You have to admire Sadie Dupuis' dedication.
It's two days before Thanksgiving, and while the rest of the country flocks to the nation's airports to fly home and gorge themselves, she's in Cleveland getting ready for the drive to Detroit to play a show. Though no stranger to traveling the country with her grungy punk outfit, Speedy Ortiz, she's currently touring Sad13, ostensibly a solo project, with aesthetic reference points that are a far cry from the sludge of her main gig. Sad13 began as a more personal project, intended to use a palette of glistening synthetic sounds that could stand in opposition to the shallow superficiality of most mainstream radio pop. More specifically, the kind she listened to in her formative years when she was a sad 13-year-old—hence the name.
"I'm a huge pop music fan," she says. "I think a lot of the coolest protest albums I've heard in the past few years have been on the pop spectrum. Some of the messages I'm subverting are the ones I heard ad nauseam in the radio of my childhood."
Despite embracing the sonic hallmarks of pop, Slugger, her debut as Sad13, allows Dupuis' wit and social conscience to shine through, perhaps even more so than with Speedy Ortiz. But she's adamant in challenging the belief that pop's saccharine template is inherently superficial and politically vacant. In the span of the album's 11 tracks, she takes on topics like sexual consent ("Get a Yes"), the duality of intellectualism and femininity ("Less Than Two"), and antiquated ideas about platonic coed friendships ("Just a Friend").
Dupuis maintains that coming from a place of strength and positivity was paramount when she began to compose the songs that would make up Slugger, even though its inception was prefaced by some bad circumstances getting increasingly worse. First, she endured the last gasp of an abusive relationship. Then she lost her father to cancer only a month after he was initially diagnosed. When commended on her ability to spin such devastating tragedy into productivity, Dupuis forgoes the credit, instead explaining how unproductive she finds the public airing of grievances.
"Some of that stuff had been going on for a few years, but I wasn't able to write about it, nor did I want to," she says, "because it's important to me to turn my difficult experience into something that could be a positive experience for someone else."
Dupuis' awareness of how her artistic endeavors will ultimately influence others draws from the same tenacity as her dedication to tour her new record the week of a major holiday. For her, it's all part of the job. She even relishes the challenge of taking a new project out to smaller venues with more intimate attendance numbers.
"It's sort of a reset," she says. "Speedy will play a 1,000-capacity venue and sell it out, whereas this is a new project with much smaller venues and crowds. It's cool to build a new thing up from the bottom."
Attaching a political agenda to a musical aesthetic typically meant to cater to the largest number of fans possible seems a little counterproductive for someone content to relegate her liberal ideals to her side project. But Dupuis' objective goes far beyond the parameters of most working musicians. She's never been shy about voicing her principal concerns. She cites as a source of solidarity Lindy West's recent column in The Guardian, in which West argues against the idea that a backlash against overly PC culture boosted Donald Trump to victory.
"'Overly PC' sounds like a derogatory way to say 'human decency,'" she says. "So, OK, fine—I'm overly PC. The whole point is that people's identities aren't respected and people's lives are at risk."
Don't worry, though: Aside from being socially conscious and well-informed, Dupuis hasn't forgotten how to have fun.
"Can I tell you one last thing real quick, though?" she asks, eager to share one more small victory. "I successfully got through 50 consecutive levels of the arcade game Rampage last night. I found out later there are over 100. But still." CRIS LANKENAU.
SEE IT: Sad13 plays Bunk Bar, 1028 SE Water Ave., with Vagabon and Lisa Prank, on Wednesday, Nov. 30. 9:30 pm. $10. 21+.