Sadie Dupuis does not have free time. The Speedy Ortiz frontwoman initially began the band as a creative outlet during a stint teaching at a songwriting camp in 2011, and in the past five years it has grown into one of the most interesting and perceptive rock bands currently out.
Speedy’s packed touring schedule meant the band wasn’t able to begin working on new material until recently, putting their next album release firmly in 2017. Despite that obvious constraint, Dupuis felt compelled to put something out this year, inspired by the prolific pasts of recently lost greats like David Bowie and the influx of female artists who are self-producing their own work.
“I always really admired super prolific songwriters,” Sadie said when we spoke over the phone about the record a couple of weeks ago. “I was looking at when David Bowie passed away, he had released at least one record every year since he was like 20. I think it’s amazing to have a career that’s so diverse and to always stay artistically busy and challenged. When I had a little downtime from touring with Speedy, I realized it was my chance time to work on a record by myself and try something a little different.”
Enter Sad 13, the internet-inspired moniker for her work as a solo artist, which culminates in the lo-fi pop of Slugger, a debut of sorts from the veteran songwriter and performer. The album title is a sly allusion to an anime character in Paranoia Agent named Lil’ Slugger, and while “Sad 13” is an obvious spatial play on Sadie’s own name, the connection goes deeper.
“I still feel like a depressed teenager,” Sadie laughed. “I’m 28 but I’m still upset about people I have crushes on, so Sad 13 works. I actually came up with that name because I was using it for She Shreds events. I used that name as my DJ name, and I was like’ this is the best name ever’ so I changed all my social media to it, and now my solo project is named after my Twitter.”
Earlier this year, Dupuis holed up in her old bedroom in Philadelphia and began writing and recording rough demos and sketches for songs that would eventually make up the bulk of Slugger. A major part of her impetus to make the record was to try her hand at producing the record herself, inspired by a slew of female artists who have done just that recently.
“I’ve been really into so many women who produce themselves over the past few years,” Dupuis said. “Like the Grimes record, Alice In Wonderland, and Computer Magic. [Danielle Johnson of Computer Magic] worked on a song with Lizzo and me earlier this year. I was really inspired by those records and I wanted to try my hand at something similar, which I did at home in a bedroom, pretty cheaply.”
Slugger is inspired by a deep love for pop music, and Sadie’s desire to make music in that vein, but also a strong desire to reframe cultural conceptions about what topics traditional pop music employs. She kicked off the news about her record with a song that directly tackles consent in sexual relationships, a jaunty, throwback slow-burn called “Get A Yes.”
“Part of writing Slugger was me trying to undo some of these songs that I still really love and sing along to, but that I have to roll my eyes at because I disagree with them on a topical level,” she said. “It’s funny, because I don’t think a thing like consent have to be considering an unsexy topic. I watched season 3 of Transparent yesterday, and there’s a hook up scene with a guy asking his female partner for permission every step of the way — ‘May I kiss your collarbone? May I touch your nipple?’ — and she completely shuts him down! She’s like ‘Stop talking you don’t have to ask me.’ How much cooler would it have been if they had actually ran with it? I think that has potential to be really sexy — someone asking permission every step of the way? This huge TV show had a moment to actually explore consent in a sexy way and the character rolls her eyes at the man instead.”
For Speedy Ortiz fans who are curious about how Dupuis’ solo music will be different, that single is probably the biggest departure from Speedy’s sound. But there’s still plenty of material on Slugger that will resonate with fans of her old band. One of the biggest differences is the lyrical bent of the songs, which are geared much more directly to women specifically.
“I don’t think the music and the structure of it is drastically different from Speedy,” Sadie said. “It’s really just the instrumentation and the lyrics that are different. But I think ‘Get A Yes’ is probably the most different sounding one from what people have heard in Speedy, which is kind of why I wanted to lead with it. But I’m excited about this record, I hope people like it. I think the songwriting is pretty similar, but the instrumentation is different and the lyrics are a bit more direct, and that’s why I felt more comfortable approaching topics that are specific to women in ways that I have not always done in Speedy.”
One song that does just that is the buzzy and dark “Devil In U,” a track that directly addresses the suck of toxic relationship and how to extract yourself from their orbit.
“The impetus of that song is about when you recognize partner is behaving in a way that’s stifling of you, or skeptical of you, or just treating you in a way that you don’t deserve,” Dupuis said. “So you make excuses or you act in a way that’s is stifling to you as a person just to assuage their irrational concerns. When you’re already behaving correctly but someone is suspicious of you in an unfounded way, you find yourself going even farther to prove that you are behaving well even though you have nothing to prove. It’s about the way that a relationship can go sour in that way.”
Though Sadie did eventually track down a professional engineer to help her mix the record, pretty much everything else on Slugger was helmed by her and her alone. There is a sole guest on the album, Sammus, a female rapper from upstate New York, who drops a verse on album closer “Coming Into Powers” that is strong enough to merit her singular inclusion.
“I heard about her from Joe Steinhart who runs Don Giovanni,” Sadie said. “They were in the same Ph. D program, but now he’s releasing her album. When I met her they were just friends. We went to go see her at SXSW and I saw her twice and I cried both times. She played this song “1080p” and I was really blown away, she was so moving. She’s also just so fun and creative, and one of those home producers who does an amazing job. So I reached out to her to see if she would ever want to work on something together, and lucky for me she was really enthusiastic. So I sent her that track and I love what she did on it. The first three shows on the Sad 13 were release shows for her new album Pieces In Space.”
The other artist joining Dupuis on her extensive Sad 13 tour is another New York-based songwriter, Vagabon, who debuted the lead single “Fear & Force” off her new album Infinite Worlds last week. Even as she seeks to strike out on her own, Dupuis is bringing other women up alongside her, dismantling the pop world while working inside of it and channeling her sad teenage energy into a dreamy pop debut. Y’know, all in her spare time. Stream Slugger below and chek out her tour dates behind the record.
Catch Sad 13’s on her upcoming tour dates:
11/12/16 – Pittsburgh, PA @ TBD
11/13/16 – Toronto, ON @ Smiling Buddha
11/14/16 – Columbus, OH @ Double Happiness
11/16/16 – Northampton, MA @ 13 Queen
11/17/16 – Hamden, CT @ The Space
11/18/16 – Washington, DC @ Songbyrd
11/19/16 – Jersey City, NJ @ Monty Hall
11/21/16 – Cleveland, OH @ Malhall’s
11/22/16 – Detroit, MI @ El Club
11/23/16 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
11/25/16 – Omaha, NE @ Milk Run
11/26/16 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
11/27/16 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
11/28/16 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux
11/29/16 – Seattle, WA @ Vera Project
11/30/16 – Portland, OR @ Bunk Bar
12/02/16 – San Francisco, CA @ Hemlock Tavern
12/03/16 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Bootleg
12/06/16 – Dallas, TX @ Double Wide
12/07/16 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk
12/09/16 – Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn
12/10/16 – Durham, NC @ Pinkhook
12/11/16 – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
12/13/16 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
12/14/16 – Boston, MA @ Middle East