Sadie Dupuis Talks ‘Gwen Stefani-fication’ Syndrome in Rock Bands Led by Women

Photo: Shawn Brackbill

There are few better reasons to lock yourself in a windowless, sweaty room at midnight than a a great rock show by a still under-the-radar band you think is going to be famous someday. This past weekend we watched the electrifying Speedy Ortiz at Death by Audio in Brooklyn and were immediately taken by front woman Sadie Dupuis and her Rooney Mara-a-la-Bushwick swagger. On stage, she crashed her guitar against drummer Mike Falcone’s high-hat while Matt Robidoux swung his guitar from the ceiling and bassist Darl Ferm plucked away on bass. Taking their cues from nineties indie greats like Pavement, Helium, and Elliott Smith, the band radiated a seductive discordance, with cryptic lyrics inspired by sour friendships.

Now an MFA poetry candidate and teacher at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dupuis grew up in NYC and has been playing guitar since she turned 13. Speedy Ortiz releases their first full-length album, Major Arcana, today and the Cut recently chatted with Dupuis about the “Gwen Stefani-fication” syndrome in rock bands led by women, what her students do when they find out she’s in a band, and her former all-girl Pavement cover band Babement. (We’ve included a clip below.)

When did music become your full-time job?
I teach for my day job at UMass. For now [music’s] just a hobby that takes more time than a daytime job, I guess! I think for it to be a career you actually have to be earning something, which we are definitely not yet. I still don’t really call it a career option. I’ve just always played music, since I was really young and have always been able to manage balancing that while still working or being in school or whatever I was doing at the time. It wasn’t so much a decision as it was a continuation of a childhood hobby.

What is a typical day like, then? Do you go from teaching to playing or rehearsal?
Right now UMass is on summer break so I’m not working. We’ll go on tour and that’ll be a whole lot of playing shows every day. But when school is in session it’ll be like, teach, grade papers, then go to a show. Teaching at the college is only a couple of days a week so it’s pretty easy to balance playing shows and rehearsing and writing and whatever else it is that we do, having day jobs.

Have your students come to see any of your shows?
I teach a freshman writing class and a composition class. I had a couple students who figured it out. I don’t really encourage them to find out many things that would create problems as a teacher. Toward the end of the semester usually like one of them will figure it out and maybe will tell the classmates and they’ll either ask me about it or I’ll see one of them at a show. If they’re embarrassed of me I feel like not a proper instructor because I’ll be playing a show and then I’m trying to talk to them about George Saunders. I haven’t quite figured it out. Even though it’s on the periphery, I really don’t want those lives intersecting.

Photo: Shawn Brackbill

What are the challenges of being the only female and the lead singer in a band?
I never really think much about other people’s genders or my own, which is why it took so long to notice we were on tour with bands that were only comprised of men. On a day-to-day basis it’s not something I really think about. It’ll come up, like say we’re doing a photo shoot and they want to photograph me separately, and it’s like, our guitarist referred to it as, “the Gwen Stefani-fication,” of the band which is not something we want at all. My gender is not something we think about unless it’s brought to our attention by someone else. I’m actually not a very good boss figure so it’s nice that everyone is involved in keeping us afloat and keeping us going.

Do you ever feel like rock is a boys’ club?
Women in rock music have made pretty great strides in terms of being viewed as equal players and equal composers. There was a tour we were on in April, and it was not so long, maybe like two weeks and we played in New York. We realized that more than half of the musicians playing that night were female. We kind of went back in to count and see how many other female musicians we were playing with the whole tour. There was only one, she was a tambourine player, in Montreal. So there certainly can be days like that where there’s no female musicians, but then you have a day when you’re playing with a predominantly female bill and you feel really grateful.

I would love to talk to you also about Babement.
Yeah, yeah. Hell yeah! One of my best friends, Cindy Lou Gooden, she is in a band called Very Fresh that I played guitar in, and we both knew a lot of Pavement songs and loved them, so we decided to start this with our friends. We only did a couple shows, but it was really fun. We tried to do an all-female Sebadoh cover band for Halloween this year called Shebadoh.

How so?
I wanna do a Mclusky cover band called MissClusky. I have so many ideas now!

Q&A: Meet Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz