Speedy Ortiz just played a run of shows at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas and on the way home their lead singer Sadie Dupuis picked up a knit cap from a gas station at 4:30 in the morning. “It has the word ‘sriracha’ on it and it’s even the colour of hot sauce!” she tells me, delighted by this stellar find. “It’s fine to not sleep as long as you get a good hat out of it”, she adduces. I lower my velveteen fedora to cover my eyebags and nod in exhausted agreement…
The band’s new album Twerp Verse is the result of Donald Trump’s unexpected presidency. We’d be discussing a different release had the night of November 9th 2016 panned out more favourably. “I thought we’d be releasing this album with Hillary Clinton as our president,” Sadie tells me. Over the course of several years she’d been writing songs for an alternative universe in which Clinton had won. These, along with the Speedy Ortiz album that could have been, were scrapped in favour of Twerp Verse.
“Being on tour in the two months following the election…I think just made me feel differently about our country.”
“Being on tour in the two months following the election, seeing the Trump signs everywhere, seeing people at gas stations in Wyoming and wondering how they felt about all of us on tour, I think just made me feel differently about our country.” For some of the more naïve leftists among us, the election was a wake up call. It was proof that bigotry could trump (horrible pun intended) pluralism. “I’ve felt much more invested in music which has a social or political purpose, as a listener and a fan,” which was evident in her solo project as Sad13, but the scrapped Speedy Ortiz album was more covert and coy. However now “doesn’t seem like the time to be indirect with art.”
While Twerp Verse is forthright with its social and political intentions, the album still retains Speedy Ortiz’s trademark cunningness. “Something that I’ve done a lot in this project is use the metaphor of romance to talk about bigger issues,” she says as we discuss the song ‘Can I Kiss U’. On first glance the song’s opening lyric “Can I kiss you? ‘Cause I want to jump when you offer me hoops” seems like the perfect line for Chad Michael Murray and his chapsticked lips. But even Chad can be insipid. “The model for every rom-com up until this moment has been the guy loves the girl and the girl’s not interested, then we get two hours of the woman’s wishes being disregarded, and then she agrees and suddenly that’s romantic. I was going with that sort of structure for the song.”
That model bleeds into ‘Villain’, a song which Sadie wrote in 2014 that is brazenly about sexual assault. Up until this moment, sexual assault has been the biggest and most private event in many of our lives. “But I don’t wanna be the sullen type. I don’t want my secrets safe for life” is a lyric which seems particularly pertinent at this juncture.
Ever since Harvey Weinstein’s exposé in October 2017, survivors have finally been given willing witnesses to their trauma via the hashtag ‘#metoo’. Confessions have been encouraged and have even added cultural currency to the victims. On the one hand it’s been “triggering and retraumatising” but on the other “so many people are finding that they don’t have to feel ashamed, or like they’re alone in the things they’ve experienced because it’s a power issue.”
Twerp Verse will be a friend to anyone who has been silenced, to anyone who has been “forced into something they didn’t want because someone more domineering pushed them there.”