Track by Track is a recurring new music feature that gives an artist the opportunity to dig into the details of every song on their latest album.
The band’s third full-length overall, Twerp Verse was produced by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley) with mastering from Emily Lazar (Sia, HAIM). It also marks Speedy Ortiz’s first effort new guitarist Andy Molholt of Laser Background. Molholt stepped in to replace Devin McKnight after he left Speedy Ortiz in 2016 to pursue a solo career. Following his departure, the band attempted to record an album as a trio, but found the songs lacking after the 2016 election. They reconvened in February 2017 to try again with Molholt on board, resulting in Twerp Verse.
In an interview with UPROXX, singer Sadie Dupuis was asked about lines from the album like “bookended by booty pics I never posted” from opener “Buck Me Off” or the feminist language in “Lean In When I Suffer”. “I do think very seriously about wanting to have rock music that represents more than what the rock music I grew up listening to can encompass, and I feel like that’s been my agenda from the first album,” Dupuis replied. “It hasn’t gone away. Lines like that, to me they’re like obviously talking about an experience that I want other people to be able to relate to and recognize…”
Listen to the whole album below.
For more insight into the record, the band has broken it down Track by Track.
“Buck Me Off”:
Sadie Dupuis (vocals, guitar): I wrote this about how when things in your life get weird–”kissing the grime with a trigger finger in the sunrise,” as in mired to gross circumstances but shooting for a more beautiful world–you don’t have to be nice. Catch the flies with vinegar, stop smiling to make other people feel more at ease, be frank when confronted with bullshit, even if it makes other people think you’re totally evil. To go along with that sentiment, my most evil, dissonant, detuned guitar part ever happens very very low in the mix from :46 – :1:00.
Darl Ferm (bass): The bassline was all about emulating Kim Deal for me. I don’t know if it came across, but I was definitely thinking along the lines of the grittier bass tones from the Pixies days.
Mike Falcone (drums): I was also copying the Pixies for this.
SD: I fought really hard for the cheesy bubble sound at 2:35 and it was not a unanimous band favorite.
“Lean In When I Suffer”:
Andy Molholt (guitar): Was definitely thinking Deerhoof for this track, especially in the part I played during the bridge. I love their alternatingly spastic & chuggy chords. I had just bought a late ‘60s Bassman for this session, and I was really trying to get the amp to break up which I feel like ended up working in this track’s favor.
SD: My amp actually died over the course of tracking this! That’s why the solo sounds so insane. I wound up doubling it once the amp was repaired (thanks, Main Drag Music). For the lyrics, I imagined behind in a bookstore or a library, drowning in queer and feminist theory books falling off the shelves, feeling overwhelmed with how much knowledge I feel morally responsible for absorbing sharing. In this fantasy scenario, I text some guy like, “Hey, help me out, I’m drowning in all these books and theory!” and he’s like, “Sorry! Busy! Doing a face mask LOL!” A metaphor for how thankless it feels sometimes to try to help people grow out of their ignorant, problematic behavior. I feel like I accidentally ripped off Third Eye Blind a little bit on one of the guitar parts even though, like Andy said, we were absolutely trying to channel Deerhoof.
MF: The part where everyone got asked to sing “oooh”s doesn’t really make sense to me. It’s a weird Easter egg. Stuff that doesn’t make sense is a good thing, so I’m happy it’s in there.
DF: Definitely my most bassist-like bass line. I feel really proud of that.
MF: I think the demo of “Lucky 88” was the first time I tried recording individual loops on a Tascam 4-track. I recorded 3 separate drum loops as the song continued.
SD: The rhythm section is what makes this song. I didn’t have great ideas for the drums or bass–you can hear my demo drums, typed out on an OP-1, as a super simple loop that goes through much of the first verse–and Mike came back with like five great ideas, which he layered. And Darl hooked it up on the bass part; usually his impulse is to write a more rhythmically simple part that balances out the chaos in our music, but I love how much motion and groove there is to what he played.
AM: When approached about this song, I felt it didn’t need much–maybe just like a little cloud of a chord sleeping in the background for the verses. I was trying to imitate the Mac startup chime composed by Jim Reekes. Always been really into that original weird chime…kinda felt like a ghost hugging you.
SD: I wrote “Lucky 88” right after coming off a Sad13 tour, which Vagabon opened, and the octave call and response part, “keep me starving or get something better started,” seemed to me like a melody Laetitia might sing, so I tried to sing like her on the demo (though probably not on the actual song). Now that I think of it, we should’ve asked her to feature on the song!
“Can I Kiss You”:|
MF: I asked Julian [Fader] and Carlos [Hernandez] to put a sixteenth-note delay on the kick and snare to make it sound like the drums in “Cross Bones Style”. And we layered that over a drum loop pulled from the demo. I think it sounds hot.
SD: Tried to do this track in the style of Brenda Lee-sings-Anti-by-Rihanna, plus an Elliott Smith Heatmiser-era guitar solo. The guitar part Andy plays was the bass part I wrote from my first demo, and it sounds sooo much better in that octave, with his ring mod pedal weirding it up. I’m very proud of the part where the drums reverse!
AM: Always loved that stuttery keyboard intro too, & the spooky B sections. I agree that the bass-turned-guitar part ending up serving a really nice role here. Reverse drums 4ever
SD: Another song where me and Darl messing around during soundcheck became the intro of the song (see also: “Pioneer Spine” by Speedy Ortiz). I played a wrong note at 1:47 that became my favorite part of the song, so we turned it wayyyy up.
DF: This song reminds me of the time that we worked on it a lot, spending a week at Jonah Furman’s (of Krill fame) house in Hull, MA. It was such a great experience to work on music all day every day for a week. That was also the week I discovered Nathan for You, so pretty epic week.
SD: We sent an early version of this song to someone who said, “I like the idea of a song on the radio about backsliding into hell when our country is literally doing that.” Agreed! Though the song is more about accepting the comfort you get from your bad habits, and how hard it can be to let go of them, and trying not to be angry at yourself for that because we’re all just human.
MF: It sounded different when we were road-testing it a couple years ago. Originally I was playing the whole thing straight without any breaks. Later on, Danny Seim from Menomena helped a lot with the drum arrangements.
SD: We recorded this album once and scrapped it, and for a second we thought Danny was going to mix the whole thing. He wound up mixing the b-sides, aka the tracks we scrapped from the first time we recorded the album. “Villain” is from the scrapped version of the record, and while we wound up keeping it and mixing it with Mike Mogis (who mixed the rest of the final record), we loved the percussion and synth ideas that Danny added, plus some of his editing choices–when the drums cut out, when the guitars cut out. We wound up retaining a lot his original arrangement, and the song is so much better for it.
DF: I remember when writing my part for the song, thinking a lot about Bedhead and their parts. I don’t think it really sounds like that much more because of the fuzz effect, but it makes me enjoy this song even more because Bedhead always makes me happy (sad).
AM: Been a big fan of three-note low-ass chuggy guitar chords lately & that’s what I was goin’ for rhythmically on this one. Definitely some evil chord changes happen here. This is one of my faves on the record–lots of twists that alternate between dark & fun.
SD: This song, especially its intro, sounds like a spaghetti Western to me. I wrote it with the bpm intentionally fluctuating slightly throughout, which made it sort of hard and frustrating to track live, but I think we got what we wanted. This is my favorite kind of Speedy Ortiz song–one section morphing into a totally different section over and over until the track ends. Earthquaker Device’s Bit Commander was my most crucial effect pedal here.
MF: We worked on a lot of new songs at a beach house in Massachusetts during the week Prince died, and this was one of them.
SD: I was scheduled to teach a songwriting lesson to a student who wanted to work on a technical metal song with me. He didn’t show up. So I wrote this song in that hour instead. It was written before Trump’s election, and well before I thought Trump could ever win, but it’s about how disappointing the democratic party was throughout the primaries with its refusal to embrace a progressive candidate, and specifically Clinton’s initial dismissal of Black Lives Matter. Also about how creepy and sudden it felt witnessing the rise of alt-right internet trolls and conspiracists. It’s named after the motto of my old MIT dorm, a tribute after the college’s most queer-friendly and diverse living space was shut down because of bizarre institute bureaucracy.
“Alone With Girls”:
SD: This song first appeared in demo form on a postcard flexidisc for Father/Daughter Records’ “Keep In Touch” series. Recording that initial version was my first time using Logic’s auto-drummer feature, and Mike copied one of the bizarre fills that feature produced around 1:20. “In a skeleton suit / tonguing the boot” is my maybe my accidentally kinkiest lyric?
DF: This song made me think a lot about Failure’s “Fantastic Planet” album. I’m not sure if it’s because we listen to it a lot in the van or because I listen to it a lot in the van.
SD: One of the plug-ins we used on the “guitar solo” section, before we got to mixing it with Mogis, is a Reel ADT setting called “2 Guitars Is Better Than 1”. That name cracks me up and now I think about it every time I put chorus on anything.
Photo by Shervin Lainez
SD: The dialogue in the intro and the solo section is something we recorded off the radio when we were on tour with Pile in 2014. I guess it was a talk show where people called in about being possessed by demons and having psychic abilities. Kind of a funny contrast to the album’s only love song.
MF: My favorite drummer we’ve played a show with is probably Glenn Kotche, and I felt very inspired after getting to see Wilco up close. Either this or “Alone With Girls” is probably my favorite new Ortiz song.
SD: I tried doing this song with Sad13, with two different drummers, and it just wasn’t feeling right — I kinda knew it was a better fit for Speedy, and Mike nailed everything I wanted to happen on this track, particularly the drum fill before the second chorus. I had to tell Clay Tarver from Chavez that we ripped them off in that section — with tremendous love, of course.
“You Hate The Title”:
AM: Almost a pop country song? I love that about it. I especially like the drunken bloopy synths that come in during the end of the one bridge, almost feels like they are mocking you. The guitar in the verse is delayed with or even a little behind the beat–I was trying to get something a little clangy & jarring but catchy in there in the background. I think it sits in the mix nicely.
SD: I recorded some of the guitars at home, and the .wav files were labeled “Ween guitars”. Mogis thought it said “Weezer guitars” and kept calling them that while we mixed, and I had no idea what he was talking about. It’s the first time I’ve played banjo on a Speedy Ortiz song since 2011’s “ken-ohki”.
DF: I’m really glad the album ends on this song. This is the song where I think I knew the least how it would turn out and ultimately became the one stuck in my head the most.
SD: Everyone we work with wanted this song to be a single. Which was never gonna happen. It replaced a song from the original recording of the album that someone–you guessed it–hated the title of. It’s definitely our poppiest song, but to me its poppiness is sort of sarcastic, and that’s why it seemed like a good closing track.