with Anna Burch and Xetas
“Necessary brattiness” is the motto for Speedy Ortiz’s dauntless new collection of songs, Twerp Verse. The follow-up to 2015’s Foil Deer, the band’s latest indie rock missive is prompted by a tidal wave of voices, no longer silent on the hurt they’ve endured from society’s margins. But like many of these truth-tellers, songwriter, guitarist and singer Sadie Dupuis scales the careful line between what she calls being “outrageous and practical” in order to be heard at all.
“You need to employ a self-preservational sense of humor to speak truth in an increasingly baffling world,” says Dupuis. “I call it a ‘twerp verse’ when a musician guests on a track and says something totally outlandish – like a Lil Wayne verse – but it becomes the most crucial part. This record is our own twerp verse, for those instances when you desperately need to stand up and show your teeth.”
Twerp Verse was tracked in Brooklyn DIY space Silent Barn, mixed by Omaha legend Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley) and mastered by Grammy-nominated engineer Emily Lazar (Sia, Haim, Beck). The record pulls from the most elastic pop moments in Squeeze’s Argybargy and the seesawing synth-rock of Deerhoof and the Rentals. With Dupuis on guitars, vocals, and synths, supporting guitarist Andy Molholt (of psych pop outfit Laser Background) now joins Speedy veterans Darl Ferm on bass and Mike Falcone on drums – and together they accelerate the band’s idiosyncrasy through the wilderness of Dupuis’ heady reflections on sex, lies and audiotape.
Dupuis, who both earned an MFA in poetry and taught at UMass Amherst, propels the band’s brain-teasing melodies with her serpentine wit. Inspired by the cutting observations of Eve Babitz, Aline Crumb’s biting memoirs, and the acute humor of AstroPoet Dorothea Lasky, Dupuis craftily navigates the danger zone that is building intimacy and political allyship in 2018. Now as public pushback against the old guards reaches a fever pitch – in the White House, Hollywood and beyond – the band fires shots in disillusioned Gen Y theme “Lucky 88,” and casts a side-eye towards suitors-turned-monsters in the cold-blooded single “Villain.” Closing track “You Hate The Title” is a slinky traipse through the banality of this current moment in patriarchy – in which survivors are given the mic, but nitpicked over the timbre of their testimonies. “You hate the title, but you’re digging the song,” Dupuis sings wryly, “You like it in theory, but it’s rubbing you wrong.” Tuned smartly to the political opacity of the present, Twerp Verse rings clear as a bell.
Though the deceptively complex pop of Quit The Curse marks the debut of Anna Burch, it’s anything but the green first steps of a fledgling new artist. The Detroit singer/songwriter has been visible for the better part of her years-long career singing in Frontier Ruckus, or more recently co-fronting Failed Flowers, but somewhere a vibrant collection of solo material slowly began taking form.
Growing up in Michigan, her fixation with music transitioned from a childhood of Disney and Carole King sing-alongs to more typically angsty teenage years spent covering Bright Eyes and Fiona Apple at open mic nights. By 18 she was deep into the lifestyle of the touring musician, juggling all the regular trials and changes of young life while on a schedule that would have her gone for months on end.
After a few whirlwind years of this, exhausted and feeling a little lost, she stepped away from music completely to attend grad school in Chicago. This respite lasted until 2014 when she moved to Detroit and found herself starting work in earnest on solo songs she’d been making casual demos of for a year or so. Friends had been encouraging her to dive into solo music, and one particularly enthusiastic friend, Chicago musician Paul Cherry, went so far as to assemble a band around scrappy phone demos to push for a fully realized album.
“Writing songs that I actually liked for the first time gave me a feeling of accomplishment,” Burch said, “Like, I can do this too! But working with other musicians and hearing the songs go from sad singer/songwriter tunes to arranged pop songs gave me this giddy confidence that I’d never felt before.”
The process was drawn out and various drafts and recordings came and went as the months passed. By now Anna was playing low key shows and d.i.y. tours solo and had released some early versions of a few songs on a split with fellow Detroit musician Stef Chura. Even at a slow, meticulous pace, with every step the album took closer to completion, it felt more serious and more real. After a more than a year of piecemeal recording sessions, Anna was introduced to engineer Collin Dupuis (Lana Del Rey, Angel Olsen) who helped push things energetically home, mixing the already bright songs into a state of brilliant clarity.
The nine songs that comprise Quit The Curse come on sugary and upbeat, but their darker lyrical themes and serpentine song structures are tucked neatly into what seem at first just like uncommonly catchy tunes. Burch’s crystal clear vocal harmonies and gracefully crafted songs feel so warm and friendly that it’s easy to miss the lyrics about destructive relationships, daddy issues and substance abuse that cling like spiderwebs to the hooky melodies. The maddeningly absent lover being sung to in “2 Cool 2 Care”, the crowded exhaustion of “With You Every Day” or even the grim, paranoid tale of scoring drugs in “Asking 4 A Friend” sometimes feel overshadowed by the shimmering sonics that envelop them.
“To me this album marks the end of an era of uncertainty. Writing songs about my emotional struggles helped me to work through some negative patterns in my personal life, while giving me the sense of creative agency I’d been searching for.”
Emerging from years spent as a supporting player, Quit The Curse stands as a liberation from feeling like Burch’s own songwriting voice was just out of reach — an opportunity, finally, for the world at large to hear what’s been on her mind for quite a while.
we are a very loud rock band