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Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupuis's Great American Girl-Power Holiday

The Boston group's frontwoman talks about going into exile for a month and her band's excellent new record 'Foil Deer.'

Photo by Shervin Lainez, courtesy of the artist

Speedy Ortiz has a new album called Foil Deer and, well, it’s good. It’s so good that you could probably stop reading this, listen to it yourself, and tell all your friends about it who then would listen and then agree with you. And you know what? Lead singer and guitarist Sadie Dupuis would probably do the same.

“It’s new and it’s really good,” she jokes. It’s the Saturday morning before Easter, and I’m having coffee in Brooklyn with the band’s principal songwriter. Dupius tells me that, in order to create the record, she took a break from everything—booze, junk food, people—and holed up at her mom’s house in Connecticut for a month. The result of her exile is Foil Deer, (out on April 21 via Carpark Records; you can currently stream it on NPR) a challenging record that expands on so much more than relationships and boys and break ups, which was a major focus of the band’s debut Major Arcana. Instead, Foil Deer focuses on social issues (she recently finished her MFA in poetry at UMass-Amherst) and the bigger social issues she sees. Bizarrely, the record feels like a modernized riot grrrl album in the vein of Sleater-Kinney but mixed with Kelis and Aaliyah, two artists Dupuis listened to a lot while she writing the album. Punk rock and R&B don’t seem like they'd work well together, but Dupuis and Speedy Ortiz make you think the two genres were born to be together.

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The levels of Foil Deer prove Dupuis is at the forefront of the new crop of singer-songwriters—alongside the likes of Courtney Barnett and Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield—and the 26-year-old is only continuing to grow, thinking wider about the world and what it means, and how her art can be affecting. “I’m not trying to write break up songs,” she says. “It’s more like, here are these systemic problems.”

Noisey: First things first, tell me about this album.
Sadie Dupuis: It’s the first record we’ve ever spent a lot of time on in the studio, comparably. We spent three weeks [on it] and that’s as long as we could afford spending in a recording studio… I think this is the first time that we’ve done an album that really represents what I heard in my head when I was writing the songs. Before we just had to rush so much. But now that we can afford to be a little more choosy and we don’t have full time jobs that we need to get back to in between our takes, which we did when we did our full length. I’d record guitars and then go teach two classes and then come back and somebody would be doing bass.

Continued below.

So when I listened to the album, it seems much more positive than the last one.
Yeah. The first album we did, I wrote those songs for myself to get over whatever crap. We were playing in this scene with our friends, and it’s like the same friends we’re trading demos with, and I don’t think we expected to have a huge reach outside of that scene. We weren’t aspiring to be a big band, not that we are now but we have more people hearing this than I ever thought would, and I guess it makes you change somewhat. I guess the things that were important to me in writing the first album don’t matter as much to me anymore.

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How was the writing process for this album different than what you were doing before?
I guess the biggest difference is that I wrote these in a very concentrated writing session. I basically moved into my mom’s house. I quit drinking and eating processed foods, because I’d gotten sick so much on tour, the end of the whole run of forever touring, anything I drank or ate I just would throw up in the van. So I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong but I have to try and get healthy.’

The songs from the first album were from maybe a year and a half’s worth of writing and I just picked the ones that seemed to fit the most on that album. And maybe that’s why they’re more inspired by things at five in the morning and what you want to write a demo about.

What are you hoping for this new album, as far as coming across to your fan base?
Even on our first record, we had worked with a small label. And when we decided to start working with Car Park—we really love working there—part of it was ‘oh we have sort of this increased visibility now, can we bring our friends into this, into this slightly brighter spotlight with us?’ And I feel like, both through those bands being great and the band exploding and working really hard and us just talking about them non-stop every time we do an interview, they’ve had a lot more success. And I don't know if I’m saying that we have something to do with that but we’ve always wanted to take our friends’ bands on tour and you know, promote them. It’s important to me that we’re touring with artists who are a lot more diverse and trying to make space for other women to do the stuff that we’re doing. We get to play a lot of festivals but I look at the lineups and it’s like, almost entirely white dudes taking up the rest of the spots. I guess our hope now is that whether we make space by making enough noise about how things are still imbalanced for female-identified performers or that other women see that we’ve been able to do this and then do that work for themselves. Because that is an option. I think that’s idealistic, but I think there’s been kind of a renaissance of women guitar bands and I feel like a lot of us are focused on this exact same goal.

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Then, would you say that this album is more of a feminist album?
I mean there’s still songs about me, but yeah. I’ve always identified as a feminist, but I think for me in the past my feminism took a form of feeling genderqueer and wanting to be treated on a level that is the same. Now I’m like, well, fuck that, boys have had enough being at that level, maybe let’s just put women above them for a while. I think more than ever people are clamoring for diversity in the art that they consume.

Can we talk about “Puffer?” That song is so much different than what y’all have been doing.
Apparently! [Laughs.]

It feels that way!
I feel like the songwriting is not tremendously different. I think this was one instance where I wanted the production to match what I was hearing when I wrote it, and I was really hearing R&B production when I wrote it. So we have a drum that’s triggered by Mike’s vibe drums, there’s electronic drums on it, and Darl is playing the bass, but I'm also playing a pretty low end synth and a high whistle thing. But then also we tried to get all kind of funky so its not like strictly R&B. But yeah, a lot of what I listen to, I think, is R&B and hip-hop. So I think while a lot of the melodies are inspired by that our form as a band cripples us from doing too much in that realm. But on this song it was kind of like well, we’re doing a studio thing, it’s not going to sound like we sound live. Let’s just make it sound like what I heard when I wrote it.

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When I heard it I was like ‘holy shit this is my new walking down the street feeling really cool’ jam.
Cool! That’s exciting. I like those songs, walking down the street feeling really cool jams. I was listening to a lot of Kelis and Kelly Rowland surrounding writing that, and I wrote it while I was swimming, actually. When I was holed up at my mom’s I would go swimming for an hour every day, and I would make up little songs to sing to myself to keep my pace and I made up that whole song while I was swimming and then immediately was like, ‘I have to get the fuck out of the water I have to get to a voice recorder.’

So you just listened to a bunch of R&B stuff when writing this album?
I kind of always do. It wasn’t like I was listening to it any more than usual. I think it’s just that, like I said, we had time to arrange in a studio rather than just doing whatever live band guitar sounds. So, I think the songs are much more reflective of what I heard in my head when I first wrote them. We were really, really cautious on this one to make sure we were getting everything right and not rushing and not just defaulting to you know, loud guitars when we want a chorus to pop. One of the songs on the album I asked ‘Can you make it sound like, you know on the Aliyah songs she’s got the reverse reverb’, that sweeping thing where her voice comes in, I was like ‘can we do it like Aliyah’? There’s always been that influence. I just think it’s been less obvious, too, the nature of how we’ve portrayed it in the past.

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Also, you got a new member named Devin McKnight. Has his presence changed the way you’re playing or writing?
Yeah he’s great. We’ve all known Devin so long, he’s one of our best friends. When I was first writing the songs that were specifically for Speedy Ortiz, I would send him the demos and say like ‘What should I do here? Should I do anything else? And I’ve definitely seen his band play so many times that I think I really internalized his guitar playing specifically in a way that I would cite him as a direct influence on my own, so obviously that’s a great thing to have in your band, someone that you’re basically trying to rip off anyway. He’s just the easiest dude to get along with because he’s just a really good person. I love Devin. I can’t say enough about him. He just comes up with the perfect things.

Before we go, can I ask you about “My Dead Girl?” To me it feels different than the other songs—more resigned, the material seems darker.
There's a really specific story about that song. Like I told you, I spent most of July holed up at my mom's house, and she lives relatively near the summer arts camp at which I used to run the music department, where I recorded the first Speedy Ortiz demos. A lot of my old friends still work there and one of my best friends, Cindy, had a day off on the fourth of July. So she came over and we went swimming in Lake Waramaug in the rain and tried to each write three songs that day—she's a really brilliant songwriter and I'm super inspired by her, and it sort of felt like this poetic, great American girl-power holiday or something. We were still working on our third songs when she had to go back to camp to put the kids to bed, so I dropped her off and pulled over to the side of the road across from a park to finish writing this song.

I think the initial concept of the song was about independence—it was the Fourth of July after all, and I was happy about having such a great day with my friend Cindy—so it was like, "I go riding in cars / but you’re not the driver." Like, I'm a strong woman, I can do whatever I want, I can see whomever I want, and I don't care if my independence makes other people feel insecure like, "Better yet, better get / jealous of what didn't get your name" means dudes, stop trying to own me. So about halfway into writing out this song, a bunch of fratty looking bros park across the street from me. And I guess they see me in the back of my car playing guitar and decide to come over to my car. And they're laughing, they're knocking on my window, I can vaguely hear them joking about how they're gonna break into my car… it was terrifying. I had no idea what to do. We're basically at a park in the middle of the woods. If these guys broke into my car and pulled me out, it wouldn't have been a safe situation for me. And it went on for so long… Mike was supposed to meet me at the park, but I had no idea how long it would take for him to get there. I hesitated to call the cops, for whatever reason. So the song sort of took this different turn, basically while I was sitting in the backseat of my car with these dudes shining their flashlights into my car. I wrote, "If these are my last words, guess you found me" because I was literally afraid I was going to get kidnapped, raped, murdered, and this little notebook with my song scrawled in it would be the only evidence anyone would find. It would have been such a drastic change of events from what had, up to that point, been this perfect, idyllic day. Thank God Mike pulled up and had his headlights on and all those guys scurried back into their car and drove away.

So the song sort of turned from an ode to independence into a mourning of the depressing footnote that comes along with female independence, which is that we always have to be on guard against assault and harassment and violence, always. And that's a direct result of rape culture. You can go from feeling like the most powerful person in the world to feeling terrified just because someone is walking too close to you. And I guess that's what the song is about—the simultaneous freedom to be whatever you want, to do whatever you want, coupled with the unfortunate reality that there's always someone trying to take that power away from you.

Annalise Domenighini is also good. She's on Twitter.