Last month at SXSW in Austin, comedian Hannibal Buress sent out a tweet offering up his services as a drummer to any band playing between noon and 5pm on March 18. One of the people who responded was Sadie Dupuis, frontwoman of Massachusetts-based Speedy Ortiz; she invited Buress to one of the band’s showcase at Mohawk (one of eight shows they had booked for the festival).
The resulting set-closing performance was as clunky as Buress’ tweet predicted; it was a musical comedy cultural oddity along the lines of Bill Clinton’s saxophone performance on The Arsenio Hall Show, just not on an iconic stage. During his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live that week, Buress couldn’t even remember the band’s name, saying, “This is really bad. I’m disappointed in myself.”
All credit to Hannibal Buress, who is thoroughly enjoying every minute of his well-deserved rocket to stardom, but Dupuis and Speedy Ortiz don’t need his help to make a name for them. The band’s second official album, Foil Deer, is out today, and it’s about as strong a declaration as possible that Speedy Ortiz is gunning for the mountaintop while cementing Dupuis as one of the best rock lyricists of her generation.
A whip-smart and enthusiastic conversationalist, Dupuis is the heart and soul of Speedy Ortiz’s punchy rock—just as likely to dive into a discussion of Veronica Mars as she is contemporary graphic novels. (The band’s name comes from a minor character in the Hernandez brothers’ series Love & Rockets.) She studied mathematics at MIT for two years, taught at Buck’s Rock summer camp in Connecticut, worked in a video store in Austin, and most recently was an MFA candidate in Poetry at UMass-Amherst. There, she taught composition classes to freshmen and sophomores while Speedy Ortiz grew from a bedroom project to a full-fledged band with a Pitchfork-anointed debut LP, Major Arcana.
But where the band acknowledges Major Arcana to be a breakup record, Foil Deer has more thoughtful and experimental ambitions, from the lyrical mystery of “My Dead Girl” to the R&B vibes of “Puffer.” And Dupuis’ lyrics weave metaphor, snyechdoche, and common sense together that give her a pound-for-pound impact that few can match.
“I was the best at being second place / But now I’m just the silvery dread
And only in the shape of a bullet / Am I ever the shape you see when you wake up dead”
Justifiably, Dupuis has been looped in with other fiercely charismatic songwriters like Courtney Barnett and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield. Though she and the rest of Speedy Ortiz have long rejected throwback comparisons to Pavement or PJ Harvey (despite the fact that she once fronted a joke Pavement cover band called Babement), Dupuis is still part of a refreshing trend in powerful female voices in rock music. When Sleater-Kinney returned early this year with their first album in a decade, it brought about intense discussion over why another band hadn’t filled the void. But look at some notable releases the past few years, and the answer is clear: from Savages to Field Mouse, Ex Hex to Palehound, Alvvays to Speedy Ortiz, there’s no shortage of incredible female-fronted bands.
Some of that is a willingness to tackle topics that music had backed away from. “People are more interested in music that has something to say rather than the chillwave thing that was so prevalent in the mid- and late-2000s,” Dupuis says. “I think people are becoming more socially conscious and want music that reflects that.” Indeed, when asked to describe what may be the band’s most succinct mission statement to-date, “Raising The Skate,” Dupuis wrote that it’s “crazy frustrating seeing women and girls, myself included, put in positions in which they have to shirk credit for their talent or otherwise risk getting dissed as overbearing and bitchy.” The reason the song works so well as a fist-pumping anthem is that it’s not just seething anger—it’s sublimely defiant self-actualization.
At this rate, it won’t be long until Speedy Ortiz lands a gig on a late-night show, where instead of Hannibal Buress and Jimmy Kimmel struggling to remember their name, a ferocious performance will tattoo Dupuis and her bandmates on the retinas of millions.