Indie rockers Speedy Ortiz released their third full-length album Twerp Verse earlier this year. Singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis and the band’s current lineup of guitarist Andy Molholt, drummer Mike Falcone and touring bassist Audrey Zee, recently recorded a live SubModern Session and interview for FMQB, chatting with Josh T. Landow & Joey Odorisio about their new music, video style, keeping venues safe for fans, and of course, their love of Riverdale.
QB: The band is more geographically spread apart than it’s ever been, with Sadie living in Philadelphia. How did that affect working on this new record?
Sadie Dupuis: We have a touring bassist with us today instead of recording bassist Darl Ferm. So that’s the answer.
QB: "Lean In When I Suffer" I assume was partly inspired by the "lean in" movement and slogan…
SD: Sure, I wouldn’t say ‘inspired by,’ more like ‘riffing on.’ I don’t have a Sheryl Sandberg framed portrait above my bedpost. [laughs]
QB: All the videos for Twerp Verse, despite being shot by different directors, have a surreal, colorful, cartoonish aesthetic to them. Was that an intentional not-quite-theme?
SD: We shot "Lean In When I Suffer" here in Philly. "Lucky 88" in New York in a photo studio space that gets rented out for stuff like that. And the other one, "Villain," was shot all over the place. I shot my parts in LA and these guys shot in Austin and Darl filmed his in Boston.
I wouldn’t say that we pushed that theme on the directors. I think they were all working simultaneously without knowing what the other was working on but I think that some previous Speedy Ortiz videos kinda have that aesthetic. And certainly I think I’m a little notorious for liking rainbow stuff, so maybe they just picked up on some other things we’ve done. I think it fits well with our aesthetic and it also fits well with the sound of the record, which is very bright to me and colorful in its production.
Mike Falcone: A lot of directors pitch us two or three or more ideas and the one we end up choosing is the one that looks like that. [laughs] So that also might have something to do with it.
QB: And the "Lucky 88" video is the one that’s basically The Blob!
SD: Yeah that was so fun to work on. And I think maybe I did give the director Emily a little bit of color references just in the aesthetic in what we were going for in that song. I think we mentioned Black Mirror to her and I think I mentioned Riverdale. So that would certainly produce an aesthetic a little bit like what she dreamt up.
Audrey Zee: Riverdale‘s the greatest show ever filmed.
SD: When I made "Lucky 88," I was really deep into the first season of Riverdale. I think it had ended, but I was listening to the soundtrack a lot and so I thought, "I’m gonna make a song that sounds like it could be on a CW show." And that’s "Lucky 88."
QB: Have you had any songs on CW shows?
SD: No! Where are they? I keep trying, I bring it up in interviews and people are like, "We’re gonna make it happen!" So don’t let me down.
QB: You were in The Archies comic though.
SD: We were in The Archies! Speedy Ortiz judged a battle of the bands between The Archies and Josie & The Pussycats. The Pussycats won but we invited Archie to come on tour with us as our third guitarist.
QB: They had a great lineup of bands in that comic, I know CHVRCHES was in it…Tegan & Sara did one.
SD: CHVRCHES was in it and they had lots of little shout-outs to bands. Like in the same issue we’re in, after The Archies lose the battle of the bands, and I’m just spoiling this whole issue, so please go buy it after you hear this entire plot… In the hotel after the battle of the bands, I go to Archie’s room and invite him to tour and come play with us. The Pussycats invite Veronica I think to join and then Betty plays an open mic solo wearing a Waxahatchee t-shirt. So that was a good cameo, and I think there was a Hop Along poster in a store.
The writers really like cool music and have had tons of cool little references…I think they did a playlist of all the bands.
QB: There was actually a previous version of the record that didn’t come out and you recorded it twice basically. How’d that work out and why did that happen?
SD: We did the record and felt there could be some stronger songs or songs that we felt more connected to, so we took some time, wrote some more songs and went back into the studio.
QB: And some of the newer songs are a little more politically charged? Which are new and which are old?
SD: Yeah and we kept some of the old ones too that fit along that description. "Villain" is an old one…"Sport Death" is an old one… I first did "Alone with Girls" as a flexi-disc for Father/Daughter Records for the "Keep In Touch" flexi-disc postcard series, so I had a demo of that a long time ago that I did solo and then we did a full band version for this record.
QB: You set up your hotline for concertgoers who feel unsafe if something is going down at a show that they’re uncomfortable with. How does it actually work?
SD: It’s a text hotline so that someone can discretely get help if they need to. It forwards to anyone on the tour…a merch person or a sound person or all of us. So we started that a few years ago, along with posting safer space policies and more recently, we’ve also incorporated distributing bystander intervention and de-escalation tactics.
We started this hotline because it’s not always clear how to get help or who to get help from when you’re at a venue, especially when you’re at a festival or outdoor venue. Our thought was, "We know who to get help from. If they contact us, we trust ourselves." But what I think has been more helpful is having the safer space guidelines up and the bystander intervention stuff up, because people have texted the hotline but it’s never been for anything where we can directly go and intervene. For example, "I want to walk to the subway but I don’t feel safe doing that." Or "this person is using bigoted language." So it hasn’t been for drastic emergencies, which is great.
But what I think has been really cool about it is that some other bands who draw bigger crowds than we do have started using it and have more of an infrastructure. I think that every band and every venue should have something like this. It would be great to know that venues have some kind of protocol and some kind of guidelines of what they won’t tolerate but until then it’s cool that more bands are doing it. Modern Baseball did it a little bit after us and they had their phone number projected on the stage behind them so anyone can text it. I think Marissa Paternoster [of Screaming Females] did an animation that was projected behind them. And more recently I’ve been talking to Dispatch…they’ve been doing a lot of work trying to push back against harassment and assault at gigs.
So there’s a lot of work people are doing. Lots of different pockets of different ideas and it’s cool that lots of everyone’s focused on this and trying to make it better.
QB: Finally, we wanted to ask you about your "You Ate the Title" food tour.
SD: We did this thing where we collaborated with a lot of different vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants around the country. We would pick a local charity together and name a menu item or come up with a special and they would donate a percentage of the proceeds to that charity. We would get to go to the restaurant and eat a food special that we would very hokily name with a pun related to one of our songs.
QB: What was the best one?
SD: "Bánh Mì Off" which our friend Lucy Stone named, which had Bánh mì ingredients on a pizza crust, so we had pickled carrots, cilantro, some tofu, an aioli Sriracha …after our song "Buck Me Off."
By Joey Odorisio & Josh T. Landow