A Rational Conversation: Sadie Dupuis Of Speedy Ortiz Looks Back On Music In 2015
"A Rational Conversation"is a column by writerEric Duckerin which he gets on instant messenger or the phone with a special guest to examine a music-related subject that's entered the pop culture consciousness.
With another year down the drain, now comes the inevitable need to try to make some sense of it. In a three-part look at how we listened to and thought about music, Ducker had a series of discussions about the big topics and bizarre minutiae that made 2015 whatever the heck it was.
Today's conversation is withSadie Dupuis, the singer and guitarist of tender racket makersSpeedy Ortiz. This year the group released its albumFoil Deer in the spring, and in September made the progressive move ofsetting up a hotlinethat audience members can text if they feel unsafe at one of the group's shows. Speedy Ortiz spent much of 2015 on the road, and Ducker spoke on the phone with Dupuis in late December when she was on the way to Louisville, Kentucky, for her last concert of the year.
What surprised you about music in 2015?
That there was so much of it that was good. Sometimes in years past I've tried to put together a Top 20 list and struggled to find 20 albums that were good from front to back, it's easier when you're focusing on singles. There's been this murmur that people are shifting away from focusing on albums, but this year there were too many that were really wonderful all the way through.
Do you think that's part of some kind of cultural shift or is that just luck?
It's hard to say because we've been hearing so frequently that it's important to emphasize Soundcloud plays and people putting up one song at a time — it's not really with the end goal of creating an album that's consistent all the way through, but we've had so many really killer ones this year. For instance, the album [Sore] is really wonderful, the Kendrick Lamar album [To Pimp a Butterfly] is a masterpiece, there's that Beauty Pill album [Beauty Pill Describes Things as They Are]. I hope that we're seeing a return to the album as a form. As someone who likes listening to albums all the way through and doesn't do the shuffle thing or the playlist thing, it's nice to hear stuff like that again.
When you guys are touring, do you listen to full albums in the van?
It depends on who is driving, but I think generally we do full albums. Although sometimes Mike [Falcone], our drummer, has stuff he taped from the radio in the '90s and 2000s. Or he'll make mixes of the Billboard Hot 100 for, like, 1989, and we'll listen to that all the way through.
Have you always been the type of person who makes lists of your top albums of the year?
I do that for myself so I can remember what I was listening to, to make sure I buy all the albums I was really excited by.
Do you go to record stores to buy music?
In the past I would go to record stores, but we're on tour so much and a lot of the bands that make my top records of the year list are bands that we have played with, so I'll just buy it from them.
What confused you about music this year?
Lack of a Frank Ocean album. I guess what confused me is that a lot of the things I love that are rock albums that generally go critically unnoticed were acclaimed this year. For instance the G.L.O.S.S. tape has seemed to blow up; one of our favorite bands, , really seemed to get some critical notice this year; same deal with .
My personal surprise is that I got a little more into electronic music this year. I'm interested in production, of course, but I've always gravitated towards songwriting above genre, and I haven't always found songwriters that I love in current EDM-style stuff. I really loved the album [Run], which is not really from a genre I normally gravitate towards, but I think her songwriting is amazing. made an album [Everybody's ComingDown] and it's one of my favorites of the year, same deal with Wilco. Those were a couple surprises.
Going back to the Frank Ocean thing, I'm sure as an artist, you put out an album and you might get three months before people start asking you about when you're getting back in the studio.
Yeah, it's like, how can I be getting back in the studio; I'm talking to you on tour. Where is the time to go into the studio?
I bet Frank Ocean felt like he had to tell people he was working on something, but it just may not be ready. It's a tough a relationship between fans and musicians, we want to hear what's next from them and we want to have them in our lives, but you also want to give them the freedom to make their best album. Still, you don't want to have to wait for 15 years like we did with D'Angelo.
It can be argued both ways. It depends on the kind of songwriter and musician that you are. For instance, Trust Fund from the U.K. put out two really great things this year and I don't think they've suffered over putting out so much stuff — all the songs they've released have been really great. But the Beauty Pill record I mentioned, I think it took them 12 years to finish, and I might be understating that. It's a really in-depth, genius record because they were able to spend so much time honing it and getting it right.
There's so much music available to us that sometimes an album you love in May you're not listening to August because there's too many other things you feel like you have to try to absorb. Do you find that you're able to find new music and keep it rotation for the entire year?
There are certain records this year that I remember listening to pretty exclusively during a certain part of a tour. For instance, I listened to the Chastity Belt record [Time to GoHome] for two months solid when it first came out, and then I haven't gone back to it as much this run. We've played with them a few times this year, so I got to hear the stuff live. It still sticks with me in terms of music I've internalized this year. The same deal with the Kendrick Lamar album, when that came out, I listened to it hundreds of times and thought that there's no way I'll like a record more this year; then I haven't really listened to it since April. Sometimes you listen to something so many times in a row that you've already coded it into your DNA and don't necessarily have to go back to it to remember and love it, although I'm sure I will return to both of those records shortly. The record [Full Communism] I've been listening to consistently all year.
On social media, are there any artists you once followed that you had to either unfollow or mute?
I mostly just follow people I know on Twitter. I do check certain Twitters in fascination to see what's up, but I don't really do hate following, I totally don't understand that way of life.
Have you gotten into DJ Khaled social media's presence?
No. Is it good?
I just got Snapchat and I'm doing it on, like, level zero. I'm awful with it.
I will say that my favorite Twitter takedown of the year was Sadie [Switchblade] for G.L.O.S.S. dealing with the idiots of Whirr about saying some weird transphobic stuff. She created a Twitter account just to expertly take them down, and they got dropped from their label [Editor's Note: Technically two labels that had previously released music by Whirr severed ties with the group.] the next day and they basically haven't been seen on the Internet since then. That was pretty cool to watch people rallying around the right side of an argument.
In all the touring you did this year, which artists do you think had the best merch?
We toured with this year and she always has got pretty cool T-shirts. She has one that just says, "unfollow him." The Tacocat/ contingent always has pretty cool novelty gift items. I'm really proud of us for our merch this year. Is that the stupid answer?
No, that's great. That's the rapper answer.
That's like Fetty Wap picking "Trap Queen" as song of the year. We made nail stickers where the proceeds are going to foundations. We made rings that are the deer from the cover of our Foil Deer record. We have a lot of hand adornment objects, and I think they're pretty fly.
Were you into any music-related books that came out this year?
The Carrie Brownstein book [Hunger Makes the Modern Girl] was pretty great. That was the first time I read, basically, a tour diary that I felt at all resembled my own experience on the road.
Let's pretend we're 20 years into the future, what album that came out in 2015 would you like to hear a deluxe boxset reissue of with all sorts of demos and extras so you can get extra insight on how it got made?
Some of my favorite albums that came out this year were made by my friends, so I already have all the demos. My favorite record of the year was Dilly Dally's Sore and it's a record that I really can't imagine without these boisterous, anthemic guitar parts. Katie [Monks], the singer, has this really ferocious voices, one the weirdest/coolest I've ever heard. So I'm curious what those songs sound like in demo form, since it seems like a lot goes into the studio arrangements, in the same way the PJ Harvey 4-Track Demos are such an interesting look at how those songs were written before they were Steve Albini-ed.
You mentioned earlier that you've been getting more into electronic music this year. Where did that interest come from?
I don't know. I definitely like a lot of the '70s electronic music, like Gary Numan is a big reference point for us. The record [Davos], which came out this year, really scratches that itch for me. I actually ended up working with Danielle ["Danz" Johnson] from that project on a song because I was so enamored with how she gets all her stuff to sound. Also, there have been a lot of women who are self-producing electronic music this year that sounds really interesting to me, like Alison Wonderland who I mentioned, or even reading that Björk interview where she talks about always having producers co-produce her stuff, but how nobody ever credits her. Apart from Alicia [Bognanno] from Bully, who produced their record, and Empress Of, Loreley [Rodriguez] produced that album as well, the majority of women who are self-producing are working in more electronic or quote unquote bedroom pop.
Do you think there's something inherent about those genres that make them more appealing to women producers?
The resources are more widely available. I've been doing stuff in recording studios since I was 14, but I wouldn't know how to engineer a whole album in a big studio. We get co-production credits because sonically we know what we want, but when you're just one person and you're working on your laptop in Ableton Live, you can create a lot easily without having to sit in a huge studio or deal with a tape machine. In that way, working in electronic is a bit democratizing in terms of production. It's not only electronic music, but I think if you're self-recording at home and you're doing more rock or guitar-oriented stuff, you're forever branded lo-fi. The first two Speedy Ortiz releases, I played everything and recorded it and mixed it, and we still get called a lo-fi band even though our past two records have been in very nice studios with very seasoned engineers. If you're playing all MIDI stuff, you can be sitting in your bathroom and you can make it sound pretty perfect; whereas if you're dealing in other genres that require acoustic instrumentation, sometimes it requires more expensive gear.
In light of the hotline you guys set up, have you seen progress in terms of fan experience and safety at shows?
Yeah. We're on tour all the time and over the past three years even we've seen more and more venues posting either safe space policies or consent policies or even going as far as having gender neutral or gender inclusive bathrooms. Obviously that's a really small step because a rock club is inclined to be more politically empathetic than an NRA chapter, but even to see those kinds of changes is heartening. So yeah, I do think people are becoming more empathetic and aware.
Do you feel like the crowds at shows are treating each other better? Do you get a better feeling when you step into clubs?
It's definitely better than five or ten years ago. There's always room for improvement. Some of the things that gross all of us out and caused us to have this hotlline, we still see, but I think we're better at learning how to handle it and people at least at our shows are good at looking out for one another. That's what we were trying to encourage with that hotline and the policies.
What would you like to see change in music in 2016?
What's been really great about 2015 is that there has been so many bands that don't solely feature men that have been really critically adored and have made wonderful records. People are embracing diversity in rock music more than, really, ever. I'd like 2016 to be a continuation of that. I don't always read the year-end, top whatever lists, but my mom keeps sending them to me because she loves them. It's been amazing to see a wider reflection of the kinds of people who are making music than year end lists in the past that definitely skewed towards the white male demographic. I hope to see that more in 2016. People definitely worry about trend feminism, but the optimistic part of me hopes that society is becoming more understanding of and connected to all kinds of people. I want plenty of things to change in 2016, but musically, more of this acceptance would be great.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.