Lives Are Political: A Conversation with Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz

by James Fisk

Speedy Ortiz Sadie Dupuis

Some albums unfurl slowly, requiring patient, focused listening loop after loop before beginning to divulge the slightest secrets of their greatness. Not this one. Speedy Ortiz’s third LP Twerp Verse lands with the immediacy of an atom bomb bursting with hook-heavy guitar rock and whip-smart, infectious lyrics. We caught up with Sadie Dupuis in advance of the band’s show this Saturday, June 2 at Barracuda to talk about the music, migas and Riverdale.

James Fisk for Ovrld:  What would you tell someone uninitiated to Speedy Ortiz that they can expect from the show this Saturday?

Sadie Dupuis: Oh man, they shouldn’t ask me. That’s why I wasn’t a publicist. I never know what to say. I have told TSA that we’re a prog band before. It’ll be a fun show. We love Austin and have spent a lot of time there. We love Barracuda. We’ve played there a million times. It’s always the place I look forward to most on tour. I think you will definitely get us at our happiest and most excited to play.

Ovrld: I’ve heard you like Bouldin Creek Cafe too.

SD: It’s my favorite restaurant in the entire world, I’m not kidding. Their zucchini migas is my favorite thing anywhere that I could ever order. Ten years ago I lived in Austin near the old Bouldin Creek. I worked at Waterloo, but on my days off, I was also a freelance music writer. I would go to Bouldin Creek and just post up all day to write blog posts, basically. Leslie [Cochran] would bus tables, even though he didn’t work there. I have really fond memories of both the old Bouldin Creek and the new one.

Ovrld: The critical narrative around Twerp Verse has seemed to be about it as a political record, but many of the songs feel really personal. When you’re writing, do you feel tension between personal and political songwriting? Do you think they complement one another?

SD: I don’t think those things are divorced at all. I think that certainly identity politics have found a much more respected place in art in the past decade than years prior, when they were sort of dismissed. I think that obviously people’s personal lives are extremely political, especially if you’re a woman or queer or person of color, or an immigrant, or the child of an immigrant, or working class.

The record isn’t a love album or a breakup album, which I think is what a lot of people think of when they think of personal records. They think of personal life, which also can be very political, obviously. That’s not really what the record’s about. It is very personal, it is very much about identity, but in 2017, which is when it was finished being recorded. I think that’s a very political thing too.

Ovrld: There’s always sort of been an element of fantasy to the Speedy Ortiz universe that I’ve always really loved. Lots of spooky, supernatural imagery. Is that is a helpful way into writing about harsh realities?

SD: I’ve probably moved away from it some since the first Speedy record. Our first record was written while I was doing an MFA in poetry, and I was really interested in all this sort of mystical, magical, particularly black magic imagery. My parents were born into religion, but I didn’t grow up following them. I really loved religious imagery, but didn’t feel that I could pull from it, personally, so I was really interested in all this magical imagery.

With Major Arcana I was super into writing about it. I mean, you can tell from the title, because it’s a tarot reference. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten less interested in exploring those metaphors, but it always finds a way to creep in. I think also using that kind of imagistic language is a cool way to get into talking about some more like, ideological stuff that can be harder to follow in a song narrative.

Ovrld: Speedy Ortiz records also never shy away from pop culture in a way that a lot of indie bands seem a little too cool to do sometimes. I’m thinking like the song “Death Note” on the “Foiled Again” EP, inspired by the anime…

SD: Yeah! And then Netflix made the movie and they didn’t use our song. I don’t know what they were thinking. It would have gotten good reviews, if only they’d used Speedy Ortiz in it.

Ovrld: That was absolutely their biggest oversight. What sort of pop culture were you consuming while you were making the album, and do you think any of it comes through in the music anywhere?

SD: These kinds of questions have been tricky for me to answer. In the past when we’ve made records, it’s like, a two or four month period. On this album, some of the songs are from 2014, and some of them are from 2017. It’s such a long span that it’s hard for me to specify. What were you watching over three years? In the music videos, “Lucky 88” in particular, I wrote it wanting to be on the Riverdale soundtrack, because I love that show. Black Mirror was also sort of an aesthetic reference that we were looking at. A lot of muted, primary colors acting as a foil to crumbling this very technologically advanced world that we live in.

Ovrld: There should be more Netflix shows licensing songs from Twerp Verse.

SD: This whole interview was just a ploy to get Speedy Ortiz more things on Netflix. [laughs]

Speedy Ortiz plays tomorrow, Saturday, June 2 at Barracuda