“When I started writing for this record, I found myself feeling what I would call ‘360 degree anger’,” says Sadie Dupuis, lead singer and songwriter for Speedy Ortiz. This is the fuel that drives Rabbit Rabbit, the band’s latest and best record, which began to take shape in 2021.
“Usually, I start going back through my notes to see if there’s anything I could expand upon, and most of the time. We start to rehearse, then get in the studio. And often, the first couple songs I write don’t make it on the record.”
From protesting Amazon’s labor practices and violent uses of its tech capabilities to calling out Spotify’s deplorable deals for artists, Speedy Ortiz is doing more than bemoaning the state of things. That anger and action are the focus of Rabbit Rabbit. “I was thinking about my relationship to music as a fan while also being skeptical of the power accrued through music,” she says. “I was thinking about why I find it so easy to occupy those roles. My emotional responses have been formed by self-protection and the protection of others.”
“For all the voices championing workers, it seemed like there was equal opposition. I had to start thinking about why it was so easy for me to become enraged on behalf of others. Art laborers are still struggling, and venues are still struggling. Government support for recording and tours would mean so much for so many people.”
Rabbit Rabbit is the first release for the band on Wax Nine, the label Dupuis launched. The title is derived from her habit of saying it on the first day of the month for luck, which she had done since childhood. Sonically, Dupuis looked to the music she was listening to when she started playing music for inspiration. “I went back to the bands I was into when I first started playing music – Queens of the Stone Age, ….And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Deftones. I wanted to employ drum programming, heavier riffs, and hip-hop production on this record.”
Co-producing with friend Sarah Tudzin, who also worked with Dupuis on her SAD13 project, the band sounds energized like never before. From opener “Kim Cattrall” all the way through to cathartic closer “Ghostwriter”, the drums and massive riffs drive the songs forward, with Dupuis’ wordplay rewarding repeat listens. Frenzied single “You S02” has a music video partly inspired by John Carpenter’s 1988 horror film, They Live. When Rabbit Rabbit slows down, on tracks such as “Brace Thee” and “The Sunday”, a foreboding, sinister energy lingers. These new wrinkles exist alongside everything that made the band compelling from the start.
Speedy Ortiz has been through some lineup changes, and this version of the band is positively thrilling to see live. These are guitarist Andy Molholt in 2016, bassist Audrey Zee Whitesides in 2018, and Joey Doubek on drums in 2019. Rabbit Rabbit marks the first time Whitesides and Doubek have appeared on a Speedy Ortiz record. Even though Dupuis is the only original member of the band, there are no hard feelings, and several past band members played with them in the band’s memorable recent Tiny Desk Concert.
Many of us have worked jobs where we take our safety for granted. There are OSHA checks, union representation, and other measures to facilitate safe working environments. Safety at shows is multifaceted; although fan safety usually gets the most attention, venue staff and bands also deserve a safe place to do their work.
At Speedy Ortiz’s shows, you will notice a notice stating that “Harassment and intolerance will not be permitted at tonight’s show or any other Speedy Ortiz shows.” They have flyers at their merch table about bystander intervention and de-escalation. And they encourage people to speak up and take action if someone is in danger. For those who grew up attending shows in questionable spaces in questionable company, it is exciting to see bands like Speedy Ortiz making it clear that everyone is welcome and should feel safe at their shows.
“Show safety has been on my mind increasingly since 2015. Resources like [Shawna Potter’s 2019 book] Making Spaces Safer, accessibility and de-escalation tactics make it better for everyone at shows,” she says.
“It’s encouraging to see more overdose prevention at music spaces. So many of us have lost friends to overdoses. I’m seeing more venues with Narcan available, fentanyl testers, and better staff training. But there are still venues that won’t allow these things. And plenty of venues are still underpaying staff and putting them in dangerous situations.” Indeed, there is still room for improvement. “There is still a lot of underpayment, mistreatment, and gross negligence out there,” Dupuis says.
Revisiting Major Arcana, the band’s breakthrough that turns ten this year and is getting a reissue, reveals a band that continues to evolve its signature sound. “Back then, we were interested in sounding like early Exploding in Sound bands, Helium, and Polvo. I have a dates-type orientation, so I’ve been thinking about that anniversary. Not so much the decade itself, but that have accomplished a lot, and that record brought a lot of people to us,” she says.
Dupuis was included on Rolling Stone‘s list of greatest guitarists earlier this year. This year’s list is increasingly diverse, but it has taken a while to finally acknowledge that. “It’s nice to be recognized, but I grew up disconnected from lists. It’s great to see a better gender breakdown and more inclusivity.”
Surely, her innovative playing and writing are inspiring the next generation of women musicians. “I worked at a Girls Rock Camp, and we tried to break the girls of the habit of saying ‘I’m sorry’ when they made a mistake. We told them to say ‘I rock’ instead. Mistakes are how some of the best solos were written.”