Sad13 keeps moving forward
by Luke Ottenhof
December 2, 2016
The Speedy Ortiz singer talks survival, gender, and Slugger.
Sadie Dupuis talks to me over the phone from somewhere near Cleveland. She’s on her way to check out the Earthquaker Devices headquarters in Akron. Earthquaker makes some of the best damn guitar and bass effects pedals around, and Dupuis is audibly excited. Halfway through our conversation, I bring up Modern Baseball’s crucial choice to implement a hotline to report sexual assaults at their concerts. “I think they’re the first ones to do it,” I say.
“Actually,” Dupuis interjects, “we’re the first ones to do it.” She’s referring to her band Speedy Ortiz, and the fact that they were the first ones to pioneer that incredibly-important system. “You’re not the first one to make that mistake.”
And in that 6 second exchange, the bullshit that women (in this case, women in music) have to put up with every fucking day was brought into vivid focus. My stomach dropped. Sure, I was embarrassed. I should have known that. But it was her follow up: “You’re not the first one to make that mistake.” How many times has she endured that ‘mistake?’ People ‘mistaking’ her work, her progress, her ingenuity, her expertise, for someone else’s. How earth-shakingly frustrating it would be to correct people, day in and day out, on any number of things that she’s handily accomplished. ‘Fuck you, man,’ I thought to myself.
Besides fronting the Massachusetts punk-tinted indie-rock outfit Speedy Ortiz, Dupuis is touring behind a solo record, Slugger, released on November 11 under the moniker Sad13. Slugger is a poetic, technically complex, and incredibly timely record. It’s poetic in its lyrical magnitude and intricacy; Dupuis’ grasp of language, metre, rhythm and structure are rooted in her Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry. It’s technically complex in its instrumentation and production; Dupuis recorded and produced the record by herself from home, with gorgeous synth washes tucking in jerky percussion, thumping bass lines and the occasional Speedy-style fuzzed-out guitar riffs. And it’s an incredibly timely display of a woman in the music industry ruling her craft at a time when a guy who’s gloated about sexual assault is elected to the highest office in the United States. And the shitty thing is, its timeliness shouldn’t be an issue.
“It’s mostly other people’s interactions with me that cause me to even remember [my gender],” Dupuis sighs. “If we get to a point where gender isn’t the defining factor of someone’s personhood, I would love to never talk about it again.
“But we’re obviously not there yet if we’ve just elected someone that can brag about assaulting women, or has a vice president that wants to restrict access to reproductive health care and abortion. We’re not at a place where I’m allowed to forget my gender identity.”
Throughout our talk, she’s incredibly benevolent, in both spirit and spoken word. Dupuis details growing up in rural Massachusetts as a difficult place for expression, particularly expression that falls outside the bounds of socially-placed gender role boundaries. “I think from a pretty early age, I was considered sort of a tomboy just based on my own interests,” she relates. “Which, in hindsight, is fucked up, because children should be raised to have any interest they’re interested in pursuing.”
“I went to college for math, and was very interested in math and science. I played music, but I played guitar and played in rock bands. I didn’t really have other friends who were girls who played these instruments. So growing up, I was told, ‘You’re a tomboy because you like music.’ It never really seemed like a point of concern for me, but as I got older, and operated in these professions that are typically male-dominated, I sort of had a better understanding of the politics of exclusion that result in women and non-binary people being less [present] in these fields.”
It’s a trash idea that a person’s life can be cordoned off according to a discriminatory social construct. Dupuis isn’t defined nor restrained by it, but she acknowledges its unfortunately pervasive presence, and she does what she can to support people struggling with those restrictions and the pressures of presentation.
“I started to embrace more of a feminine style of self-presentation because I realized there were a lot of kids coming to the shows that [were] young girls who might still think that playing in a rock band isn’t for them, despite the work that Girl’s Rock Camp Foundation does,” she explains. “So it became sort of important to me. Also, that’s to show that a style of music that’s sort of been incorrectly categorized as masculine can also incorporate style and gender and dress regardless of the gender of the performer.
“Some of how I dress is about these kinds of warring ideas of how I was raised and what I was told as a kid versus what I think is every kid’s right, which should be to dress how they want and pursue the interests that speak to them. We’re taught that these styles of dress are gendered, and I just kind of wanted to blow all that shit up.”
Slugger embodies this kind of self-affirmation, positivity, and empowering voice throughout. She’s spoken candidly about the abusive relationship she survived a few years ago, and several songs on Slugger are defiant rallies of self-worth. They’re celebrations of survival; of friendships and community and protecting yourself from the shitstorms we deal with every day.
“It’s been a few years since I was in that kind of a relationship, thankfully,” she says, asserting the importance of distance from that in writing this record. “I wouldn’t have been able to write about it from the perspective of those feelings very much in the aftermath of being a victim, whereas now that it’s been a few years I’m very thankful that I survived that relationship, and wanted to come at it from the perspective of survival.”
That sentiment is no better relayed than on the anthemic banger, “Hype”: “I just wanna hype my best friends, man/I just wanna hype my best girls.”
And hype her best girls she does. Dupuis is quick to name-check Rihanna and Nicki Minaj as inspirations, in particular the latter’s clever indictment of pervasive female objectification by repurposing physical presentation as a tool of empowerment.
“The way that Nicki Minaj styled herself… To have someone epitomizing the childhood ideation of femininity like a Barbie Doll, especially a black woman, I think she’s really fucking cool and smart.”
The whole record inspires the same kind of resilience. Dupuis emphasizes the idea: “[I wanted] to inspire people not to cut off ties with their community. I think it emphasizes prioritizing your friendships and loving your friends, and allowing them to care for you, and doing the same in return.”
As Slugger careens to its knock-out close on “Coming Into Powers,” Dupuis asserts, “Fuck you, pay me what you owe/I’m coming into powers.”
That feeling couldn’t be more vividly true, and hopefully it will be a more commonly shared attitude going forward. Dupuis remarks that there will be a women’s march on Washington the day after the inauguration (provided that sentient traffic cone Donald Trump makes it that far). She mentions the importance of those marches in American history, from the Civil Rights movement on down. We’re not done progressing, and neither is Dupuis. But with voices like hers in our ears, and friends on our arms, we’ll keep moving forward.