Sadie Dupuis just wants a milkshake. The Speedy Ortiz frontwoman opened Chicago’s Riot Fest with the band’s acerbic indie rock riffs coated in catchy synths. Between touring a new album, working to make the music scene safer and releasing her first book, it’s no wonder that Dupuis is looking forward to unwinding with a vegan shake from the Chicago Diner.
For now, we’re sipping Strongbows backstage while trading admiration for Liz Phair’s early afternoon set, whom Speedy Ortiz is opening for this fall. The band recently dropped a cover of Phair’s “Blood Keeper” on Bandcamp. The proceeds from the pay-what-you-want sales of the track will help produce and distribute a pocket guide called “Making Spaces Safer,” an informative how-to created by War On Women’s Shawna Potter.
Speedy Ortiz is touring in support of their third LP, Twerp Verse, released this spring. The album is akin to the woman with the “I can’t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit” sign. Dupuis’ lyrics express a pervasive weariness with the predatory patriarchy and politics. Yet, the gnarly guitars are a battle cry disguised by pop melodies, discordant but energizing. Speedy Ortiz reminds us that whatever is going on, we can still have fun.
So, I heard that you used to be into beer, but not so much anymore.
I’m allergic to wheat now. I used to love beer, and touring was a nice experience to try out different local IPAs. Then I noticed I would start to get rashes when I had anything with wheat. I would still occasionally make an exception once in a while and have a really nice beer or a pizza or something. Then finally this year, I went to see an allergist and they were like, ‘Stop doing that. You’re so allergic.’ So, it’s been a sad year. Wheat is gone, but I’m learning about other things.
Are you feeling better?
I don’t get rashes all over my body anymore, so that’s good.
What do you like to drink these days?
I tend to just have a vodka drink, because it doesn’t really taste like anything. I don’t really like it, but I also don’t dislike it. Sometimes I’ll have a gluten-free beer. I really like Omission. Their pale ale is really good.
What was your go-to back when you were a beer drinker?
This North Carolina brewery [Big Boss Brewing] and Hell’s Belle was their beer. That would be my treat. Whenever we were in Chapel Hill, I had to get the Hell’s Belle. Now I’m like, ‘What’s the local kombucha?’ As former Riot Fest headliners Blink-182 might have said, ‘This is growing up.’
My other favorite is Bell’s Brewery. That’s a place where I’ve cheated a couple times. It’s so good. They do little flights there, and I’ll get a tiny little sample. They have beers at the brewery that they don’t distribute elsewhere. They did a series inspired by planets, and Venus was a vanilla apricot beer. It wasn’t too sweet; it was delicious.
What did Liz Phair think of your cover of her song ‘Blood Keeper’?
She liked it and she’s been playing it every night, which is really cool. I guess there are a bunch of versions of that song that weren’t released. I was getting the lowdown on the history of it yesterday. So, the version that they’re playing is slightly different than the one we covered. It’s cool getting to hear that song in a different formulation.
Are you guys going to do it on tour?
We’re not. I was just talking to her guitarist and said, ‘It’s very corny to me to just play the headliner’s song and then they’re also playing that song.’
While you’re wearing her T-shirt?
Well, that would make it cool. If you go all out, that feels dedicated. She was wearing a Blondie [who also played Riot Fest] shirt today.
So, you started a help hotline a few years ago for fans who feel unsafe at your shows and I know the proceeds from ‘Blood Keeper’ are going to a safe spaces guide.
It’s a guidebook called ‘Making Spaces Safe’ written by Shawna Potter from the band War on Women. She sent me a copy, because she’s working on a longer book about the same subject and had interviewed me for it and asked for a blurb. She showed me the book and I was like, ‘This is amazing.’
There’s so much practical information in here that venues should be equipped with. Stuff that you wouldn’t think about that pertains to inclusivity like food allergies and how to make sure your kitchen is allergy-equipped. Or stuff like sometimes people use code words at the bar so that if you’re being harassed at the bar you can tip off the bartender discreetly without escalating. It’s different tips that for many bars would require, and should require, a day of training. Obviously, the best thing to do is get someone to come in and consult for you, but in lieu of that, this book is a really great place to start.
So, I read this book and was like, ‘I wish every place that we played could read this.’ I thought every place we play on this tour can read it if we just buy a bunch of copies of the book. So that was sort of the idea behind that. We’re already kind of involved in safer spaces initiatives. We have our own guidelines that we ask to have posted when we headline a show, and we distribute at all our shows bystander intervention and de-escalation tactics.
There’s only so much you can do from the artist’s side of things. I think the real instructional thing that makes sense is for it to be a local issue, for the venues to have a system in place so that every time you go to say, Thalia Hall in Chicago, you know what the protocol is. You know this is how I get help if I need it. So, we’re really happy to be buying these books and providing them to venues.
It seems crazy that in 2018 this isn’t standard training.
We’re getting there slowly. It’s so much better than it was. When we started this hotline three years ago there was nothing like this. I feel like lots of people are working on little projects like this. It’s kind of snowballing into more people being aware and wanting to do better by their patrons. That makes us happy, of course, and we’re happy to be involved in any of those projects.
I never feel good when people use alcohol as an excuse for predatory behavior, or the kind of behavior that’s exploitative of people in the music scene.”
What role does the drinking culture of the music industry play within the need for safer spaces?
It’s tricky because, for some venues, the majority of their profits come from alcohol sales. If they are 18-and-up or all ages, they’ll charge more for the younger kids to get in because they’re not recouping that in alcohol sales. It does seem very ingrained and I think that plenty of people use alcohol as an excuse to engage in behavior that’s unacceptable.
As someone who does drink, it’s tricky. I never feel good when people use alcohol as an excuse for predatory behavior, or the kind of behavior that’s exploitative of people in the music scene, or exploiting power in any kind of way. I’m musician who’s seen a lot of people succumb to addiction on tour. I’m lucky that I can have one drink a night and that can be fine for me, but for many people it’s not.
When venues choose to pay performers solely in alcohol—you’ll get drink tickets and that’s supposed to keep you in a good space for the night—it can really put people into some bad habits. It’s really hard to know how to extract those two, because bar culture is so ingrained in music culture. That’s why we’re always are psyched on playing all ages spaces and spaces that are more about an arts community rather than a bar.
I know you wrote this album partially in response to the 2016 election. How does it feel to be playing it now with midterm elections coming up?
It was very much written in response to trends that were continuing to happen. It wasn’t like, ‘Trump was elected, here are ten songs about Trump.’ It was like, ‘Oh we had this really progressive candidate that could have run as our Democratic candidate and we botched it, or we could have rallied behind Hillary Clinton and we didn’t.’
I feel like some of the same issues are still true to me. I’m no longer voting in New York City, which is where I was born and raised, but I was so psyched on Cynthia Nixon. But you have to look at the DSA candidates that we did elect, and a lot of these primaries have gone in ways that make me happy. Let’s see how we do in the actual midterm elections, but I do feel there’s been a lot of progress made in rallying not only young voters behind more progressive socialist candidates, but also more awareness to the idea that can lean more towards providing things we need, such as healthcare.
So, the songs still feel relevant to me, because that’s kind of what they were about. ‘Lucky’ was sort of about ‘I can’t believe we fucked this up, but look at all these young activist groups that I’m so psyched on.’ I have hope in that. I still feel that way and will still feel that way, until the world collapses in about three years. Sarcasm!
I think hope runs throughout the album, although you’re touching on tough themes that everyone is feeling.
I think you have to have it, otherwise what are you gonna do? It would be so easy to just say, 'We fucked everything up. Let’s just give up.' Global warming has reached a place that we probably can’t turn back from. Do we want to give up or do we want to see cities banning plastic? I think it’s cool to have faith in these small movements and that things can get marginally better.
If you had to pair Twerp Verse with a drink what would it be?
It’s a boozy milkshake, because I think part of what we were trying to do with the record is calling things out explicitly, using your voice to make any kind of difference, but also having some hope. We tried to do that in a musical way with the saccharine pop stuff that’s on it. There’s a lot of goofy synth stuff and drum machine stuff and fun stuff. So, you’ve got your hard truths and that’s the boozy party of the milkshake, and you’ve got your saccharine pop and that’s the milkshake itself.
I like that. I was going to go with a fruity IPA for the same reason. Like a grapefruit IPA because it packs a punch but it’s still approachable. Now I want a milkshake too.
Yeah, that’s like the same extension.