Sadie Dupuis began 2016 by writing and recording a solo album of pop songs as Sad13, about topics the Speedy Ortiz guitarist, songwriter, producer and singer felt were missing or underrepresented in the genre: sexual consent, healthy friendships, romantic autonomy, abusive relationships and prohibitive gender politics.
The songs were written from a hopeful place. The album, Slugger, was released Nov. 11. The 28-year-old is ending 2016 by considering scrapping Speedy Ortiz’s already written and demoed third album, and starting over, in light of recent events.
“It’s more dire at this point than it was when I wrote it—same topics, different severity level,” Dupuis said last week from a tour stop in Cleveland, where she was one week into a five-week tour. “I think we’re all kind of living in a state of suspended disbelief and uncertainty as to what this election will mean.
“I have my own concerns with regard to my right to control my body. My life is not at the most immediate risk and it’s very frightening to see people I love, whose lives are very much now at risk, or already were.”
Sadie Dupuis discovered a new level of understanding of the “pervasiveness of bigotry in our country.” But life goes on, which is how she found herself in Cleveland, waiting on an order of falafel and debating, internally, whether it’s frivolous to even be playing concerts right now.
“I know that people need to come to shows when they’re feeling confused and alarmed at the state of the world,” she said. “I feel my energies would be better served toward the world by being home and being at protests, but we do what we can. I know that people get strength from coming to shows, and I’m honored to be able to provide that.”
One week into Sad13’s first tour, some fans have already memorized the lyrics to Slugger’s 11 songs.
Unlike Speedy Ortiz’s grungy guitar-grounded rock songs, Sad13’s lyrical content sits on a bed of danceable synth pop, also forcing Dupuis to get comfortable playing keyboards live. The production is lo-fi but glossy; she recorded the album in two weeks after moving from Massachusetts to Philadelphia in January. Some of the songs are more personal, which is why she saved the ideas for herself as voice memos. But all retain Dupuis’s razor-sharp lyrical edge. The songs will sneak up on unassuming listeners.
“Devil In U” and “Fixina” take on toxic and controlling relationships. “Coming Into Powers,” the album closer with an assist from rapper Sammus, celebrates her accomplishments while rejecting those who tried to shut her down. “Tell U What” tackles abuse head-on: “You just throw me round like trash when I’m worth all the gold you have/ Tell you what: I’m not worth your violence.” The song demonstrates the strength needed to escape.
“Hype” looks at how the efforts of women and minorities are undone by misogyny in the entertainment media. “Just a Friend” is Sadie Dupuis’ take on the 1989 Biz Markie song by the same name, which disdains platonic relationships. “Line Up” is a battle cry for complete parity between the sexes.
And then there’s lead single “Get A Yes,” in which Dupuis lays out a mission to show that consent is not complicated, and clear communication is sexy. “I say yes to the dress when I put it on/ I say yes if I want you to take it off/ I say yes for your touch when I need your touch/ I say yes if I want to/ If you want to, you’ve gotta get a yes.”
And this is a frequently missing aspect of pop songs that try to get to pleasure quickly, avoiding consent altogether.
“A lot of the themes of the record are just aspects of my own day-to-day life,” she said. “I think a lot of the aspects of my life that result in the anger or confusion that the songs are about has been especially relevant in this election. Some of that has to do with the likelihood that a woman will experience a sexual assault, which obviously came into play in this election after our President-elect bragged about doing so repeatedly.”
Prior to recording the album, Dupuis was also inspired following a tour with Speedy Ortiz to support Girls Rock Camp Foundation, a life skills and creative expression nonprofit. The band donated all of their proceeds to the foundation after having a financially successful year.
Speedy Ortiz also created a hotline for people to call if they felt unsafe at their concerts, allowing them to get in touch with venue security. The band created several play-nice guidelines at their shows to go along with the phone number. The concept has since been copied by other artists.
Sadie Dupuis was originally planning to take her Sad13 demos to a studio, but fell in love with the rawness of the original bedroom recordings. She doesn’t view her songs as mainstream pop, but has seen how mainstream musicians have adapted to minimalist techniques, even as they work with a multitude of producers.
“Even though there are a million cowriters on [many] songs, there’s been a lot of really awesome minimalist pop that I feel could have been made by one person in the bedroom,” she said. “Rather than recruiting a different producer to make a minimalist pop song, I did a low-fi maximalist one.
She also designed the animated album cover using paper dolls as a concept. She hesitated putting herself on the cover, something she’s never done with Speedy Ortiz. Her goal was to show that seriousness of purpose and femininity are not at odds.
Dupuis’ paper doll can take on different identities but is one complete person. Promotional photographs depict her with candy-colored magenta hair and lipstick, carrying a Louisville Slugger over her shoulder.
The use of pop music to deliver the message, something that wouldn’t sit well with Speedy, also serves the purpose.
“It needed to be a fun-sounding record because these should be conversations for everyone, and there shouldn’t be a listening barrier to entry,” she said. “I don’t think you should have to listen to punk or hardcore to get the political messages that are often in that kind of music.”
Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.