Musician, poet and polymath Sadie Dupuis, 29, began playing piano as a child and performed with a professional choir. She attended MIT for two years before dropping out to pursue music, but she eventually finished her undergraduate degree at Barnard and went on to earn a master’s in poetry at UMass Amherst. She is the guitarist, lead vocalist and lyricist for the band Speedy Ortiz, and she released her first solo album, Slugger, last year under the name Sad13.
Jonathan Soroff: Out of all the hats you wear—poet, singer, songwriter, performer—which one fits you the most naturally?
Sadie Dupuis: I’ve been playing music since before I have memories, so I guess that. But I view myself as an artist overall, instead of any of those specifically, just because I’m so prone to dabbling. I’ve spent time as a cultural critic. I’ve worked as a teacher. Obviously, there’s this poetry thing in the mix, but music has been the most consistent thing to me. I was doing it in elementary school, touring in a children’s choir.
Do you consider songwriting poetry? Are they the same thing? No, they’re very different for me. Certainly I think there are musicians who write poems, but they’re different art forms, in the same way that writing an essay is different than writing a novel. You use some of the same muscles, but they’re different products.
Why did you choose to study music at MIT of all places? I actually went there to study math. The real question is why did I think I wanted to study math? I went there partially because I was good at math. I went to a small public school in a rural place, and there weren’t many girls who were interested in math. So it seemed to me that since I was good at it, I should pursue it. MIT was a great place, but I realized that even though I was good at math, I didn’t really like it that much. I got interested in the experimental music program, electronic recording, and I got really involved in the student newspaper. So I thought I wanted to be a writer. And then finally I realized that music was really what I wanted to do.
Worst job you ever had? The first one I had was working on a peach farm, and I never want to return to that gig. It was so hot we had to eat lunch in the freezer. But another really bad job was when I worked in a law firm when I dropped out of school. I kept getting tasked with reading entire cases and trying to find flaws in the lawyers’ arguments. I was a college dropout and I had no legal expertise, so it was stressful.
Do you prefer performing or the process of writing and being in the studio? Oh, my God. I love the studio so much more. I am a really reluctant performer. I’m a very anxious person who should really not be allowed on stage. It’s bizarre that it’s my daily job. Most of my time on stage is spent trying to figure out how not to panic.
Rimbaud or Sylvia Plath? I’m a Sylvia Plath girl. She was one of my first favorite poets, and I went to UMass Amherst to study poetry partly because of the time she spent in Northampton and her legacy there.
Is she your favorite poet? She was when I was younger. I don’t know if I have a favorite now, but she’s definitely still in my top five.
Finish this poem: Roses are red, violets are blue, Sadie Dupuis is a poet, and _____. She loves Netflix, too.
How would you describe your look? Vague cosplay. I’m not going as any particular character, but I think I’d fit in at the convention. It’s easier for me to go on stage if I feel like I’m dressed up as a character. Also, because women are somewhat underrepresented in music, it was important to me to put on a very femme persona. I try to be bright and colorful to show that rock music doesn’t have to be this dark thing.
Favorite venue to play? It just closed, but there was this boat in Lille, France, that was really cool. It was just this little sailboat, and I kind of loved it. But in Boston, I like the Sinclair a lot. I don’t live in Boston anymore, but I love coming back there to play.
Favorite person named Sadie besides yourself? I’m going to name a contemporary Sadie, Sadie Switchblade, who’s been in the band G.L.O.S.S. She’s a really great front musician and activist. She’s awesome.
Do you have any musical guilty pleasures? I don’t feel guilt about pop music stuff, and I do have a tremendous amount of nostalgia for a lot of the Top 40 I listened to as a kid. The things I might feel a little guilty for still liking are the rock bands I listened to as a kid who spread misogyny.
Best part of touring? Eating!
Worst part? I miss my dog.
How do you stay vegan while you’re touring? I’ve been vegan for so long that it’s really not hard. I buy a lot of groceries, and I wind up at Taco Bell more than I expect to. They have a great crunch wrap that you can get vegan, and my bandmates love it. But most of the places I tour are college towns or big cities that have a lot of vegan options.
Do you think this is a moment for women in rock? I think certainly within the indie sphere, we’re seeing a lot of women represented. I think we’re getting better at featuring people not traditionally represented in mainstream rock.
Which comes first for you: lyrics or tune? I usually write the music first, and the words will be the last thing I add.
First album you ever bought? I think it was the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
First concert you ever went to? No Doubt, at the Roseland Ballroom, in I think 1999. I was 10 or 11.
Any superstitions before going onstage? Not before going on stage, but I had OCD as a kid, and I definitely have some things like that that stick with me. I won’t let anyone step over my legs. But before I go onstage, it’s just getting into the costume and maybe having half of a drink.
Do you feel like you’re a product of your era? Yes. I love Twitter, grew up on ICQ. I still use my LiveJournal. I’m a millennial through and through.
Rock antecedent? I’m gonna pick Beck—we share a birthday, both started off with home-recorded lo-fi, and if I choose him it means I have time to morph my music into glossy, hyper-arranged pop.
Favorite lyric? I’m most excited about new and unreleased music, but it wouldn’t make too much sense for you to print those. Let’s just say I’ve got a Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz reference on the next Speedy album. ♦