For the past decade or so, Speedy Ortiz has forged an uncompromising and exhilarating path through the world of indie rock. But the band was originally just Sadie Dupuis’ self-recorded outlet for some new songs that she was writing, songs that would become the blueprint for the group she would create.
Those songs are now the subject of a reissue project collecting both the full-length The Death of Speedy Ortiz and the EP Cop Kicker…Forever, both of which were given a somewhat minimal release back in 2011. Dupuis would eventually use collaborators for subsequent Speedy Ortiz albums, but she thought that the time was right to go back to those early tracks and give them a proper unveiling.
“When I first recorded these, it was purely a songwriting and recording exercise,” Dupuis tells American Songwriter when asked about the creation of this material. “I was playing in another band and had been for a long time, but had some ideas that I was having trouble communicating to my band. I thought I’ll just record these myself and see if I can get it across that way. It was one of the most prolific periods of my life in terms of the actual recording. Pretty quickly, people were more interested in this material than the band I’d been playing in for five years.”
“It changed a lot of things for me. It brought the bandmates that eventually played in Speedy Ortiz to me. I was really proud of the songs, but it had never really had a proper release,” she adds. “It was some stuff I home-recorded that I put up on Bandcamp half-mixed, unmastered. We made like 25 cassettes at some point, but no real proper release. It was about to hit the ten-year anniversary of these songs coming out. I really wanted to do them justice and give them that proper mixing and mastering job.”
Dupuis wrote and played all the instruments on the songs, which run the gamut from hilarious to harrowing and back again in thrilling ways while working as a camp counselor and enduring some traumatic events in her personal life. “A lot of the songs were written because the campers would come up with a theme,” she says of her process. “And sometimes their themes were really silly, like ‘dogs’ or ‘beans.’ You would take that prompt and tend to bring your whole world of experience and whatever you’re trying to think and feel through to the songwriting that day. Certainly, it is remarkable for me, now at 33, to have a record of all these feelings from 22, especially knowing that all came to me a result of prompts given to me by my teenage friends.”
Her tendency to embrace dissonance and atonality in her melodies first came to the fore on these recordings. “My friends make fun of me for including every single chord in every single song,” Dupuis laughs. “When I was a kid, I sang in a children’s choir. We did classical music that had pretty intense dissonance and time signature changes and proto-proggy elements. From the second I picked up guitar, I think I was always weaving in stuff like that. I remember one of the kids’ prompts was ‘Write a song with three chords.’ I was like ‘God-damn this kid.’”
Going back to the recordings to touch them up, Dupuis was surprised at how much her process has changed. “I’m notorious among my bandmates, past and present, for being a control freak, especially in terms of my own performance,” she says. “Going back and mixing these, I’d hear that I probably played the guitar part once and made it up on the spot. I probably completely improvised the bass part and it might be different in the second verse than the first verse. There’s a looseness and fun excitement to that which probably was a result of being pressed for time because I only had a couple of hours to myself to get these songs done. And I made them all pretty much the day I wrote them.”
“At this point, it takes me a week of very elaborate pre-production to get every single little note I want exactly right, even in the demo. To hear that kind of looseness and experimentation when I was going back and mixing was a fun surprise for me. That’s not really me today.”
To promote the reissue, Dupuis also put together some new videos, including one for the track “Speedy Ortiz” that features her going all Office Space on a laptop. “That was an homage to the process of not only when I first recorded this album on my little computer that was dying, but when I remixed it, it was the last project I did on my computer after that which was dying,” she says of the concept. “There was so much fear of lost work and actual work. And then for the sake of COVID safety, we ended up doing these videos mostly just me. I got my bandmates roped in for a couple of scenes. I did all this stuff in my house and I’m really sick of my computer.”
Now that this reissue is complete, Dupuis is hard at work on the next Speedy Ortiz album, and she’s thrilled to be able to get input from her bandmates once again. “I worked on this remix and it was, for the most part, me mixing by myself up until the very end,” she explains. “It was just so many layers of me with my own head. I mixed that, and a lot of my other work over COVID (including her new solo project Sad 13), again, is a million layers of me. So I felt very excited to have an excuse to craft something along with my bandmates other than to go down my normal rabbit hole.”