Rocker-Poet

With word-conscious lyrics by Sadie Dupuis ’11, Speedy Ortiz takes the indie music scene by storm

By Abigail Beshkin

Since the 2013 release of its first album, Major Arcana , the indie-rock band Speedy Ortiz has developed a growing fan base and garnered critical acclaim. Music site Pitchfork called their second album, Foil Deer , “ferocious and visceral,” and named Dupuis “among the most talented lyricists of her musical class.” The New York Times ’ Ben Ratliff has praised Dupuis’ lyrics as “rich and sanded-down and wry, as if designed to be read on a page.”

Dupuis in fact has plenty of experience writing for the page. In 2014, she earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she also taught undergraduates who sometimes recognized her from the music scene. But Dupuis never set out to be a poet. After high school, she attended MIT to study music and math but, she says, “I was more interested in writing.” She took time off from college, lived in Texas, and then returned to Manhattan, where she interned at Spin and reapplied to college.

“I was interested in attending a women’s college because I had been working in such male-dominated fields. At Spin , some of the editors were women, but the highest-up were always men,” she says. At Barnard, she majored in English with a concentration in creative writing, working closely with English professor Saskia Hamilton, a poet, who inspired her to apply to MFA programs. She also was an events coordinator at WBAR, Barnard’s radio station, and, for the first time, took some studio art classes, which later inspired her to make all the artwork for her album covers.

In 2011, two of her friends died unexpectedly, and she found herself rereading a favorite comic book series, Love and Rockets , about a group of Mexican-American teens in California’s punk scene. When a character named Speedy Ortiz dies, the series becomes, she says, “an interesting exploration of how people process grief. I wrote songs that were connecting the story line.” A band gradually gelled, made up of Dupuis and three other musicians—all men— whom she had known in various musical contexts. The Speedy Ortiz name stuck.

Dupuis now lives in Philadelphia and has been touring since 2008, when she played with a now-defunct band named Quilty. “I went on tour instead of going to my Barnard graduation,” she confesses. Over the years, she has seen a subtle but meaningful increase in the number of women involved in the music business. Dupuis is doing her part to proclaim women’s strengths through her music. Pitchfork says her lyrics are “explicitly feminist,” about “asserting oneself, taking power.” The lyrics of “Raising the Skate” are a case in point: “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss … I’m chief, not the overthrown/Captain, not a crony.”

Latest IssueFall 2020

In this issue, you'll read about the alumnae healthcare workers who served on the frontlines of the pandemic, Barnard women's resilience during historic crises, a personal story on protest, the 19th Amendment reexamined, and more.