Sadie Dupuis’s debut solo album, Slugger (released under the name sad13), started life as a practical matter. Her main band, the tricksy indie-rock four-piece Speedy Ortiz, had been advised not to release a record this year (following 2015’s Foil Deer) to prevent fans from getting burned out. Faced with a mounting backlog of songs, Dupuis decided to cut them herself, initially intending to demo at home before recording in established studios and getting a different artist to produce each song.
11 producers were slated to work on the project, but Dupuis found that she was relishing the process too much to give up creative control. “I got really interested in the recording aspect, and I was having so much fun with that, that basically the stuff I recorded at home became the final record,” Dupuis said, speaking at a speed that conveyed her excitement. It was an October morning, and we were speaking via Skype from her white-walled Philadelphia apartment, where the 28-year-old recently moved from Massachusetts. To her left sit a couple guitars and a copy of graphic novelist Daniel Clowes’s Patience. Even though she claimed to have woken up 10 minutes prior to the call, her green eyeshadow and defined brows made her look remarkably alert. (The trick, she says, is sleeping with your makeup on.)
The record’s theme had similarly pragmatic origins: “A lot of these songs are me feeling like, I’ve never heard a song specifically about this subject that I’m experiencing in my own life right now,” Dupuis said. “Time for someone to make one, and it’s me.” But her themes are more significant than ticks on a list of previously unexplored terrain: Slugger is a playful synth-pop record that primarily foregrounds issues of respect between partners, friends, and communities. On the spooky, swaying “Devil in U,” she addresses how she moderated her behavior to appease an emotionally abusive ex; the rudimentary R&B of “Just a Friend” dismisses his tedious paranoia about her male friends. In “Line Up”, Dupuis reflects on a career cracking indie’s boy-centric ranks, but makes clear that she won’t be celebrating until parity is achieved: I’m only busting out if I break open my cellblock, only passing go if I distribute the wealth, she trills amidst a chaotic new wave squall.
Dupuis had Kathleen Hanna’s 1997 Julie Ruin album on her mind while writing, along with Grimes’s Art Angels, Computer Magic’s Davos, Kelela’s Cut 4 Me, and Empress Of’s Me. “A lot of people who self-record,” she said. That process harks back to Speedy’s origins as Dupuis’s super lo-fi home-recording project, though she’s learned a bunch since then, and wants to keep honing her skills. “I quibble with the gratuitous producer credit,” she said. “I think a lot of people get that just for coming in the studio and adding a vocal harmony. I think you need to have the engineering background to do that. I’m good enough now at engineering myself but I don’t know that I’m quite good enough for a full rock band. But I would like to get there.”
Slugger is about consent and friendship between women. Were you writing to a theme, or did it manifest once you had the songs side-by-side?
People are asking whether there’s a mission statement for the record. I think all these songs have very different themes. I guess they all get filed under ‘feminism,’ but really they're just life issues for lots of people. Obviously feminism is a part of that, because gender plays a large role in how I am forced to experience life [laughs]. So I think every song has a specific, different theme, but I think people are inclined to file that all under the grand category of feminism because maybe it's not related to the male experience, which has been considered the neutral norm. But I feel like people are less inclined to see things that way, especially considering that there's just too many women producing music and writing music to constantly consider the experiences of half or more of the planet as niche.
Any album made by a woman speaking about her experience is flattened to just be a ‘feminist record,’ because it deviates from that norm.
I mean, it is [a feminist record], but it's not a manifesto. The world is really fucked up because of so much misogyny, so maybe feminism offers some solutions for these things, but I didn't pull out a legal pad and scratch at the top, “Feminist Album Talking Points.” This is my life, and perhaps the ways that I view it are influenced by feminism. We're very concerned with identity politics in a way that perhaps wasn't true five years ago. Which is cool, and I think people are more aware of and excited by the importance of representation and diversity in different artistic fields. I can't complain about any of that. With Speedy, the thing that tugs at my heartstrings the most is when I see young girls at a show who are like, “I just started a band.” We see ourselves in each other. But I'm also super excited when middle-aged dads are like, “I play your record for my daughter,” or, “This caused me to think about…” When I have someone who I don't share an identity with who feels like they relate to the music or understand something new because of it, that's equally exciting.
“It should be seen as a totally normal thing for people of all gender identities to be performing in rock bands.”
Last year you said that you never wanted to give anybody who was bad to you the pleasure of being the subject of a song that other people care about, but you come back to a past abusive relationship here.
The stuff that I didn’t want to write about on Foil Deer I approached a little bit on this record, but more from an angle of supporting survivors, rather than writing too much about people who've been bad.
Did hindsight make you view the situation differently?
Yeah, because I think when you're so close to a situation of emotional abuse, there's a lot of shame and confusion. You can't understand how you let yourself get in that situation, and maybe you feel guilty for letting it get as far as it did. You get older and you learn the things that are priorities to you. Three years ago I was in this emotionally abusive relationship — typical emotional abuse, where I was cut off from certain friends and I had to keep things secret from my family. After I got out of that, I was like, I'm never going to be in this position again. Not that I didn't prioritize friendships before, but they became more important relationships in my life, more than anyone I was dating. I think you hear it on the record. These normal romantic breakups become less all-consuming when you shift your priorities, and your priorities become respecting and taking care of yourself and your friends.
On that note, “Line Up” is about how when one woman gets admitted to the boys club it's seen as a victory, but really it's not unless it opens the door behind them. How do you put that into practice?
I think once Speedy started headlining our own tours, even the act of picking who's supporting you is very important. You have a say in who gets represented. I'm the only woman in our band, and I think it's important to us to not have only one woman onstage per night. It should be seen as a totally normal thing for people of all gender identities to be performing in rock bands. Choosing what promoters you want to work with, playing the venue with the consent policies posted, like the Pinhook in North Carolina. With that song, I had been reading a lot of Jessica Hopper interviews around her book. So a lot of the lyrics are inspired by her talking about using her editorial positions to bring in young writers who have been denied from the white boys’ club of rock criticism. That’s still very true in a lot of rock music, not just on the performance side. When we tour with a sound engineer, we've always brought women with us. Using your position to try to level out these playing fields has been important to Speedy, and certainly for sad13. This is the first time I'm going to be on tour and there's going to be no men with us, band and crew.
You have a really strong community of women musicians around you. How did you establish that?
I got an AOL account when I was eight, and I remember emailing the drummer from Weezer when I was like, 10 to say, I really like your drumming. And he responded to me, and that set a tone for the rest of my life. So it's some combination of meeting bands on tour and being blown away and feeling like we had artistic impulses in common — that's how I know the Crutchfield sisters. All these people see a kinship with one another, and a lot of us wound up in Philly. Then also to some degree it's just me being a really enthusiastic music fan and always reaching out to artists that I love and respect. I think people are very open to returning kindness when you express how much their music means to you. The artists that have resonated most with me in the past few years tend to be other women who work in these fields that are not so friendly to women [who work] on the production side — Sammus, for example, who's on Slugger.
On “Coming Into Powers,” you sing about wanting to become your truest self. How close do you feel to that?
That’s always evolving. I think part of what “<2” is about is that it's always terrible to pigeonhole somebody because people change and grow — the human mind is like the coolest computer ever. But I think often people are pigeonholed extra hard if their gender identity is not cis male. So I think that making assumptions about someone's identity and interests based around their gender, sexual or racial identity — we’re moving quite past that, thankfully. I don't know that you can ever love all your aspects, because those are going to change as you get older, but it's important to love yourself and surround yourself with people who love you and you love back as you grow. I think that's what most of the record is celebrating.