Sadie Dupuis is the kind of rock star we need right now.
Consider Slugger, her 2016 side project away from the kinetically bendy and bruisingly emotive Philadelphia-based band Speedy Ortiz. The record, attributed to Sad13, skews Dupuis’ pop-inflected twists on old-school indie rock conventions toward the electronic, taking influence from underground icons such as Grimes and radio stars such as Rihanna in equal measure. But beyond presenting rock as a progressive genre that can mix with the sounds that have pushed it past it in the current millenium, Dupuis speaks powerfully on relevant issues.
“I say yes to the dress when I put it on,” she enthuses over the brightly click-clacking beat of “Get a Yes.” “I say yes if I want you to take it off / I say yes for your touch when I need your touch / I say yes if I want to / If you want to you’ve gotta get a yes.”
This more explicitly socially minded lyricism extends onto last year’s Twerp Verse, Speedy Ortiz’s sleekest and most searing album to date. Right from the jump — “The year of the weird / Bookended by booty pics I never posted,” goes the invocation on the pounding opener “Buck Me Off” — the album concerns itself frequently and fervently with gender inequity, harassment and abuse.
It’s not a response to the #MeTo movement. Indeed, “Villain” — which lilts like a more feral “Creep” as it decries a scumbag who “want[s] to know if a ‘no’ means ‘alright’” — is one of the songs that dates all the way back to 2014. These are issues that have long been on Dupuis’ mind. She just had to get comfortable confronting them directly.
“You get older and you become more aware of what you care about in the world and what you want your role in the world to be and what you want to be an advocate for and what you think is a waste of time,” Dupuis tells Free Times. “It’s the same reason that people grow out of music they liked when they were young because it just aligns less with what they care about. I’ve played in bands since I was 13 years old, and at age 20 I wasn’t writing the same kinds of songs I was when I was 13 because I’d gotten older and more aware of what was happening around me. And it’s the same difference between when I started Speedy Ortiz at 23 and now at age 30.”
She’s also quick to point out that the problems she addresses have been around for a while.
“These are issues that I’ve certainly struggled with my whole life as a woman — not sexual assault explicitly, but always a chance of it and always harassment,” Dupuis says. “And I think that a lot of people were really sick of feeling shame about that or secrecy about that. And certainly when I first started to share stories of rough stuff that I’d experienced [within] the music industry and without, it was always helpful for me to know that other friends had been through the same thing.
“You feel sorry that other people have been through the same thing, but there’s also a sense of relief — like, these issues are not my fault, they’re the fault of a society that needs to outgrow some really harmful and bad habits.”
Blurring the lines between blurry slacker rock and crispest pop, and blessed with Dupuis’ sonorous pipes, Speedy Ortiz is able to sound both sweet enough to keep you listening and rough enough to give her stingers the appropriate bite.
But for Dupuis, it’s not enough to simply sing songs. Speedy Ortiz takes an active role in fighting for safe spaces and gender diversity. Four years ago, the band set up a hotline (574-404-SAFE) that people at its shows can text if they experience harassment. The group distributes safe space info at tour dates and leaves venues with booklets about fostering such an environment. Dupuis says Speedy has “only really hired women for [its] crew,” and that it puts an emphasis on bringing bands that aren’t all dudes out on the road — OHMME, a similarly gritty but pretty rock act led by Chicago guitarists Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham, joins Speedy this week in West Columbia.
“You can write an explicit lyric or you can write a vague lyric about an issue,” Dupuis reasons. “A lyric, it might help someone going through a problem, but the thing we’ve really been focusing on is direct action and trying to make music a little bit more inclusive to people of all genders and just less toxic in general.”
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