For Philly indie-rock band Speedy Ortiz, the road to getting back to touring full-time following the pandemic hasn’t been easy.
Vocalist/guitarist Sadie Dupuis did spend six weeks this past year touring off and on behind her second book of poetry, “Cry Perfume,” which brought her to Charlotte earlier this summer. But she wasn’t able to tour behind her 2020 solo release (she records under the name Sad13).
Only recently — with the release earlier this month of its long-awaited fourth album, “Rabbit Rabbit” — has Speedy Ortiz finally gotten back on the road. The indie rock band plays Snug Harbor in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood on Tuesday night.
Dupuis’ day job during the pandemic actually informed the direction her songwriting took on the album.
“One of my random freelance gigs is that I wrote a lot of artist bios, and everybody I was interviewing at the time was saying, ‘I’ve been touring for 20 years and I’m having to deal with stuff that happened 30 years ago for the first time,’” she explains, calling from a tour stop in Grand Rapids this past Wednesday.
“Hearing other people say that about their work,” she adds, “felt like it was giving me permission to do the same thing in my own work.”
A self-described workaholic, Dupuis — a poet, visual artist, freelance writer, and some-time college professor — was usually too busy to dwell on her own childhood trauma.
“I’d taken on as much as I possibly could, maybe by design. It hadn’t offered time to get sucked into painful memories of the past. I felt like maybe it was time.”
Zeroing in on her youth also led Dupuis to reflect on the music she grew up loving.
“I was also thinking about playing in bands early on and remembering how much I liked listening to the Mars Volta or Queens of the Stone Age,” she says.
Reviewers have always honed in on the band’s ’90s influence, but when making “Rabbit Rabbit,” as she explains, with a laugh: “I was going for the year 2003.”
“It’s been interesting to see the word ‘nostalgia’ come up in reviews,” she says. “It’s fun for an artist to use the sounds of a certain time and a certain artist to reflect on their own work. But it’s never just one thing. It’s this particular 10-second guitar thing, or the harmonies there.”
The song, “Who’s Afraid of the Bath?,” for instance, was partly a (musical) response to the Deftones’ 2000 track “Digital Bath” (which is about a woman being electrocuted in a tub) and exploring how absorbing violent art relates to Dupuis’ own experience as a victim of stalking.
“When I heard that song at 12 and 13 years old, it’s like the thing I get out of watching a slasher movie — it’s cool, gory, scary,” she explains. “You grow up and look at lived experience of violence, and the way in which gender plays into those violent experiences, and it complicates your recollection of the more violent forms of art you were drawn to when you were younger.”
“It’s not a condemnation of Deftones,” she continues. “It’s not suggesting causality. It’s juxtaposing the sonic palette of Deftones and my own feelings of what has happened to me experiencing violence.”
Although her songs are peppered with intricate details, they aren’t confessional or even always linear in a traditional sense. Whether she’s ranting about hypocritical activists, emotional disconnection, or remembering to be her own biggest advocate, there are layers to peel back both lyrically and sonically.
Speedy Ortiz has always thrived on fidgety rhythms, tempo changes, wildly quirky layered guitar and frequent shifts in direction. Yet Dupuis’ songs are also armed with plenty of hooky choruses.
Lyrics give her a chance to write in a less straightforward way, tapping into some of the same poetic devices she studied while getting her MFA.
“Lyrics are wonderful for being able to incorporate imagism and surrealism and less literal styles of writing,” she says. “One of our all-time treasures, Fiona Apple, her lyrics always had me slipping open the CD liner notes. The places she goes with vocabulary and wordplay is astounding, yet the structure can be very pop. The arrangements are interesting. There’s a lot of work to parse through with repeated listens. There’s a lot there I’d check off my own boxes. I’m not writing for the listener, I’m writing for me knowing that there are listeners (like me) that want complicated or quirky, or want to work a little harder as a listener.”
“As a listener,” she adds, “I always appreciate a lyric that makes me want to look it up.”
One track that might have listeners Googling its subject is “Ballad of Y&S,” which was inspired by her discovery that Sylvia Plath and Yoko Ono attended the same college and once even dated the same guy.
“To learn this overlap in their lives was fascinating to me,” she says, “and was a great excuse to consider their creative lives and public perception of their output.”
As with “Bath,” Dupuis uses the jumping-off point of these two famous artists — both wives of more famous men of their time (Plath was Ted Hughes’, Ono of course John Lennon’s) — to dive into the relationship between art and commercialism today and how “public perception of confessional art has done a 180.”
“I’m kicking this morsel of celebrity factoid and using it to think of these intersections about what artists today have to consider about the commercial utilities of their work.”
If you go: Speedy Ortiz
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St.