Speedy Ortiz Mixes Grunge With Female Empowerment Activism

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Among today’s slurries of synth pop and typical Top 40 trash, who knew a grunge band could still earn so much critical acclaim? Yet Speedy Ortiz does more than just revive sludgy, downtuned riffs with punk attitude. The Massachusetts four-piece are unique, not only because their lyrics are in an episode of Adventure Time, not only because they’ve had Hannibal Buress drum for them (appearing hilariously stoned), but because they stand for more than just raising your fist in the air.

Speedy’s debut on Carpark Records, Major Arcana, was lauded by A.V. Club and NME and earned a Best New Music nod from Pitchfork. But it was their third album, Foil Deer, with tracks like “The Graduates” and “Dot X,” that cemented Speedy’s place as a band not to be trifled with.

Lead singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis’ steady, mouse-like voice delivers cutting remarks that reassert her self-assurance, in particular “Raising The Skate” with the chorus “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” which comes from the Ban Bossy Campaign. 

In 2015, Noisey named Speedy “Artist of the Year,” comparing Dupuis to a “a modern-day Kathleen Hanna” for the band’s dedicated advocacy work. Not only has Dupuis been outspoken about numerous feminist issues, she’s incorporated her perspective heavily into how her band operates.

Last December, Speedy toured in support of the Girls Rock Camp Foundation, a nonprofit that teaches young girls how to jam with a healthy dose of “Girls to the Front” attitude. When we call her from her home in Philadelphia, Dupuis tells us that she went to an arts camp in her teens, which offered a recording studio, and she later worked as a camp counselor teaching songwriting.

“I know [camp] was really helpful for me in figuring out what my interests were,” Dupuis says.

Speedy Ortiz has also set up text message-based “harassment hotlines” at their shows so people can alert the band directly if they feel unsafe.

“We were playing a festival and saw a bunch of kind of upsetting, aggressive nonconsensual touching. And even some of that was directed at me,” Dupuis recalls. “We sort of felt that it would be nice to have a way for people who are attending shows that we’re playing could get in touch with us. Because we might have an easier way of getting them out of harm’s way than rather than someone just, like, either leaving frustrated or getting stuck in a violent or escalating situation.”

The idea is catching on, according to Dupuis, who says she was contacted by Say Anything and Modern Baseball for info on how to set up their own hotlines.

Speedy’s first major tour was in support of Thurston Moore, which isn’t surprising given the band’s many Sonic Youth touchstones. Dupuis says it was refreshing to be working with musicians that aren’t in bands just to party.

“It was cool to be on tour with someone who had been doing it a long time,” Dupuis says. “And to learn you can use your green room time to read a book rather than, like, get exceedingly drunk.”

That doesn’t mean Dupuis can’t have fun. Earlier this year, Google matched Dupuis (under the name Sad13) with Minnesota rapper Lizzo to collaborate, despite never having met before. The duo sent each lyrics and discussed online before heading into the studio. The song, produced by Danielle Johnson of Computer Magic, became “Basement Queens,” which is just the start of the duo’s collabs — Dupuis hints they’ll have more releases in a month or so.

“I had never really written a song for somebody else to be part of before. It was just cool to write some music and see what somebody else did with it.”

Speedy Ortiz is scheduled to play Crescent Ballroom on Monday, June 6.

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