshare on the internet. I'm not very guarded about how I use social media, because I grew up online on Livejournal and AIM and Weezer message boards, and I treat a lot of the folks I interact with online as friends. In fact, some of my favorite friends are people I met on Twitter. I'm on the surface about my day-to-day feelings, probably more so than I am in conversation (partially because I never leave the house!), and I don't mind sharing the unglamorous parts about being a working musician. But I also learned to use Twitter from poets, so a lot of my posts are just to be funny or absurd--it's a humor outlet for me most of the time.
"Raising the Skate" was more about bad friends and coworkers who project some goal for theirselves onto you, or take credit for your work, without really caring about who you are or what you need. Women get socialized to be polite and put up with that kind of thing and it's very stunting for your growth and health as a person and as an artist. I can't believe all of the bad behavior I used to put up with from dudes in my life. That song was my way of teaching myself to leave those people behind.
In past interviews, you’ve talked about being demisexual and having felt alienated by this part of your identity. How have you explored and expressed this using your music? I’m specifically thinking of “Shine Theory.”
A lot of the earliest Speedy music was really explicitly sexual, in a way that my life wasn't. Part of it was because it was fun to write that way, but also because I hoped writing through those kinds of feelings would help me understand why I felt so detached from sexuality. It would never have occurred to me that I was asexual--I'd had and enjoyed sex, but had only ever liked it in my first really long term relationship. When I learned about the asexuality spectrum, and that secondary sexual attraction is even a thing, my attraction history suddenly made a lot of sense. Knowing that it's normal and okay to feel more attracted by an emotional or intellectual connection rather than a physical connection was so important, and I was really thankful to find community through AVEN. And that's why I wrote "Shine Theory"--it's sort of about my early 20s adventures in casually dating, and not understanding why I couldn't care about these partners even though they looked good on paper or were "attractive."
In your songs, you’ve demonstrated that the personal is political by singing about emotionally abusive relationships, demisexuality, and feminism as they all relate to you. I’ve seen you discuss scrapping what was previously going to be the next Speedy album — a more “personal” album — after the 2016 election, to create a more “political” album. How do you separate personal and political, and how may this album differ from some of your other work in the past?
Of course I think personal topics matter and have political relevance--that's most of what our music is about. And there are several personal songs on this record we didn't scrap, songs about being a survivor, songs about addiction and emotional dependence. But in the past I wouldn't think twice about including a break up song or a plain old love song. Now, as a listener, I don't really get much out of those kinds of songs, so I'm inclined to put that kind of music under scrutiny when it comes from me. Will these lyrics offer comfort or community or escape to someone who hears it? If not, I'm just writing a subtweet in musical form, and, to bring it back to your first question, I might as well just put it on Twitter.
How did your experience as being a professor at UMass Amherst shape your writing?
Just to clarify, I was an instructor and not a professor--I designed and led my own writing classes, but I was part-time and not tenure track. That said, I could see myself going back into academia farther down the line. I taught expository writing, but we focused a lot on new media--Tumblr, Reddit, Twitter--and my students brought tons of stuff to me that kept me inspired, like slam poetry videos or TV they thought was exceptionally well-written. I've always loved teaching teenagers in creative fields. That was my first job, when I was a camp counselor right out of high school. When you're teaching an art you have to approach the editing and critical process with compassion, because everyone's aesthetics and processes and sensitivities are different and you really want to work together to help your student make the best finished product possible. Which in turn makes you treat your own work with respect and kindness during those same processes. Also, I love working with teens because they are smarter than me and have been since the moment I turned 20, so I wind up learning a lot. I really miss it!
How do you think hearing a SAD13 record or a Speedy Ortiz song growing up would have affected you?
I was always psyched to find more women who could be my guitar role models, so I bet I would have liked it! Though it's hard for me to flatter myself in that way. My first couple bands, from age 15 until I was in college, I would always let a guy play "lead" guitar or record the project. I didn't have the confidence to do those things myself, even though I'm good at them! If I'd had Screaming Females or Sammus to listen to as a high schooler, I think I would've delved into those roles way earlier.
What role do you see your music playing in our current political and personal climates?
I can't and wouldn't want to make a record that speaks for everyone, but Twerp Verse is very much about my own horrified reactions and feelings in this particular moment, in which American bigotry is at such a high level of visibility. I grew up with secular Judaism and if you'd asked me five years ago, I would never have predicted the amount of nazism and anti-semitism we've seen the past two years. I hope that by talking about these issues in art--and the more people who do it, the better--that we can start to work through and heal the trauma that's been caused by our capitalist, utterly patriarchal government that doesn't value or protect the lives of women--especially if they are trans, or brown or black. A lot of the record, even parts written before the election, are about my frustration with the moderatism of our democratic party, which has largely refused to push the progressive agenda that our planet needs, that we need to have health care in a civilized way, that we need to protect Palestinian lives. The more people making art about these issues, the more we're thinking about them, and the better chance we have of changing them.
As someone who was closely connected to the Silent Barn, what are your thoughts on the future of DIY all-age spaces in New York?
I'm a born and raised New Yorker so I've seen so many places that were important to me come and go. You get jaded about the impermanence of the city, which makes it harder to be completely sentimental. But Silent Barn is a tough loss. Their original location was the first DIY space I ever played in New York, and I started going there as a teenager. At their Bushwick location, Silent Barn did it better than any of the other DIY spots, because safer spaces were part of their conversation, as was their role in gentrification and how to work against it, and inclusive booking. When bigger, for-profit music venues like Webster Hall can't survive, it's hard to have optimism about places like Silent Barn, even though they matter so much. What gives me hope is that Educated Little Monsters is taking over the space, and that people seem really engaged about offering their support to ELM.
What do you think is the intersection between music and activism?
I don't think it's imperative for every musician to use their platform for activism, and for a lot of us it's better to listen and amplify others' efforts than take up space. Playing a guitar solo doesn't naturally make you a resistance strategist! But if you're paying attention and concerned, it's hard not to want to use whatever resources are available to you to make some difference. I love how many labels organized benefit compilations this year, and am thrilled about the many bands I know who released charity singles or left our a tip jar on the merch table every night which they donated at the end of the tour. I am really psyched on the organization Revolutions Per Minute, who help artists develop fundraising strategies for causes they care about. And of course always impressed by the DIY fundraising shows my friends set up. There are so many ways to make a small difference and for the sake of building better communities, and I'm suspect of folks who aren't showing up in some way--not just musicians, but in all fields.
Could you talk about the significance of your album art for the new Speedy album?
I painted myself as a two-headed mermaid, sitting on a couch drinking coffee, with a neon cowgirl hat (representing American kitsch, I guess) looming behind me. The idea was that sometimes we have to build up a fantastical self-image when we're inundated by the grind of the real world, which has been even less lovely these past few years. Which ties into how the record sounds to me--it's more "fun" and "pop" than production choices we've made in the past, but the lyrical content is perhaps our most serious.
What would the dream Speedy Ortiz merch item be?
We've been talking about doing a soup thermos for years--I think it was Mike's idea. This is a good reminder to make a thermos!