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Who’s afraid of Speedy Ortiz?
Sadie Dupuis discusses everything that went into the making of her band’s new album, Rabbit Rabbit, on The FADER Interview.

Who’s afraid of Speedy Ortiz?

Speedy Ortiz. Photo by Shervin Lainez.


When Kim Cattrall made her long-awaited return as Samantha Jones last week to the Sex and the City spinoff And Just Like That…, it was with many, many stipulations: She would appear for no more than ninety seconds, in a scene without any of her former co-stars, styled by Patricia Field, who did costumes for the original series almost twenty years ago. Not to mention the check, which has been rumored to be in the seven-figure range. Catrall’s rationale for all this, per an interview with The Guardian: “I don’t want to be in a situation for even an hour where I’m not enjoying myself.”

Sadie Dupuis is 35 now, and she’s trying to make better choices, too. The Speedy Ortiz frontwoman wrote “Kim Catrall,” the opening song on her band’s new album Rabbit Rabbit, before that Guardian interview was published, but the song’s title is an even better fit now. The first Speedy project in five years, Dupuis wrote the record after escaping an unenjoyable situation of her own: her late ’20s. Make no mistake, though: Rabbit Rabbit is not a well-adjusted LP.

A few weeks before Rabbit Rabbit’s release, I spoke to Sadie about the books, musical partnerships, life changes, and premium TV actresses that helped shape the album’s final form: a messy excoriation of traumas and bad decisions, at once catchier and more dissonant than any Speedy Ortiz record before it.

Who’s afraid of Speedy Ortiz?

Shervin Lainez

The following Q&A is the full transcript of The FADER Interview’s latest episode, lightly edited for clarity. Find the new episode and The FADER Interview’s full archive at this link, embedded below, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

The FADER: I guess we’ve gotta start with Kim Cattral, as in why her?

Sadie Dupuis: It’s funny: I think we’re taping this the day before she’s set to appear on And Just Like That. Before she committed to doing this one-minute scene where she brought back original costume designer Pat Field and negotiated all these things to make it as tolerable for herself as possible, she had refused to return to the show, citing her treatment by fellow cast members. She was old enough that it wasn’t worth it for any price to tolerate uncomfortable work situations and interpersonal relationships.

The song has really very little to do with Kim Cattrall at all. I wrote it in part after reading Jenny Hval’s book Girls Against God. The song opens with a nod, not only to that book but… It’s about some of the trauma-informed decision making that got me to my early/mid 30s, which is where I was when I was writing this record. And it’s about feeling grateful for having survived not only bad circumstances but my own stupid decisions, feeling like it’s magical to get to be in this world where, despite whatever horrors are happening, we get to be with one another. So [It’s about] choosing better decisions as I get older so I can continue to have more days on this earth.

When I read all these Kim Cattrall interviews about “no amount of money will bring me back to the show, which is a toxic work environment,” it [lined] up with the sentiment of the song. And then, of course, she did say yes to the show, but on her own terms, damn it.

That song has a lyric that really jumped out at me the first time that I heard it: “I’m not like other girls, and I am.” What’s your take on the not-like-other-girls-ness of it all?

Part of what I was trying to write in this song, and I think you’re the first person who’s asked about it… In my lyrics, ever since I was in high school, I’ve been questioning my relationship to my gender, whether I relate to any gender identity whatsoever, and that’s true in the full Speedy Discography. I can point to stuff on every record that’s under a similar theme. Part of what I was ruminating on when I wrote this song is that the reason I don’t sit and think about that and come up with an answer for myself is because I’m processing all these other things from my past and just trying to get through day to day.

So, in part, [“Kim Cattrall”] was about not overthinking what I’m doing and who I am and driving myself insane with these existential questions, because it can pull me out of the magical things in the world around me if I get too focused on who I am in my relationship to myself. It opens with a reference to that Jenny Hval book, but it’s sort of a dual thing: The line is, “Girls are against God, but I’m not one,” and I left it open — I’m not a god, and I’m also not a girl.

At a couple of points on the album, you take symbols of very traditional femininity and recast them as oppressive images, like when you talk about the lace of a petticoat around your neck.

Yeah, on the song “Plus One.” What’s this story called? “The Green Ribbon.” Do you know that ghost story? I think it’s from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, but maybe it predates that. The story is that this woman tells her beloved, “Never untie the lace around my neck,” and [he’s] so curious about it that one day he does remove the ribbon and her head falls off. So that [lyric] is a little nod to a favorite urban legend. Someone tells you not to take off their neck ribbon, you better not.

On this new album, you worked with Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties as your engineer/producer. What new sides did she bring out in your sound? How did she shift the creative process behind this record?

Sarah fulfills all kinds of roles on different projects. Going in on this together, she knew about me as a producer and a co-producer: I come in with a ton of stuff pretty much already decided. I try to come in with as drastically overstuffed a blueprint as I could possibly create at home because studio time is expensive, and if you don’t know what you need to capture, it’s a really easy way to get into a money pit that our band fund certainly could not have afforded after however many years of not touring. So even before we got into rehearsals as a four piece, I had made demos where I was like, “The drums should know vaguely this, the bass should be vaguely this. Here’s all the guitar parts I can think to write.”

Sometimes Andy [Molholt] wrote different [guitar parts] to add to it. Sometimes he took over some that I wrote. I wrote a bunch of keyboard parts; similar deal. Sometimes Andy replayed those. Sometimes we mixed them in with what I already did. But the direction of the songs was pretty decided before Sarah came on board.

This is not to say that on other projects she works on she doesn’t have more of a steering role. What makes her a great collaborator is she can do it all. She can just hit record and set up some mics, or she can get into the nitty gritty and craft different sounds. But because she already knows how I work, because we worked on the last Sad13 record together to some extent as well, the mission from the start was, “How do we record this as well as possible so that all of these details that are already composed into it can shine?”

A lot of the places where her creativity could come through were, like, “Let’s set up these three different amps and let’s have two different mics on each of them and let’s figure out the blend between those.” It was definitely more in the technical world. We have a ton of musical and other artistic tastes in common, so there’s a pretty solid shared language there. We’re often gonna suggest the same things to one another, which makes us a good creative team.

Speaking of the Sad13 project, the last record you put out from that is more recent than the last Speedy Ortiz record. How has moving away from the band and devoting yourself to these solo projects come back to inform the full-band work you’re doing as the front person of Speedy Ortiz?

The last record we had out for Speedy was in 2018. We toured on it pretty extensively, and then throughout 2019, while we were touring, I would book studio time in different cities where we were going. For instance, we’d play a festival in San Francisco, I’d fly out two days early and go work in a studio. That was how the last Sad13 record came together. It was built around Speedy touring and stealing time where I could.

Similar deal with the book I put out in the pandemic. It was written in the midst of Speedy touring and Sad13 touring and stealing time where I could to think of a different creative pursuit. I have, in the past, had a hard time tapping into creative mindset and energy while on tour. A lot of touring feels very rote. We’re not staying in hotels — I’m certainly not getting my own room — so there’s not really space to sprawl out and try things and experiment, which is what I like to do when I’m working on production or writing. I worked on these projects while Speedy was the priority. And then, in the pandemic, there was no full-band playing or touring. I mean, some people did, but that was not something we were up to.

I was very excited to get to come back to a more collaborative working relationship and get to work with my bandmates. I got a lot better at production and mixing in the pandemic because I had to do a lot of these sort of solitary tasks. I got better because that was the only thing to focus on, so the pre-production was a lot more intensive. The sounds I was able to generate are more interesting than I knew how to make before. That was true of all my bandmates as well. They were also all sitting by themselves and getting better at different things or taking time away from an instrument and having that inform their approach when they returned. We all did our own thing for a few years, and it resulted in a really interesting collaboration when we were finally able to get in the practice space together.

I totally see that come through on Rabbit Rabbit; it’s such a hi-fi record. I think. There’s so much detail and clarity with respect to the way that it’s recorded.

This is something that Sarah was incredible for, as well as David Catching, who runs Rancho de la Luna. We’d [go], “How does the bass sound on the demo? Okay, what pedals will accomplish that? What combination of amplifiers? Now we’ve gotta pick an arsenal of mics to record all of it. And then what kind of blend?” There was a lot of that kind of nitty-gritty decision making, and it was certainly one of the more intensive recording and mixing processes I’ve been part of, but that’s my favorite part of the whole thing. It was really intensive but fun.

“When I’m writing a poem, I’m not writing to drums; I’m not writing to bass; I’m not writing to this synth part there. The poetry has to provide all of that infrastructure.”

You also mentioned the poems you were writing on your last tour, which I’m assuming are what came together to form Cry perfume.

Yeah, I wrote that between 2016 and 2020, so it was like a pretty long chunk of time. But because [on tour], you just take moments where you can to focus on something. You don’t always have the energy to write poetry when you’re driving eight hours a day and then playing a gig and not getting to the place you’re sleeping till [3 a.m.].

What do you find holds consistent between writing poetry and writing music? And what do you find is distinct between the two?

What feels different to me in my process [with poetry] is it contains its own music. When I’m writing songs, I tend to do a tremendous amount of the arrangement and production before I’ve done the lyrics. I might have melodic ideas; I might have some syllables that I know need to go in a certain place. But I don’t tend to write a whole [song’s worth] of lyrics and then build around that. I build all the [other] stuff, and the lyrics are the icing. When I’m writing a poem, I’m not writing to drums; I’m not writing to bass; I’m not writing to this synth part there. The poetry has to provide all of that infrastructure.

It feels like more of an improvisatory form, even when I’ve spent quite a lot of hours editing it down and giving it that shape. It provides its own music. It provides its own visuals. It has all of these other senses cooked into a stanza or a page or even a few lines, so that’s something I really value it for. Crafting poetry, to me, feels like a visual art as well as a musical art. And, of course, the literary art is part of it. You’re relying on the poem to provide all this infrastructural stuff that you don’t have to cook into lyrics as much. A lot of pressure, but it’s fun.

Who’s afraid of Speedy Ortiz?

Shervin Lainez

“I’m not a god, and I’m also not a girl.”

“Ballad of Y & S” sounds to me like it’s about not only the process of creating art, but of putting it out into the world to be consumed as well. What were you trying to get across to listeners with that song?

I read this book, Red Comet, which is a very long biography of Sylvia Plath. It’s 1,000 pages long, and I read it in December of 2021 when I was doing all the pre-production on this record and finishing up all the writing before I sent it to my bandmates to start rehearsal. And I read that Sylvia Plath had dated someone in college that Yoko Ono also dated in college. I love gossip, especially gossip from like half a century before I find it out. So I thought this was a really interesting juxtaposition of two artists that I don’t really think of as in conversation with one another or really as from the same era, [even though] they very much are.

I started to consider other similarities in their lives and careers. To different ends, of course, both have this very academic, fine art training and then go on to produce this very wild and vibrant and groundbreaking confessional art in different corners of art, but I think there was a similar impulse in their work. In Sylvia Plath’s life and for many decades after it — and in John Lennon’s life and for many decades after it — both Yoko Ono and Sylvia Plath’s work was considered secondary to their male partner’s work.

I started to think about a cultural shift that I witness now, where in a lot of confessional art produced by women — or, at least, produced by non men — there’s this emphasis on the confessional aspect of it and less of an interest in the craft aspects or the formal aspects. There’s this focus not only on confessional art but on the confessional explanation of the art. And it feels more commercially valued than it was in decades prior in a way that feels strange as someone engaged in an artistic practice. So that was my long-winded, nine-things-intersecting [way of] thinking about putting my trauma, my worst thoughts about myself, into pop songs and then asking for them to be licensed for podcasts or whatever. There’s a strangeness to creating work in this late-capitalist environment.

Do you consider your work confessional?

Yeah. I think part of why I read these Sylvia Plath things that come out every few years [is that] she was one of my first poetic influences, and a lot of the poetry and songwriters I like work in that vein. That’s not to say that’s entirely what I’m doing in my songs, and I certainly draw from fiction and from documentarian elements that have nothing to do with me. But I do feel [I’m] in the vein of memoirists.

I look at someone like Annie Erneaux… Granted, she’s a Nobel Prize winner and has had a many-decades career of extreme literary fame, but I feel like there’s a real moment for [her] right now where everybody I know is reading 20 of her books at once. And [hers] is the most gutting, straightforwardly told confessionalism I can imagine. It’s reportage about the writer’s most painful thoughts, feelings, memories, experiences. So I do feel inspired by work like that and have frequently used my own life for material. But I also have to roll my eyes at the way that’s having a moment in pop music.

“I can tell you literally what a song is about, but the lyrics aren’t a one-to-one portrayal of that.”

There’s a difference between pop musicians being held to this extremely high standard of authenticity by their fan bases versus actually pulling from one’s own life and using music as a vehicle to process things.

I think that songwriting mode has been pretty de rigueur in indie rock for as many decades as I’ve been alive. It’s just there wasn’t such a spotlighted focus on the mythication of lyricism that has really brought a lot of the biographical material into the spotlight.

I’ve been starting to run again, which has been an on-and-off thing for me since I was 15, 16. For like 20 years, I’ve been running off and on, and sometimes when it’s a slog of a run, I just want, like, comfort, stupid gym rock. So I listen to a lot of the toxic, weird, gross lyrics that I really liked when I was 15 and starting running. I was listening to one the other day that I’m not going to name for the sake of my own embarrassment, but I was like, “These lyrics are so fucked. What does have to say?” And there’s nothing. And yet you look at something that’s a little more subtle and nuanced and contemporary, and the armchair analysis on is like… I could buy the spark notes of it. So I do feel like there’s been this turn to very literal lyrical analysis.

I can tell you literally what a song is about, but the lyrics aren’t a one-to-one portrayal of that. And there’s a strangeness to that expectation coming alongside releasing lyrics at all.

I get the sense that the lyrics on Rabbit Rabbit feel, at many points, designed to resist that easy, one-to-one interpretation?

I think that’s just my style at this point. I always was drawn to lyrics that I had to reread, that I had to look up words in and look at for the third time to understand how different parts of [them] intersected: “Oh, this line in verse one is playing with this part in the bridge two-and-a-half minutes later.” I really like connecting those kinds of dots as a listener and as a reader, so I think that has been part of my writing style for so long. Even if there was a conscious effort to resist the typical verse-chorus structure, it’s just cooked in at this point because I’ve been writing since I was pretty little.

Who’s afraid of Speedy Ortiz?

Shervin Lainez

You’ve talked about how the title of this album comes from a mantra you would repeat as a sign of good luck. But one thing I also noticed was the “Ranch vs. Ranch” lyric where you sing, “No little bunny wears a rabbit-skin coat.” I’m guessing there has to be at least some dual meaning behind the title Rabbit Rabbit that goes beyond that one explanation.

That lyric predates us naming the record this. I think I wrote that song in late 2019, or at least that lyric. I have a ton of my voice memos full of [stuff I recorded when] I got out of the shower and sang one line into the phone four years ago. When it’s time to write a record, I go through every single thing since the last time we made a record and write down the number and the BPM and the key signature of the lines or melodies that seem usable.

I worked on the demo [of that song] when I was working on Rabbit Rabbit, which was not its title yet. It was my birthday, possibly. I’m a big fan of the birthday song. When you’re considering yourself getting one year older, it’s a great place to reflect on the world and your place in it and how you’re seeing things differently. It’s a good State of the Union address as a songwriter.

“Ranch vs. Ranch” was written about [something] similar to “Kim Cattrall.” I turned 33, and I’m making much better choices than I was when I was 23. And I’m older and scarier, in a good way. I just watched this Netflix show Brand New Cherry Flavor, which is a ’90s period piece [with] a lot of weird body horror. The soundtrack is all like ’90s soundtrack stuff — like, The Folk Implosion is on it.

So I tried to write a song for a show like that about getting older and scarier. Anyway, all this said, I hated the song when we were working on it. I did not want to put it on the album. I was like, “The song that I like the least always becomes the most popular one. What if I circumvent that and we just skip this song altogether?” My bandmates were like, “No, we like this one.”

I kept calling it, disparagingly, “Spy vs. Spy” because it just sounded like a spy soundtrack to me. And then when we were working at Rancho de la Luna and going to Sonic Ranch next, I think it was Andy who was like, “We should call it ‘Ranch vs. Ranch’ instead of ‘Spy vs. Spy.’”
[“Spy vs. Spy”] wasn’t the real title; it was me making fun of the song. I think once it had that context, I could like it again.

Anyway, the bunny wearing a rabbit fur coat is sort of… Not to return to John Lennon — this is the most times I’ve ever said John Lennon in one day — I feel like I’m doing some “I Am the Walrus” shit on this song. Like, “What am I talking about? This is just goofy word substitutions and wordplay that was funny to me when I was writing it. Can this really sustain a song?”

Andy, my bandmate who I just attributed that song title to, at some point asked me why I tweet “Rabbit Rabbit” on the first of every month. I explained where that comes from, and that it’s a good luck thing that people say when they first wake up on the first of every month, and [that] I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. And he was like, “Oh, we should call an album that sometime.” What he didn’t know is that when I started working on this album, it was the first of a month, and I opened up a Word doc and typed “Rabbit Rabbit” up front. I was just making a joke in Google to myself. I was not seriously considering titling the album that, but then Andy said it and it all snapped into place.

“What does it mean to be identified in someone else’s mind as the subject of violence?”

It’s so funny that you mention writing “Ranch vs. Ranch” as a soundtrack song for a Netflix show set in the ’90s, because the first time I heard it, I was like, “There’s something almost nu metal about it, almost like a Deftones song. Never would I have thought, “Speedy Ortiz, nu metal.”

There is a more direct Deftones homage on the album… “Who’s Afraid of the Bath.” I wrote that one as an intentional musical homage and lyrical response or analysis/critique of “Digital Bath.” I love Deftones. We all do. And I was trying to find… This is the terrible thing about media consolidation and the disappearing of our archive. I feel like I remember [a] really funny, goofy interview that we all did… 11, 12 years ago… I want to say with Chart Attack that was all about nu metal. We were like, “Nu metal is cool. We never stopped listening. Here are all the things we like. Nu metal will come back.”

Then, of course, like six years later, Rina Sawayama started doing nu metal. A lot of pop [artists] have now turned a positive eye toward nu metal, but we never stopped believing. We always loved nu metal. I hadn’t felt that I knew how to interpret some of those sounds before, but I do now, and that’s where “Who’s Afraid of the Bath” came from.

“Who’s Afraid of the Bath” also reminded me of that “not like the other girls” lyric back on “Kim Cattrall” because it feels like an anti-manic pixie dream girl anthem.

I think of a song like “Digital Bath” — and I could think of, like, 30 songs that I feel similarly about, where I was blown away by this when I was younger and I still think it sounds amazing — and I look at the lyrics now and feel a little troubled by them. “Digital Bath” basically describes, in very poetic terms, someone randomly murdering a woman as a cool source of imagery. That’s basically what it’s doing.

I think about all these songs that I grew up on and grew up loving, and then I think about some difficult experiences I’ve been through that other people I know have also been through. I’ve experienced stalking and I’ve experienced abuse in a relationship. You think about the way that songs like… It’s not to say that there’s any one-to-one correlation, and I certainly don’t believe that showing violence in art is the causality that causes violence to occur. But what does it mean to be identified in someone else’s mind as the subject of violence in the way that songs like this portrayed and reflected to us when we were younger?

That’s what I used [“Who’s Afraid of the Bath”] to explore: the way that violent fantasies are projected onto women for the sake of art, and then there’s a reflection of that in real life — in my life and in the lives of my friends. It doesn’t come to any neat conclusion. I’m really talking about my own experience, but I thought it could be helpful for me to reflect it through the sonic palette of something that had shown that kind of violence to me when I was younger.

Who’s afraid of Speedy Ortiz?

Shervin Lainez

“You can’t be angry 24 hours a day. You could pick 23 and then take a bubble bath.”

Are there other new musical reference points that you and the band were drawing from when you were making Rabbit Rabbit? Things that were on your radar that maybe weren’t on previous Speedy Ortiz releases?

Something about this record is that I very intentionally tried to keep newer sounds out of it, in part because I was exploring my relationship to music and why I started to write songs and why I was drawn to playing in bands. Also, I was writing this during the pandemic, and I think a lot of us were doing comfort listening, going back to things we grew up with or were very familiar with. Not to say I haven’t listened to a ton of new records — I do every week — but I tried to keep that out of this record.

I was specifically looking at stuff from, like, 2001–2004 — the stuff I was inspired by when I was first playing guitar and playing in bands. I thought it would be interesting to enter songwriting through a place of homage to the stuff that first inspired me. Since I was trying to explore what drew me to music in the first place, it felt appropriate to do that in the style of some of the things that drew me in. I was going back and listening to a lot of Mars Volta and Trail of Dead and Deftones, as we mentioned; Queens of the Stone Age, which is part of why we wound up at Rancho de la Luna; Rylo Kylie, Cursive, some of the Saddle Creek bands — the stuff I was really excited by when I first started writing songs.

I was feeling a lot of the Rylo Kylie, Saddle Creek end of the spectrum on the run of gentler songs toward the end of the album, which is actually like my favorite part of the record — the “Emergency & Me, “The Sunday,” “Brace Thee” period. Was structuring the record to have these peaks and valleys a conscious decision on your part?

We go pretty deep into the sequencing and print a million different versions of it to see what flows the best. This is one of the first times we’ve had to change the sequence because of the restrictions of what can be stored on LP. We switched “Kitty” and “Who’s Afraid of the Bath” because we knew we wanted side B to open with “Who’s Afraid of the Bath” and there was like a 30-second disparity in length, so we had to push “Kitty” to the end of Side A.

If I show you my notebook, I have written out every single key signature — often the verse is in a different key than the chorus or there will be tempo changes, but I wrote down every single one that occurred, and if there were too many things in a certain key, I’d transpose it. There’s a lot of really finicky decision making going on, even from day one of pre-production. I’ll tally how many verses are in B or G or G sharp and how many choruses. And if there are too many, I move it around. I will put it out there: If you do things like this, see if you have OCD, because I do. That might be your first tell.

I like to explore all options, and we tried a lot of different sequences. What’s fun about the two kind of quiet-sounding [tracks] going into one another… “The Sunday” is about my relationship to music and why I started playing, and also questioning my motivations for playing. Both songs, really: Why do I seek the validation that playing music brings me. What we all really like about “Brace Thee” is it’s slow, very intentionally so, as like an aggressive affront. So even though it’s starting with this kind of arpeggiated, acoustic, digitally glitching thing, it’s so aggressively slow that when it does build to the louder parts, it provides a lot of opportunity for emotional expansion and heaviness. We had a lot of fun filling that one out like a jump scare of a song: You think it’ll be a second acoustic one in a row, and then it has the heaviest riff and drums on the record.

Then, of course, it goes into Ghostwriter, which is so uptempo it sounds like some lost shoegaze pop like crossover hit from the 90s.

That one cracks me up. It’s one of the last ones I wrote for the album. My partner is in the band Cloud Nothings, and I think despite some forward-facing similarities, everything about our writing processes and considerations around songwriting is very, very different. When I wrote that song, I was, “Haha, this kind of sounds like one of your songs.”

I feel like a lot of Dylan’s lyrics [have] an optimism to them. Even when he’s screaming or it’s really heavy, there’s frequently this optimistic outlook that things can change or get better, especially in his later songs. That’s frequently not my songwriting mode. My mode is like, “How the fuck am I still alive? Why do I think and do these horrible things to myself?” There’s a darkness and a rage to my lyricism. And yet this song is about me grappling with that darkness and rage and trying to move past it for the sake of productive change to the world. It feels more optimistic than a lot of other Speedy stuff.

My joke to myself in calling Ghostwriter is, again, we look at musicians whose artistic output was sort of overshadowed by their more popular male partners. Look at the whole records where people are like, Billy Corgan ghostwrote that whole record, or Kurt Cobain ghostwrote that whole record. I’m like, “This is like the song that Cloud Nothings ghostwrote for Speedy.

There’s a statement in choosing to end the album on the most optimistic note, even if it is a bit out of character for you.

That’s right: making better choices as we get older. You can’t be angry 24 hours a day. You could pick 23 and then take a bubble bath. I’m reading the China Miéville book called A Spectre, Haunting that’s like a recontextualization of the Communist Manifesto. It ends with this great thing about how hate and love are so connected, and that to make any kind of lasting change and to be in struggle for a better world out of love is driven frequently by hate. Movements that result in good things, out of love for community, are frequently powered by hate. That made me feel a little bit better about my sentiment in “Ghostwriter.” I’m like, “Yeah, I can be angry. I do it all for love.”