Interview: Sadie Dupuis
Speedy Ortiz has played Asheville three times — enough for vocalist/guitarist Sadie Dupuis to develop a fondness for the city, but perhaps not for reasons one might think.
“It’s shameful — it’s the same reason that I like any place that I like, which is that there’s really good vegan food and I like the kombucha you have,” she says.
With memories of Rosetta’s Kitchen’s vegan queso and Buchi Kombucha enhancing her mind and a Wednesday, March 6, return to The Mothlight on the horizon for her high-energy indie rock quartet, Dupuis enjoyed the luxuries of the last interview of a Friday afternoon press block and spoke with Asheville Stages about a variety of topics.
…on wanting her mom to move to Asheville
The first time I ever went, I called my mom and was like, “You should move here.” She’s an artist and I feel like there’s a cool arts scene. She’s in northwest Connecticut, so pretty close to western Mass[achusetts], and it’s very cold and she lives alone and I just can’t stand the thought of her shoveling snow any more. [Laughs] You get a little snow, but it’s not too bad.
…on letting loose on stage
A lot of what I’m playing is pretty challenging to play. There’s very few times during a set when I’m just strumming or doing something easy, especially considering I also have to tackle the vocals. And those are quite a lot of words, often, so it’ll be a lot of words delivered quickly with a vocal melody that has nothing to do with whatever guitar part I’m playing.
Which is all to say that’s fine, but sometimes people think someone is rocking out a lot harder when they’re doing something simple, right? If you’re just strumming and not working too hard, you can pull off all kinds of stage antics and be on the floor, head-banging, or be on your back making noise, but you’re not actually doing anything too hard. So, a big thing for me since this band started — I used to always just stand really still, because I’m trying to play precisely and play these parts that are sort of technical, and I’ve been really trying to get away from that over the past seven years where I’ll try to be jumping all over stage or doing something fun for audience to look at.
While you want them to be able to hear all the precise things you’re doing, the live show is such a different thing than the recording studio. So, getting away from that control freakiness of wanting every note to be perfect and therefore look like I’m having a bad time on stage, to doing this thing where you’re jumping around and acting like, “This is the wildest day of my life!” doesn’t really come naturally to me because I feel I’m more from a studio background than a punk antic background. [Laughs] So that’s been a change for me over the course of this band — just trying to have fun and get into my body and do fun things on stage.
…on encouraging a more welcoming feminine atmosphere at Speedy Ortiz shows
I’ve been playing since I was 13 and I’ve been playing in bands since I was 15, and very often I’d play a bill and I’d be the only only girl on a bill of, like, five bands and every other player was a man. And because you don’t want to be questioned or challenged or seem to be out of place, I think I used to favor a more masculine style of dress. So I’d be in the punk uniform of, you know, you have your ripped black Levi’s that you probably cut off into shorts and you’re wearing Vans — all the corporate sponsored punk attire. Huge band t-shirt.
And at some point it started to become more of a conscious effort for us to appear on gender diverse stages and make sure that when we invite opening bands, we’re not propagating that stereotype that bands are comprised of four dudes. I started to want to express my stage presence in a more feminine way than I do in my day-to-day life, so I got really into elaborate costumes and wigs and makeup. And I think that’s just wanting to dispel any notion that where you present your gender on the spectrum has anything to do with your ability, so again it sort of ties into, “I’m playing this challenging and technical music and I want to look like a fairy princess because those two things can intersect,” and I feel like that’s a positive thing for people to see who maybe have been intimidated to get into playing because of those gender stereotypes.
…on the benefits of 10-day tours, late into an album cycle
The only big difference is the packing is a little bit easier because you don’t have to be away from home for three months. I’m sure it’ll feel the same as any other tour — we just won’t be as tired. [Laughs] We got booked for festival in Florida and we missed a bunch of cities that we loved on the headlining tour. So, whenever we do — into an album cycle, we’re almost a year into it, it’s sort of this kind of thing where you get a festival and then you fill it in with the cities you like but you haven’t hit yet, so that was the case with this. Asheville is part of that. I think it became the same way last time we were there [in 2016]. We didn’t get to do it on our headlining tour and then we were on a co-headline with Hop Along, like a year after the album or something.
…on seeing former Speedy Ortiz opening act Mitski become 2018’s critical darling
Oh, she’s huge! She sells out, like, six nights in a row at a huge venue in New York. It’s the most amazing thing!
We always bring out bands we think are just the best. And being the best doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re destined for great things. Plenty of the bands that have made the records that are most impactful to me and that I think are the most genius musicians never get beyond bringing 100 people to a show. So for us, the factor of picking an opening band is just like, “Are we obsessed with this music that we want to see it every night?” And also, “Are the people nice?” And in Mitski’s case, it was both of those. I was really obsessed with the Bury Me at Makeout Creek record and we had known each other sort of through the music scene, and she was and still is a really sweet and brilliant person.
That’s the same reason that OHMME, who’ll be supporting us [in Asheville], we want them out because they’re genius musicians and great players and really sweet people. But I think that sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw. The things that I think are genius often are kind of complicated and weird — which I think is true of Mitski’s music. And often that doesn’t resonate with a lot of people. And it always feels like such a victory when music you feel that way about does gets to the level that Mitski’s at. You can never predict, because the stuff that I think is genius often, you know, plays the basement forever. And that’s fine, too. I don’t think that a career should just be gauged on how many tickets you sell.
But yeah, [Mitski’s] so wonderful and so amazing and I was always thankful that we got to tour together and I really feel that way about every band we bring out. I hear about friends’ bands who are like, “My manager’s making me bring out this band.” We’ve never ever done that. When people propose a band for us to take on tour, it’s absolutely never going to happen unless we’re all really big fans of the music and of the band as people. So that’s me endorsing every band that’s every opened for us. [Laughs] I mean, what’s the point of doing it? It’s the same thing with supports tours. We’ve never taken a support tour when we didn’t think the band was great or believed in something they were doing. We get offered support tours and don’t care about the band. We’ve never just taken a paycheck — and by the same token, we’ve never just given one out. Life is short. You should only play with bands you like. [Laughs]
…on the current status of the band’s Help Hotline
There’s not much to change with regards to the Hotline because it’s just a simple concept of if you’re experiencing harassment, you send a text and that gets forwarded to us and our crew so that we can work with venue staff to make the situation safer. But I think the things that have changed is we started doing a lot of things in addition to that. So, we share safer space policies with the venue and ask that they post those if they don’t have their own policies. We distribute bystander intervention and deescalation tactics as a one-sheet, and that’s just free at our merch table.
And something that we started doing last fall, there’s this really great guidebook that a friend of mine wrote called Making Spaces Safer. The author is Shawna Potter and it’s a guidebook for venues in terms of how to make their spaces a safer space. It’s basically training in how to do some of the stuff that we’re sort of distributing, but it’s a much better idea for the venue to have that at their end so there’s a unified thought of what the staff can do if they see someone experiencing harassment, or if someone comes to them saying that they’ve been subject to bigoted language. So we give those out to every venue we play now as well as the promoter, and the hope is the more people learn these basic concepts for how they make make show-going a better experience for everyone in the audience, the more they can share those tactics with others they know, and the less of a crapshoot it’ll be just trying to go see a band. When we think of another idea we think would be helpful to people at our shows and people at shows in general, we try to do that.
Other bands have done Hotlines, and sometimes I’ll wind up doing consulting calls with other bands or radio stations or venues that want to set up something similar for themselves. And since we started distributing the books, we actually purchased a large quantity of these books so that we could distribute them, and we sort of had the idea that it would be nice if other bands could do the same. So we fundraised a lot of last Fall and were able to purchase a large quantity from the press, so they’re going to start giving them out — other bands. The idea is that if as many venues have these in hand as possible, the better trained they’ll be to deal with harassment when it does happen.
…on carrying Narcan at all times
I’m trying to find harm reduction organizations to table at our shows. I was in touch with someone from New York [Democratic Socialists of America] — they have a medic chapter and they will table at any show in New York for free and distribute information about Narcan training and they advise you that there’s lots of organizations in other cities who will do this as well. So if we could have someone at our shows tabling with that kind of information, I feel like that could go a really long way in saving people’s lives.
I lost two friends to overdose this month, people I didn’t even know were using. And I just feel that life-saving medication like naloxone shouldn’t be signified in the way that it is. If I can post about that [on Twitter] and then other people feel empowered to either go to their pharmacy and get it for no money with insurance or pay a small amount with insurance, or to attend a training session — there’s the potential to save so many lives with this medication and I hope people are aware of that. I have it personally and I’ve done training for it, so we’ll have it. God forbid someone’s overdosing at our show, but that’s the point of carrying it. You never know when something could happen, even on the street. I’m carrying it at all times just in case of an emergency like that. And that’s the hope, that people are carrying it and in the case of the unthinkable — an overdose situation — you’re able to intervene and save a life.
…on the perks of book tours
I have really enjoyed touring on [the poetry collection Mouthguard]. When I started Speedy Ortiz, I was in grad school for poetry and was working on a manuscript that ultimately became the book that was published. So much of my life for so long was going to multiple poetry readings a week and reading my friends’ work every week — really just eating and drinking that. I’m on tour playing music so much of the year that, while I still read a ton of books, I don’t often get to go to readings. It’s been so great getting to tour on the book because I get to discover these new poets. It’s such a different experience to get to have a conversation at a poetry reading than it is to talk to someone at a loud show.
While there are obviously similarities, like being stuck in a car for long periods every day, my day is much more open. I get to explore the cities and I get to see my friends who aren’t interested in music. [Laughs] As funny as that is to say, we’re on tour so much of the year and maybe I have a friend in Asheville who I want to see, but I don’t get to because they don’t want to come to the show and I’m stuck at the venue from 3 p.m. until 1 a.m. So, it’s really been a pleasure to get to do some book touring, especially after a year of so much with my music. I actually tried to set up an Asheville reading. I’m doing more book touring in March and I was trying to set something up for Asheville for later in the month, but the two bookstores people recommended to me [Malaprop’s and Firestorm Books & Coffee] were all booked up. But it seems like a cool, literary community as well.
IF YOU GO
Who: Speedy Ortiz with OHMME
When: Wednesday, March 6, 9 p.m.
Where: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
Tickets: $13 advance/$15 day of show
(Photo by Shervin Lainez)