Speedy Ortiz singer-guitarist Sadie Dupuis’s craft is in full focus on the album Twerp Verse, released earlier this year on Carpark Records. Complex lead lines twist and careen alongside tightly crafted power-pop hooks that have the record already being counted amongst the year’s best.
After playing a catchy, caffeinated set at the 2018 Hopscotch Music Festival, Pedal Fuzz sat down in a cluttered greenroom with Sadie Dupuis, to talk pedals, songwriting, and fingernails. THE FOLLOWING EXCERPTS HAVE BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED
Pedal Fuzz: So first I would love to know about the guitar you were playing last night.
Sadie Dupuis: Yeah, I don't think they're making them anymore. The company was called Moniker, Austin-based—and they would do different custom guitars. That particular model is the Anastasia. It’s shell pink. It has like a like a crescent moon cutaway, and there are pearl details throughout it. And then the headstock has my Sad 13 logo on it.
PF: Cool, so it was made for you?
PF: And do you move through the three pickups, or do you usually stay on one in particular?
SD:I put Strat pickups in the middle, but there are humbuckers on either side, so it's a little unusual. If I'm recording, I'll switch them, but for live I'm pretty much just in the middle.
PF: Is there a piece of gear—it could be an instrument or a device of some sort—that has changed the way you play, or changed something stylistically?
SD:I think every piece of gear has some impact in that sense. But I think the biggest thing for me over the past two or three years has been that I stopped playing with a pick. So, that's not so much adding a piece of gear as much as getting rid of a piece of gear. When we would record I would always have parts that I would need to fingerpick because I wouldn't be able to play them with a pick, and then live I was always playing with a pick. Going back and forth between the two felt kind of clumsy to me.
Or the things that I did have to fingerpick live wouldn't have the same presence or attack as the stuff that I would play with the pick. And so I would be modifying the parts to play it with a pick, and I kind of wasn't into that at all. I could never wear nail polish because—guitarists know—it just scrapes off. Especially the second fingers just get scraped off.
And we had a front of house engineer whose girlfriend was a nail artist who was like, “let me just do your nails. There's this kind of nail polish that won't come off. It makes your nails stronger.” And I was like, “Okay, I'll try it.”
And I sort of realized that I could just grow my nails out, have polish on them, and use these as picks [brandishes canary yellow fingernails]. So now I—Dolly Parton-style—have very long nails on my right hand, and I don't play with a pick at all anymore, because I don't have to - I’ve got five.
So that's been the biggest change in my style, I'd say, in the past couple years.
PF: You modded your hand! So, what pedals do you use now, or what are some ones that are important to you?
SD: I have a ton of pedals at home, and if I'm home-recording I tend to use totally different stuff then I use for the live setup. And that's partially in the same way that I don't want to eat hummus when I'm not on tour because I'm used to having it fed to me in greenrooms every day. Or I don't want to wear the clothes that I wear on tour when I'm home from tour.
The first thing on my chain is an Earthquaker Devices Monarch Overdrive, which is discontinued. It's just an overdrive pedal that's meant to model an Orange amp, and I use that basically as my clean tone, so that's on all the time. I have the gain turned up with not too much volume at 12 o'clock, bass at 9, treble at 12. I don't totally understand why they discontinued it. They do sell the Stew-Mac kits so people could theoretically build their own.
I got used to playing with that pedal because I was playing with certain Fender amps that just felt too common, you know what I mean? Like, a Deville is such a backline amp, which I like a lot, but I played it forever and I liked having this as part of my “clean tone” because it just made the clean a little bit different than the Fender stock sound.
Then I have a Catalinbread Callisto, which is a chorus/vibrato pedal. Again, it likes very mild settings.
And the Dispatch Master, which is another Earthquaker pedal. It’s a reverb/delay, but I'm using it to just give a little bit of reverb. Those are the three pedals that are on all the time. They make up my clean tone.
The second two that I mentioned kind of came onto my board later because I started playing with the Divided by 13 amp CJ 11, which I love, but the only knobs it has are master volume, volume, bass and treble. So, having played Fender amps forever, being used to having the vibrato and the reverb, I wanted to have a little bit of that so that’s what those two pedals kind of accommodate for me.
Beyond that, my overdrive, for when I want to do a cool solo or something, is Earthquaker stuff. I really like their tones. So I use The Dunes for when I'm playing a solo or I need to be loud. It’s another overdrive - I’m weirdly anti-fuzz.
Past that I have Earthquaker’s Pitch Bay, which is an octave plus overdrive pedal, so I'll use that if I want to make a solo a little weird and outerspacey, or sometimes to simulate a synth I played on the records, particularly older records. There would be a synth part that happens for eight seconds, and there was no reason for me to play a synth, so I would just learn the part and play it through that pedal.
PF: An octave up?
SD: Yeah, I have the tiniest amount of octave down that's basically inaudible but pitched off a little bit so it sounds like a weird synth, and then the octave up is pretty gainey.
I used to play a POG 2, but I could never make it not sound like an organ, which is why I like the Pitch Bay. I've always had an impossible time finding any kind of synth-emulating pedal that doesn't sound like it’s just an organ.
SD: Those are cool. I do have a Synth 9 on my board right now, also from Electro Harmonix. I use it on the Prophet-V setting for some of the songs from the new album that I didn’t even play guitar on during recording. The Pitch Bay is great, but it doesn’t really sound like a synth. It makes the guitar sound spacey and digital. So, I wanted something that could be a little more filtered and sound like the synth I play on songs from the new album.
I also have the Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain delay on my chain. Beyond that I use an ISP Technologies Decimator G-String, which is a noise gate. All of these overdriving pedals give me some signal noise.
PF: Is it noisy all the time otherwise?
SD: It's not. It depends on the electricity of the room. It can get pretty bad when the electricity isn't up to snuff, so I have that [Decimator G-String] in case of emergencies, and that's why I play on the Strat pickup live because if I'm on anything that's humming at all, it’s just magnifying…
Oh, I also use the Walrus Audio Deep Six Compressor, so obviously that's also propagating any kind of signal noise I get. So, there's a fair amount of a harm reduction that has to happen in this chain. [laughs]
PF: I was going to ask you if your setup changes when you're on the road versus recording.
SD: If I'm recording a record, and we're in a studio, anything is kind of fair game. I'll use what the studio has in addition to whatever I brought. But at home when I'm just making demos, I'm like, “I've accrued all these pedals that I don't get to use live so I'm just not interested in even opening my stage pedalboard.” I assemble a separate chain for whatever the song kind of wants. On a lot of the stuff that we've recorded, I didn't use any of the pedals I just mentioned. But it doesn't have to be the exact same sounds live, right?
PF: When you're thinking about your next record, writing songs and demoing at home, is there an ideal Speedy Ortiz song you’re reaching for out in the ether? And what does the ideal Speedy Ortiz song do?
SD: That’s a tough one, because I think it depends. I mean, not every song has the same goals or forms or changes, but there are things that I try to make happen with every song, and I don't really like when a song gets in, like, a groove, and it's too comfortable - I always want a weird surprise.
So whether that's in the lyrics, or whether that's in the time signature, or whether it’s just how many measures something repeats, I tend to change things. So even if a chorus happens three times in the song, it'll be slightly different every time.
So usually my goals are to get somewhere with the writing of it that surprises me, and that I think would be like a fun Easter Egg for the person who's heard it a few times, and then is like, “Oh, the chorus starts on the three this time rather than the one.” Or something like that.
PF: Something surprising.
SD: Yeah, and, by extension, even if the form stays the same, maybe the sounds will be different. One thing I love is to have a second verse in which a lot of stuff drops out, and maybe a weird sound is introduced. If I go back through all my songs, I can probably check that off happening a lot of the time. [laughs]
So there are certain tricks that I definitely pull from song to song, but I just like it to change throughout.
PF: Are you aware of things that you do habitually in the structure of your songs?
SD: I don't think about it when I'm writing a song, but when I show something to my bandmates, they're like, “Oh, of course it's a measure of six this time at the end of the chorus, sounds like you!”
So, I'm sort of aware that there are certainly compositional tools that I lean into more often than not, but I think also they're not super common, so I feel fine repeating them.
PF: So that's, like, your…
SD: Little signature.
PF: Yeah! It’s part of your architecture.
SD: [Laughs] You know all those condos that look the same? That's like the choruses of our songs.
*main photo courtesy of Hopscotch Music Festival / Garrett Poulos
TOM SOWDERS PIROUETTES ANGRILY THROUGH THE STREETS OF DOWNTOWN RALEIGH. LIKE REALLY AGGRESSIVELY, REALLY WINDMILLING HIS ARMS AROUND. HIS HOBBIES ARE NOT USING HIS PHD AND FRONTING THE BAND TOOTHSOME.