Sadie Dupuis has found another way to write a pop song. She doesn’t sing about broken dreams, jealous lovers, or shallow hook-ups. On Slugger, her solo debut as Sad13, the Speedy Ortiz bandleader mines pop song structure but instead shares positive personal messages about consent, self-worth, solidarity, and breaking away from broken relationships.
“I wanted to make something that I felt I could stand totally behind, just to put some pop music into the world that I felt was more positive,” Dupuis says. Growing up in New York City, she latched onto pop station Z100 early on, despite the fact that her parents were “cool punks — they were not into radio pop; I could not get enough of the Spice Girls and Britney Spears and Aqua,” Dupuis says. “As a kid, I didn’t really notice anything was off. I was willfully ignorant, maybe, of some of the negative messages being transmitted to me. And that’s still music that I sing along to even if I find it lyrically troublesome.”
By the time she was thirteen, Dupuis’ tastes had shifted slightly — her interest in independent labels and college rock blossomed, and she’d started playing guitar, which lent itself more readily to joining a rock or punk band. A decade later, while teaching songwriting at a summer camp, she started penning songs under the moniker Speedy Ortiz, which she had intended to be a solo project; the Cop Kicker EP and a full-length, The Death of Speedy Ortiz, were self-recorded and featured Dupuis on every instrument, including cello and banjo. But as Speedy Ortiz evolved to become a full band, the folksier vibes fell away and the project congealed around a Nineties-indebted alt-rock sound. “Some of the [early] songs are not obvious rock songs. It feels harder to do that with the group that we have as Speedy,” says Dupuis. “I used [Slugger] as a way to work out some things that wouldn’t work for that group. If it’s just me, I can do whatever I’m drawn to.”
For Dupuis, that meant revisiting the pop music she loved as a kid. “That’s part of my early musical DNA,” she explains. “I wanted to make a record that reflected that part of my tastes.” After collaborating with Minneapolis-based rapper Lizzo to write rallying-cry single “Basement Queens” (a song that, appropriately for both Dupuis and Lizzo, champions women self-producing their own records), it didn’t take long to put together material for Slugger — it was written, recorded and produced in about two weeks.
The virtuosic twists and knots of Dupuis’ signature guitar style are still there, but aren’t always front-and-center, as on the synth-heavy chorus of “Just A Friend,” which calls out jealous lovers and highlights the importance of friendship between genders, or “Tell U What,” on which Dupuis informs an abusive partner, “I’m not worth your violence.” The centerpiece of the record, and perhaps its greatest success, is “Get A Yes,” an electrifying blueprint for consent; its effervescent beat manages to capture all of the fluttery feelings of first forays into physicality with a crush, while her playful vocal also demands respect. For anyone who’s ever held the position that having to ask kills the mood, “Get A Yes” is absolute proof that talking about sexual situations before winding up in them can actually be part of the fun.
Elsewhere on the record, Dupuis demands equal pay as both an artist and a woman (“Coming Into Powers,” featuring Ithaca-based rapper Sammus) — two things that need not be mutually exclusive, as she points out when she rails against tokenizing social quotas on the rollicking “Line Up.” At every turn, Dupuis’ carefully crafted anthems sparkle with confidence and consciousness, but Dupuis insists she needs a band behind her to pull off a live performance. The Slugger tour, which stops at Baby’s All Right on December 13, sees Dupuis playing keys, with three additional bandmates. “I’ve never played synth in a band before. I definitely did my fair share of staying up all night practicing before we left,” she says. Even if the tour enlists other musicians to flesh out the songs live, there’s no question that Slugger is every bit Dupuis’ doing.
“I guess it’s not always clear who’s playing what on the Speedy Ortiz records,” she admits. “I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that it’s not a sexist thing, but I think people often assume the more challenging parts are the male guitar players. [For Slugger], it’s really on me. If something’s really sick, you know I did it!”