As Sad13, Speedy Ortiz Singer Sadie Dupuis Does Pop Her Way

“We went through a pretty long period pop artists weren’t allowed to speak for themselves”

Late last year, Speedy Ortiz lead singer, Sadie Dupuis, made a creative leap when she released Slugger, her debut album as Sad13. The Boston indie rockers were still coasting off of the success of their critically acclaimed sophomore record, Foil Deer, when Dupuis relocated to Philadelphia, rented an apartment, and isolated herself to produce and record what would become Slugger. The whole process took but two weeks, a remarkably fast time for most artists, but not for the highly prolific Dupuis, who has an MFA in poetry and a background in music criticism. Dupuis, whose band is known and admired for its commitment to guitar-based rock music, nevertheless wanted to experiment with electronic music, and looked to artists like Grimes—who write, perform, and produce all of their own music—for inspiration.

What Dupuis ended up with is a very danceable record of shiny, intricate electro-pop jams that serve as both homage and antidote to the radio hits that Dupuis both loves and sees as problematic in how they deal with sex and consent. Slugger’s standout track is “Get a Yes,” an empowering earworm that tackles consent head-on, and that was in part a reaction to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the 2013 smash whose title alone undermines the idea of consent. “I say yes to the dress when I put it on/ I say yes if I want you to take it off,” she sings. It’s a topic Dupuis has broached in the past, but never with this kind of clarity and sense of purpose. “It’s a response to songs that see non-verbal communication, like a look in someone’s eye, as mysterious and sexy, as opposed to something that could be dangerous,” she told us when she visited the NYLON office late last year. Here is the rest of that conversation, where Dupuis talks about the creation of Slugger, streaming, her all-female band, and the state of pop. 

How did moving to Philadelphia affect you creatively?

I sort of did like a trial period in Philly. I rented a place for two weeks in January when I wasn't sure where I would go when my lease ended in Northampton, Massachusetts. When I was renting for two weeks is when I recorded Slugger. Boston has a really fertile music scene in terms of creativity, and I think it's starting to become more politicized, but it comes in waves because it's a college scene as well. Smash It Dead Fest was this festival in Boston that benefitted the Rape Crisis Center, and that kind of stopped happening. Philly is a really good place to be if you're interested in politics and also write, so I think I was really inspired by all of my friends there and that fed into a lot of what I was writing.

If you stayed Boston would you have been able to make this album in two weeks?

Um, no. It's really good for me not to be at home when I'm working on music, because I've accumulated so much stuff, like all my comic books, records, and the TV. I'm not gonna get anything done. When I was in Philly, I told the person I was renting from, "Please do not tell me the Wi-Fi even if I ask."

Did you have a cohesive vision of an album up front?

I knew I was making an album, but I just kind of thought I was making demos for the album that I would redo later. Then I kind of just got very attached to those. I just like that I did it all. It's egomaniacal. I was like, "Oh, I did this, and it sounds good!"

You’ve been a music critic in the past. How does that affect your relationship with the way people write about your music?

It definitely impacts it. When I was writing about music, I always loved to do the criticism stuff; I didn't love to do interviews. So I can kind of empathize critically with people. Some people are so bad at interviewing other people, and I feel like I'm more patient, because I know how much it can be really unfun and weird.

Music criticism can be really hard. Finding new ways to describe music can be difficult.

I like that part. The reason people get into writing and recording music is the same reason that people get into writing about music, which is that you're a fan and you listen closely. I think that writing about music and playing music kind of fed into each other because I really love listening to music a million times, and figuring out what I do and don't like. I listen to music I don't like just to know why I don't like it.

Are you down with the streaming situation that we're in?

Mostly, yeah. I mean, I buy records and always have.

Does it at all bother you that people get to listen to your music for free?

No, I don't care. Like, the only way I'm making money is from tour dates, and I think they're much more inclined to come to a show if they've heard the record. I know I am. I think a lot of other people will buy the record because they heard it on Spotify. 

The band you’ve been on tour with has been made up of all women. Was that deliberate?

I think part of my priority was to have women in the band, partly because of the subject matter and partly because representation on stage is so important, and I get so psyched when younger women are at our shows, and maybe telling me they learned guitar because they saw me play or something. And it would be great for young drummers to see a drummer. There was going to be a guy playing in the band, and he kind of flaked, so it wasn't like a hard line, like, "There will be no men in this van." But I think a lot of the best rock musicians I know at this point are women. 

When did Sad13 emerge? Is this something that's been brewing inside of you for a long time?

Yeah, I had this idea that I wanted to do a solo record this year, just because I knew Speedy wasn't doing anything. Or basically everyone was just like, "Speedy shouldn't put out a record this year," and I was like, "We'll see about that!"

Why was that?

I don't like the idea of not putting out a record just because of like sales or whatever. I write a lot of music, and it seems like I would get backlogged if I don't put something out every year. We did a lot more with synths on the last Speedy record, and this seemed like a good testing ground for a project like that. Some of these songs I'd been kicking around for a while. There are voice memos I have from as early as 2012. It's funny to sift through all of them, because when I started this project, I guess the first thing I did was the song with Lizzo called “Basement Queens.” That was really fun, and I was like, "I would love to do a lot more songs in this style." So I listened to all of my voice memos to see if there was anything in there that was good.

I know that you've said some of this record is a reaction to the pop music that you listened to growing up. Did you feel like that was a responsibility of yours to rectify at all?

Maybe a responsibility. It's hard because I'm writing songs where certainly I'm thinking about other people, but I'm also thinking, like, "I wish a song like this had existed for me." So part of it is wanting to be in conversation with the pop music that I enjoyed a lot as a kid, and part of it is like, "I wish these songs had discussed this thing that I need to hear a song about."

And was that nonexistent when you were younger?

I still can't think of any songs about, like, affirmative consent that are pop-oriented.

Is there a point when you looked back on all the music you loved growing up and realized that maybe it’s not all positive?

I'm a big fan of karaoke, and you go to karaoke and pick a song that you think is this awesome song from your childhood, and then you sing it, and it's like, "This is kind of messed up. I wish this was about something slightly different."

Do you think pop music today is in a better place because of the Beyoncés and the Rihannas of the world?

Totally. And also because so many more women who are writing their own songs. I think we went through a pretty long period in the ‘90s and early '00s where the pop artists weren't allowed to speak for themselves. It was like these awesome vocalists and performers who were just singing songs written for them by men. And maybe they were in control of their own image, but also these songs were kind of harmful, and I feel like women would not write these songs for themselves or other women. Whereas, now, I feel like some of the best pop writers are women. Look at Sia, or Charli XCX. She's like one of my favorite writers and singers and performers. 

When you’re writing music, do you have a particular audience in mind?

I guess I think of it less in terms of an audience and more in terms of "I need to hear a song like this, maybe there are some other people who need to hear a song like this." I guess I'm thinking more on the level of I'm telling certain stories because I want to hear a song that's about this and there are other people who might need to hear a song that's about this. I think there are certain songs on the record that I delve into with abusive relationships, and I think some of the songs are designed to help empower people to leave those situations because I wish I had heard a song like this when I was in the throes of it. I guess this is why people have managers and I don't have one. Maybe I should be thinking, "Oh, this is gonna reach this demographic." But I'm really thinking, "These are the fucked up things in the world, and I need to hear a song that makes me feel better about them, and maybe there are some other people who need that too."