Sadie Dupuis

Who is Sadie Dupuis? A writer, singer, and guitar player in the band Speedy Ortiz. Producer, writer, and collaborator behind Sad13. Label owner of Wax Nine Records. A writer, with a book of poetry out (Mouthguard) and many published poems. Sad13’s Haunted Painting album came out last year, and, being a fan, I dropped a line to see if we could talk about the fine art of making albums.

What’s the difference between Speedy Ortiz and Sad13?

It’s hard for me to define. I’m always the only songwriter. I think when I first created the Sad13 project to work with Lizzo [on “Basement Queens”], it was, “Here’s the pop project that I also produced.” Then the intervening Speedy Ortiz record [Twerp Verse] I basically produced, played a lot of the instruments, and did all the synths and drum machines at home. It had a lot of the pop characteristics of the first Sad13 record [Slugger].

For Haunted Painting I composed everything. I produced it, and I’m the primary musician. I guess that’s the difference. I’m the songwriter for both projects, but certainly Speedy is a bit more collaborative, depending on who’s on the record and who we’re working with as engineers.

I know Speedy Ortiz started as a project led by you.

The very first Speedy Ortiz thing I did in 2011 was because I love home recording and had grown up doing a bunch on one of the Tascam Portastudios, using GarageBand, and taking recording classes in college. I was in a band for a long time with someone who was in school for recording engineering, so it got taken off my plate and I missed it. The first Speedy record [The Death of Speedy Ortiz] was me playing and recording everything in the most terrible, lo-fi way possible, which, in hindsight, I find charming. I wanted an outlet for doing something where I got to play all the instruments. If it sounded bad, at least I’d know it was my fault and not my inability to communicate with whoever’s tracking it. As Speedy Ortiz started taking gigs, the friends who were playing these songs live became my bandmates. We did a bunch of records together in a shifting lineup, but mostly the same people. While I love them, I created Speedy Ortiz as an outlet for my home recording and then immediately trashed it in favor of letting someone else record, mix, play drums and bass, and whatever else.

I see what you mean.

I started Sad13 in 2016 because I again missed home recording and wanted an excuse to do it. As I’ve gotten more and more into it, it becomes harder for me to want to relinquish any control. I have the feeling the next Speedy album might be more collaborative than anything we’ve done in the past. I’m often making the bulk of the production choices. I got really deep in on the Sad13 record, and I’ve been doing a lot of projects from home. Whenever it’s safe to work together again, maybe I’ll be a better collaborator and more interested in letting someone else have a say.

How did your skills improve while working on the new Sad13 record?

I always fall backwards into learning how to get better at anything. I’m averse to reading instructions, so I do something the way that seems obvious to me – which is probably the worst way to do it – and then I have to learn how to fix it. Even the first Sad13  record [Slugger], I thought I was making demos and then got deeper and deeper into trying to make them sound better. It’s somewhat similar on this project. I recorded the whole thing at home and then went into different studios to redo different parts, track by track. I viewed every session I’ve worked on as an internship, as much as it is hiring someone to work on my project. I admire that many people are able to mix remotely, but I have to be in the room. I want to see everything that’s happening, as well as the degree to which a knob is being turned, so that I not only know how to come back from that but also how to get to that place next time. Every session, I’m always in the room, pretty silent for the bulk of the mixing until I come out with my 50 notes that I need to work back from. I’ve been picking skills up from sessions for the past decade. I feel grateful to have been able to track and mix with so many amazing people that I’ve been able to steal tiny secrets from

I know you worked with John Agnello [Tape Op #14], a wonderful, talented guy.

Yeah, he’s great.

Sadie Dupuis

Who else have you worked with?

The first thing that Speedy, as a full band, ever did was with Paul Kolderie [Tape Op #22], which was pretty cool. He was a fan of my old band, and he offered us some free studio time. Then those songs got mixed by Justin Pizzoferrato. I’ve done a few projects with him; we have such a great working rapport and friendship. I’ve certainly learned a lot from Justin. Whenever I have a question about something, he’s helpful. On the last Speedy Ortiz record [Twerp Verse], Mike Mogis [#51] mixed it. We spent more time mixing than tracking. He’s one of the few people I’ve allowed to kick me out of the room. It was frustrating, but I get it. I’ve been listening to his records since I was a little kid. He’s one of the first producers I remember knowing by name.

What sonic elements was he bringing that you wouldn’t even have guessed?

A lot of running signals out and using a lot of pedals that I wouldn’t have expected to run overheads through. I use the EarthQuaker [Devices] Rainbow Machine all the time on guitar and synths. He was putting it on drums and a single delay of a backing vocal. He has a world-class board and all kinds of equipment, but he’s using all kinds of fun gear, from cheap to priceless. I think that has inspired me to use a lot of what I would consider my guitar pedals on other instruments.

Who else have you worked with?

Sylvia Massy [Tape Op #63] had mixed something for the first Sad13 record – I had this cockamamie idea that I was going to have a different person mix every song.

Oh my god!

I know. I had to throw out a Sylvia Massy mix and a Tony Lash mix. Joey Waronker mixed a song. They sounded so all over the place compared to one another. They were all engineers who I really wanted to work with, at least. I’ve never worked with someone who I haven’t had a long, friendly conversation with first. I started learning guitar when I was 13, and I was lucky to go to a summer camp that had a recording studio. I started going in and making EPs when I was 14 in a little digital studio. I think I was eventually able to say, “Here’s what I like, and here’s how it should sound.” It prepped me for being able to do this as a career, and to say, “Absolutely, no. I do not want that effect. Let’s try this instead.” I think a lot of people get thrown into recording in their early 20s, have never had to defend the way they hear music, and can feel intimidated by it. Your ears are what you should trust, even if you don’t have years of experience.

For Haunted Painting, were you demoing drum patterns with the virtual drummer in Logic, and then rebuilding those with actual drums later?

Yeah. I tend to “type” out the drums. I’ll write the parts that way. Sometimes we keep a lot of those, or run them through a LinnDrum, or I’ll trigger other samples. I have a great drummer, Zoë Brecher, who is the drummer on this record and was also the live drummer for Sad13 (when touring was something we could do). She’s one of those absolute freaks of nature who can hear something and then immediately recreate it. I send her the stems of what I wrote, and she’ll learn it. If it’s not playable by a human, we’ll accomplish it with overdubs.

There’s that one section in “Ruby Wand” that’s got the craziest exploding drums.

She’s playing some stupid MIDI that I wrote, although she made it much better and more sensical than what I did.

Sadie Dupuis

It makes for a very exciting part in that song.

Yeah. She’s incredible. That’s another one where I did track those guitars at home, straight into a DI, thinking I’d do it in the studio. It wasn’t sounding right, so we re-amped it at Tiny Telephone [Recording]. They’ve got so many cool amps.

The Tiny Telephone in Oakland?

We did drums, bass, and synths at Oakland, and then guitars and vocals at the San Francisco location; the one that closed [in July of 2020]. I worked with Maryam Qudus, an excellent producer and engineer, plus she does her own music as well (as Spacemoth). That was the session where we got the wild drum solo with Zoë. It’s a treasure to get to do anything with her. She’s very meticulous and often tuning her drums for a million years. Maryam and I were messing with something; I think it was a Moog modular. We were trying to get it to do something cool, zoning out on that. We were hearing a banging in the studio; we realized that Zoë had been locked out for 40 minutes and was banging on the door. We thought she was tuning a drum!

How many studios did you go to while making this record?

We did La La Land, Figure 8 Recording and Studio G – both in Brooklyn, New Monkey Studio, Tiny Telephone Recording, and then Sonic Ranch. You’ll probably like this story: Everyone who engineered on this record is a woman, which was a very deliberate and personally gratifying choice. One of the engineers I worked with is a woman named Anne Gauthier [Tape Op #140]. She works at La La Land in Louisville. Speedy had toured the studio, and she told us she’d started working there because of Tape Op. It was all engineers who I’d met from years of touring, checking out studios on the road, and filing away things in my brain. “When can I find time to work here?” I did a couple songs in each studio in between festival dates. It was the perfect chance to try out working with different people in different studios and have six times the gear list I’d have been able to use if it had been a single studio.

Was finding female engineers to work with something you were making a list of as well?

Sort of. I felt ridiculous that my own credits skewed heavily male. You see so many artists who are outspoken advocates for gender diversity in fields where men are the majority, and then you look at their recording credits and it’s still all men. When Twerp Verse, the Speedy Ortiz record, came out, I got to host a panel with Sonos and She Shreds, which was five different women in audio engineering, including me. We did a panel conversation, and then everyone hosted different workshops. I was hosting this panel, and, apart from Emily Lazar, I had been the only credited female engineer on any of my records, despite having so many friends who work in the field and so many producers I admire. I was thrilled to hire a few of them on this record.

With the new record, did you do all the mixing?

No, I worked with Sarah Tudzin, who’s in the band Illuminati Hotties. We went to Sonic Ranch [Tape Op #94] in Tornillo [Texas] to mix, which was a great experience.

Sadie Dupuis

That’s a beautiful place. I’ve visited there.

Yeah. I’d stopped through on tour, but I never had worked there. Sarah engineered the two songs that I did at New Monkey, and it was similar to how I felt working with Justin Pizzoferrato; a good rapport in the session. Any time I was about to suggest running sound through something, or pulling up a certain plug-in, it was already what she was going for. I think when I find someone where we’re mentally on the same level, it saves a lot of time and stress. We had a good time working there. We had scheduled a week and we wound up pulling all-nighters. There’s so much cool gear to use. We tracked everything before we got out there. We were wanting to make sure everything could sound as good as it could through all the Sonic Ranch gear.

I get the feeling this record took a lot of planning and time.

Yeah. This new Sad13 music, and everything I’ve done since then, has a lot more layers and details, and it’s not possible to get it done quickly. But I’m still going in with the lowest budget imaginable and saying, “I have three days to get these two songs tracked and mixed.” I’ve already sent in 100 tracks from home that I’m either recreating or mixing in. If I don’t go in with such a clear plan, we’d only get the drums done in three days. It has to be tightly planned, or I won’t have the budget to work with fancy equipment. I think it would be hard for me to have done this Sad13 record a different way, unless I were to bring in outside musicians to play. The sheer number of tracks would be too much music to memorize, doing more than two or three songs per session. There’s all the time doing the writing, pre-production, and planning, but also the memorizing of all these synth parts and guitar parts. It would be too much to do.

When did you finish the mixes?

Mid-December [2019]. Emily Lazar mastered it. She’s done most of my records.

What’s your home recording setup? It’s down in your basement?

Yeah. I live in a little apartment in Philly, but it does have a basement. My setup consists of an Apogee Duet, [Apple] Logic, a lot of Soundtoys and FabFilter plug-ins, and some not-very-expensive mics, although I did just get a Soyuz 017 and 023 Bomblet in the mail to demo – I’m pretty excited. Those will be the nicest mics that I’ve owned. I use a [Teenage Engineering] OP-1 [synth/sampler] to start just about every song. I have a few vintage synths, a Farfisa, some amps, a decent variety of guitars, and that’s about it. And a million guitar pedals.

Are you mic’ing up an amp for guitar overdubs at home, or do you plug straight in?

A combination. The first Sad13 record I didn’t even do in my own home, I did it in a friend’s guest bedroom that’s about the size of this table I’m sitting at. I did all those guitars direct in, anticipating that they’d be demos. We wound up re-amping them and making up for that later. Generally, I’ll do some combination of recording amps, DI, or both.

How are you listening?

I have [Yamaha] HS8 [monitors]. I use Sennheiser headphones, but I also love to check mixes out on my worst-sounding headphones that I’ve kept with me for years, to have a sense for how people will be hearing it. I still have an iPod speaker from 2003 that I will switch over to in between using my actual studio monitors to get a sense of “how does this sound on something bad?” If I can make it sound good there, I feel it has a good chance elsewhere.

Sadie Dupuis

We’re all stuck at home. I assume you’re writing and working on music?

Sad13

Not really writing. Normally I’d be spared from feeling guilty about not writing because I’d be on a tour for the next year. This album was so intensive to write; there are so many parts. It was a lot of thinking about it nonstop for a long time. I generally need a writing break between big projects. I don’t want to come back to sessions with the same skills that I left the last one with. I tend to use time in between to do lots of other creative projects. I’ve been able to do a couple weird scoring jobs while I’ve been home; instrumental PSA music. I’m about to start a project where I’m recording a bunch of public domain songs for a podcast soundtrack; that’s going to be fun. When I do covers, I’m often trying to get it to sound close to the original as a way to understand how to record and mix. I’ve done so many benefit compilations. People keep asking me to contribute. I will take 100 hours to learn how to copy this one song exactly for a recording, or before I do a livestream.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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