Speedy Ortiz: “It was such a cathartic experience; I think that really comes through”

Speedy Ortiz find emotional catharsis and inventive musicianship in their latest album ‘Rabbit Rabbit’, inspired by childhood rituals, desert recording sessions, and confronting past traumas.

Words: Lindsey Teggert.
Photos: Shervin Lainez.

Ever since she was a child, Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis has repeated the superstitious incantation ‘rabbit rabbit’ on the first of every month. It’s said that the utterance will coax good luck your way, and as a child coping with OCD and early trauma, it’s a ritual that she found comfort in. 

After delving into these difficult memories for Speedy Ortiz’s fourth record, which Sadie began recording demos for on 1st July 2021, it seemed like it was destiny to name the album after this habit. In a strange twist of fate, before Sadie had mentioned the name to anyone, guitarist Andy Molholt asked Sadie what was up with her ‘rabbit rabbit’ tweets every month and suggested it would be a cool album name.

“I’d never heard that phrase before,” recalls Andy. “I wondered what weird portal into hell I’d found on Sadie’s Twitter, so I casually asked her about it and said it would be a cool album title. She looked at me with total disbelief and told me it was already the name of the Google doc she was using for the demos.”

Chance coincidences like this are not something that usually occur in the Speedy world, with Sadie taking the same carefully meticulous approach to planning and demoing their new record as she had with previous releases. Having grown sick of what she jokingly calls “me-projects”, referring to her solo releases as Sad13 and her latest poetry collection ‘Cry Perfume’ (amongst many other pursuits), and desperate to hang out with friends after pandemic isolation, she began to demo and build the framework for ‘Rabbit Rabbit’.

“I spent a whole month doing pretty intensive pre-production for the record,” explains Sadie. “I had a whole routine where I’d wake up first thing in the morning, pick a colour and dress entirely in that colour, and then try to make the demo recordings sound like that colour. It was very goofy but fun. I also had this sense that I was making pre-production sound like what I think would come out of Rancho De La Luna, so that studio became our first choice.”

“I’d pick a colour, dress entirely in that colour, and then try to make the demo recordings sound like that colour”

Sadie Dupuis

So Speedy Ortiz headed to the desert, specifically Joshua Tree, California, and the famous music studio that immediately evokes a sense of the achingly cool and all things rock’n’roll whenever its name is mentioned. The Speedy Ortiz that headed to the desert, however, was a different version to the band that had released their last record, ‘Twerp Verse’. Previous bassist Darl Ferm and drummer Mike Falcone had been unable to tour due to work and life commitments, so friends of the band Audrey Zee Whitesides and Joey Doubek had stepped in. 

“Audrey and Joey shred and hadn’t actually been on any Speedy recordings, and Andy was only on about half of the last record despite being the longest-running member of the band apart from me,” says Sadie. “I love playing with this line-up of the band, and it would have been a shame to not do it – of course, we had to make another record!”

Known for being sonically ambitious, with Sadie admitting she can’t help but write almost unplayable parts, the musical pedigree of Rancho De La Luna suited Speedy Ortiz’s inventive musicianship down to the ground. A press release statement that recalls the band using 50 guitars, 100 effects pedals and 30 amps throughout the recording process seems like it could be a PR embellishment until you remember that Speedy thrive on making the most wonderfully wiry and tangled riffs possible. 

“It’s true!” laughs Sadie. “I made everyone write down exactly what they used on every song because there’s so much interesting equipment at Rancho De La Luna, and it’s all in really good playing condition. David Catching, who runs the studio – he was one of the first members of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal – he just curates the studio. He doesn’t produce or engineer bands that come in, although he certainly can, but he’s like the vibes producer. He spends all day long tinkering and fixing this amazing collection of equipment, making everything perfectly playable, so of course we had to use it all.”

“I think we made a goal to use every single guitar there,” adds Andy. “I don’t think we did, but we did get to single digits. For each different part of every song, we would convene what we called the ‘tone council’, which was all of us sitting there evaluating with each other what each part needed to sound like, then try it on five different guitars and pedals. Every band should record at Rancho De La Luna at least once. After the pandemic, it was such a cathartic experience for us, and I think that really comes through on the record.”

With the whole process being so emotionally reinvigorating for Speedy, it was important that what Sadie refers to as “artefacts” from the trip also made it onto the album. You’d be hard-pushed to identify them on record, but that’s just testament to the layered intricacy of Speedy’s sound. Such found sounds include a bed pan that had been converted into a guitar by Dave Catching, the noise of the plane they flew in, a car wash they visited on the second leg of recording in El Paso, Texas and a bird that yodelled outside Sadie’s window at 6am every morning in Joshua Tree.

Lyrically, ‘Rabbit Rabbit’ contains all the vitriol and caustic wit that we’re accustomed to from a Speedy Ortiz record. Tracks such as ‘Scabs’ and ‘You S02’ take aim at union busters, ex-punks who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, and just bullshit artists in general. Sadie sees you mistreating others, and God damn right she’s going to call you out. 

“Part of that coming through on this record really stems from some of the organising and activism work that we’ve all done, like the No Music For ICE campaign, which had musicians pulling music from Amazon and pledging not to create new work with Amazon while their tech is powering deportations, facial recognition that leads to arrests, and not to mention people dying in Amazon warehouses because they won’t let them leave in inclement weather, caused by climate change that I’m sure is caused in part by Amazon tech.

“We’d see people respond to this campaign in ways that were snarky and not respectful of human life; it’s fine to not sign a petition but to come after artists who do want to stand in solidarity with other labour movements, that’s disgusting to me.” 

“The anxiety of writing through some of that stuff was really high for me”

Sadie Dupuis

Outside of Speedy Ortiz, as well as her solo work and poetry, Sadie has also worked as an interviewer, writing bios for other artists. In recent years, one thing she’d noticed was the pandemic seemed to have caused a lot of people to reflect on their early traumatic experiences. 

“I was hearing of stories like, ‘Here’s this horrible thing that happened to me when I was 9, and I’ve never been able to write about this before, but being at home forced me to reckon with it’. That was true for me as well. I’d written about other violent experiences in my music before, like being a survivor of assault and being a survivor of an abusive relationship, but there was child abuse in my past that I didn’t want to think about and certainly didn’t want to write about or admit to in a press release! So the anxiety of writing through some of that stuff was really high for me, but that was suddenly what was coming out when I was trying to write songs for this record, and I’m not going to lie about the meaning of it.”

Though these experiences are not explicitly stated, instead wrapped up in the same abstract, poetic nature as Sadie’s other lyrics, they very much shaped ‘Rabbit Rabbit’ – all the way through to the cover art. A truck on fire, painted by Sadie herself; she only found out recently that as a kid in therapy, she would compulsively draw trucks on fire.

“Out in Joshua Tree, there’s so much weird stuff abandoned in the desert. Some of it is art, some of it is just abandoned. There were bowling balls in a certain place outside the studio, an abandoned boat, and then an abandoned yellow truck against this sunset. I was like, ‘Well, I think this is the truck that has to be on fire!” ■

Taken from the September 2023 edition of Upset. Speedy Ortiz’ album ‘Rabbit Rabbit’ is out 1st September.