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Sad13 General 4 Natalie Piserchio
Nine Songs
Sadie Dupuis

From a childhood love of Ska to becoming friends with some of her musical heroes, the creative force behind Speedy Ortiz and Sad13 takes Ashwin Bhandari through the pivotal songs on her life

25 September 2020, 14:00 | Words by Ashwin Bhandari

“I have taken this homework assignment very seriously.” As a polymath and a perfectionist, when it comes to creative endeavours Sadie Dupuis certainly doesn’t mess about.

In between a prolific career fronting Speedy Ortiz, her solo project Sad13 and running a record label, Dupuis has continued to keep herself busy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

On top of recording the second Sad13 album Haunted Painting, the follow up to 2016’s Slugger, she’s currently editing an ongoing poetry journal to be released through her label Wax Nine Record and curated a tribute album, Saving for a Custom Van for the late Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, featuring contributions from the likes of Sarah Silverman and Rachel Bloom.

As well as spinning all of those creative plates, the lifelong music fan has been scouring the internet for new songs and artists to discover. “I can only be on Twitter for so many hours a day, so SoundCloud and Bandcamp is where I get my kicks!”, she laughs as our Zoom call briefly cuts in and out due to the abundance of music programs running in the background and slowing down her computer. “I’m actually Djing an Emo night tomorrow online on Zoom, but it turns out that people just play whatever the fuck they want. Hopefully I can stay truthful, at least one of us should be.”

As we talk through Dupuis’ Nine Songs, we discover that not only has she taken her homework assignment very seriously, she’s also a natural storyteller and she quips, I probably could have picked some embarrassing stuff, but I picked something formative for everyone. When I was researching for this homework assignment, I was trying to think about what things have really shaped how I think about and work in music.”

The story starts with an ode to her childhood love of Ska, stemming from the time her mother lived in Manchester and worked for a ska label in the 70’ and takes in another part of her childhood, when Dupuis ended up missing a lot of school as she found herself singing in a choir, that brought her first taste of being a touring musician, as well as a discipline that’s shaped how she writes music to this day.

However, what ties many of her Nine Songs together is an overwhelming sense of community, brought about by her collaborators, as well as friendship, where Dupuis transitioned to fan to friends with her heroes Mary Timothy and Kay Hanley

“My favorite gossip is knowing what bands were friends with each other decades ago. I’ve played in bands since I was pretty young, but starting Speedy Ortiz, specifically with songs that I had home recorded, was because I had moved to a new place and I didn’t know people" she explains, "I wanted to play shows so I could be making new friends. It’s a very naïve way to feel about music, but I’ve made so many friends simply just by talking to people at the merch table because I think we all get into caring about music or performing it. Hopefully we’re all in it for the right reasons, which is to connect with likeminded.”

“Ghost Town” by The Specials

“My Mom had actually briefly lived in Manchester in the late ‘70s, working for a Ska label and both my parents were involved in New York's punk scene, so I grew up listening to a lot of Ska. The Specials in particular are a band that I still love a lot.

“I love Ska to such an extent that my AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) screen name until they shut it down at the end of last year was ‘Skaloha 78’! I love this song and I had all of those two-tone compilations on CD. The first band I was in was definitely influenced by the genre and I wore all the checkerboard stuff.

“The song "Oops…!" on Haunted Painting is the most influenced by Ska in terms of anything I’ve written in a long time, especially in terms of the accenting guitars. I don’t think it would have worked as a Speedy Ortiz song, because my bandmates would have called me out for being ‘too ska’, but since is this my own project I can do whatever I like!”

“Independent Women Pt II.” by Destiny’s Child

“Obviously Destiny’s Child are a big one for people, but this song in particular is just so, so weird. It sounds like evil cartoon music from the depths of the 1950’s to me, or like it would be in a Charlie Chaplin factory like farce. It's a strange beat.

“This was one of the first times that I realised that what is touted as 'mainstream pop music' can also be really strange, It makes sense though, because I feel as if Beyoncé has spent her entire career incorporating as much interesting and strange and weird art as possible, while also being one of the best-selling artists of all time. I like huge, best-selling pop artists, but this song really clicked for me.”

“Dixit Dominus, HWV 232: No. 1, Chorus, 'Dixit Dominus, Domino meo'" by Handel

“I wouldn't say I'm an active classical music listener. However, a really big formative thing for me growing up is that I sang in choirs and I was in a professional children's choir for many years of my pre-teen and teen years.

“We did a lot of what you could say is ‘difficult music’, and certainly there was a lot of 20th century composers and dissonant, strange time signature changes. Over time my ear had become very attuned to clashing things, or just a strangeness and time shifts. I think that’s probably true for a lot of people.

“I think that a lot of the stuff I try to write on guitar or synth is probably. and to my own detriment, overly complicated, but I can't help it. I grew up participating in and learning wacky, 20-part choir music. It's very hard to break out of that mindset or write a chord change with a vocal melody on top. In my head I think ‘OK, so when are the 19 other counter melodies happening?’

“I actually wound up missing a lot of school because of touring with this choir. My first time touring internationally was singing in this group with a bunch of kids, so not only did it inform how I write music, but I was used to sleeping on people's floors and couches, because that's what the choir would do. They would send two or three kids off to a different family and that's where you were for the night. A lot of musicians find touring to be hard work, so I’m glad I got the groundwork in early.

“I keep remembering songs that I had to sing in children's choirs, so I have had this one stuck in my head for two months! I’m blown away that this is music I sang as a child because it's so intense.”

“Fast Way” by Letters to Cleo

“I feel funny putting this on here, because Kay Hanley, the frontperson of Letters to Cleo and I are now friends. For a long time they were the soundtrack band for stuff like Friends and 10 Things I Hate About You, and beyond that Kay was the voice of Josie in the Josie and the Pussycats movie.

“The reason I started to play guitar is because I saw that movie and was like, ‘Oh, there's a band of three women!’ I was 12 years old and I didn’t know about all of the obviously very important women who played rock music in the ‘90s until much later on.

“Because of hearing her voice in all these movies, I got the Letters to Cleo CD from a record store and I was so blown away by it. This was the first Indie Rock record I got into, before that it was basically just all Ska. I loved No Doubt, but I didn’t know much about this genre and certainly not about women fronting these bands. So, I remember listening to this CD on my little tiny boombox and just singing along, trying to figure out how she was singing the way that she was.

“It was such a different style from what I was used to, because when you're in a children's choir you don't want to have any character to your voice. You're trying to sing in a very specific way, that will blend well with other people. I think Kay really taught me how to sing with character.”

“Digital Bath” by Deftones

“I think I picked this one as kind of a 'self own'. After getting into Letters to Cleo and starting to play guitar, there was a period of time when I was fine with misogyny in music. I think partly at the age 13 to 14, I was trying to establish myself as just as serious about the guitar as the few boys in my school who were playing. I think with a lot of music I totally either overlooked lyrics that were violent to women, or I was like ‘Oh, that's so cool. Like, he's murdering this girl in the bathtub.'

“I think probably on reflection Chino Moreno feels similarly about some of these lyrics, so I wouldn't put it all on Deftones. There's plenty of rock bands that I loved at this time that I don't think had any awareness of social inequalities, and certainly weren't as formative or interesting for me in terms of their production. The way Deftones records sound is still so, so cool to me and something I think about when making songs. If I hear a new band and I think there's any Deftones influence, I'm usually really psyched.

“That's part of why I picked this song in particular. If we're talking about stuff that formed me, there was a big stretch of years as a teenager where I probably had a lot of internalised misogyny, just from listening to rock bands that sounded awesome.

"Then again, I also watch a lot of True Crime stuff that has inequalities to all kinds of genders. I think of it like, we're all growing and acknowledging our mistakes, and things that were misogynistic in the past. It’s been 20 years since White Pony came out, and for the most part people aren’t writing this way anymore and people understand why lyrics like that can be hurtful.

“One of my favorite things that has happened is Devin McKnight, who used to be in Speedy and is now in the band Monica, and I went to see Deftones together and somehow we were standing in a side stage balcony. Chino Moreno locked eyes with Devin and then locked eyes with me like, one to the next! We have really bonded over our Nu Metal past. So, the bottom line is, White Pony is sick!”

“Coast to Coast” by Elliott Smith

“I feel like a broken record saying this sometimes, but lyrics are definitely the last thing I do in my own music and they're often the last thing I think about in listening to other people's music. Elliott Smith was always a good lyricist and I feel like it's hard to pull out a line of his I don't like.

“I think a lot of people really gravitate towards the Elliott Smith music that's sort of not quite solo him and guitar, because he was often adding drum overdubs and organs. He could also play super-maximalist stuff and play most of it himself. For example, there are two drums on this song and Elliott Smith is one of the drummers.

“What's really exciting to me about this song is that the drum sound is really cool and the guitars sound awesome. I love the weird, preachy sample at the end, it feels very sonically full in a way that's exciting. I was a big fan of him prior to his death, to the extent that I already was trying to copy him before he before he passed.

“There were two celebrity deaths that I remember most from my childhood. I was huge fan of Aaliyah and that was very hard for me as a kid, who was a huge fan of hers, and when Elliott Smith died, that was the other one. From a Basement on the Hill in particular was the first time I can remember a posthumous album coming out. I love his full spectrum of stuff he could do, but sometimes people forget he could really rock, and this song is a good example of that.

“I think sometimes, especially when people die by suicide, who are artists that talked openly about drug use and depression, but he was very progressive about harm reduction versus a treatment for people who use drugs, at a time when that wasn't so popularly talked about in the mainstream.

“It's clear that he had such tremendous joy in arranging these songs. He would be working so late, recording stuff and fixing stuff in the studio and he would wind up sleeping in there. So even when he was already quite famous, he was just really dedicated to the craft of not only songwriting, but also recording. For me as a listener, that's so fun and really relatable, because I also love to stack songs with a million little details. It's my favorite thing in the whole world.”

“Ant’s Dance” by Mary Timony

“I was a big fan of the band Helium that Mary Timothy fronted in the ‘90s, which made me eventually get into her solo music. There’s definitely a heavy, medieval quality to it and I often imagine that this is what a lute player in a courtyard would play. I think that it's very cool that she was able to pull some of these early guitar music sounds and bring them into something that's so highly produced.

“Mary and I are friends now, but for a long time she was my number one guitar hero. The main thing I identified with looking up to her was the notion that we both love to do weird, crazy guitar solos, as well as the fact that she was the first woman that I saw playing incredibly difficult guitar music. She's one of the most inventive players not only that I've listened to, but that I've seen perform, and this record in particular is just really astounding to me.

“I wasn't always obsessively reading the credits of music to see who worked on things, but I remember looking at this and realising that Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse had been a part of this album and thinking that was so cool.

“Listening to this album and realising that the people who'd worked on it as well as other things at that time, kind of put it into my head that ‘Oh, all these little bands that you like, they know each other’. That was a perspective shift for me, not that I was ever writing or recording music in an outer bubble, but I started to become more aware of where I fit in with my own friends’ bands and how we might be able to work together on stuff.”

“Somebody’s Something” by Grass is Green

“I met Grass Is Green when we played a show together in New York with my old band. They slept on my couches and floors, and I was a big fan of them, they were awesome. Devin, who I mentioned earlier, and who was in Speedy, was one of Grass Is Green's guitarists. I remember walking up to him right after the show and being like, 'I think you like these bands' and it was all the bands I like, so we became really close friends.

“When I started making stuff as Speedy Ortiz, I would be sending it to the Grass Is Green guys when they were working on their record, and I’d be hearing their early mixes. Being friends with Grass Is Green and doing so much early touring with them and with Pile as well, right when I was starting Speedy was the first time that I really felt part of the music scene.

“All of your best friends are the people that you're playing concerts with, and you're all swapping out and standing in the front for each other's shows. I put this song on my list because to me it represents a time when the only new music I cared about was the stuff my friends were making.

“This was like Boston 2011 or 2012; I think Pile’s release show was Speedy and one other band that I can't remember right now. Grass is Green's release show was probably Pile, but I think we all played each other's release shows, which I get is probably a little tiresome for the 20 people who kept showing up to completely crowded basements! I had so much love for my friend's bands and I still do.”

“Weirdo” by Sammus, feat. Homeboy Sandman

"Sammus is on Don Giovanni Records, which is another similar thing where a lot of the artists are all friends with each other on that label. Joe Steinhardt, who runs the label, told me I HAD to see her.

“I cried during her performance, which is weird because I’m not a big crier and I’m certainly not a big show crier. We got put in touch right as I was working on my first Sad13 record. Similarly, Enongo, who does the project, produces her own music and does everything. I managed to get her to do a verse on the first Sad13 record. We've toured together a bunch in both projects and it was one of the first times that I realised, 'Oh, I can just reach out to an artist that I like and we can work on something together.'

“Something that's become important to me as I've gotten older is that if we talk about women being underrepresented in guitar, it's no contest with women in audio engineering and production. The last statistic I checked, non-men comprise 2% of audio engineers, so the fact that I have this little circle of friends now, who produce their own music and can help each other when there's a question about Ableton, or what interface to purchase.

“Becoming friends with Enongo of Sammus was when I started to care more and started to view myself more in that light. It made me realise it was important to talk about those things publicly, so that perhaps other girls, or kids who are non-binary, can see that it's not just people who look identical to Steve Albini that are working in recording studios and producing themselves. So she's a real hero to me.

“I fucking don't know why I keep asking her to come on tour with me, because I will cry. There’s this one song of hers that gets me every time, but I’m not gonna say it. I don't want to make your readers cry.”

Haunted Painting is released 25 September via Wax Nine
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