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Sallie Ford Lets Out Her ‘Untamed Beast’

The Portland-based quartet Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside hit the Casbah

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Portland-based quartet Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside hit the Casbah on Sunday.

    Bespectacled crooner Sallie Ford grew up in Asheville, N.C, but she ended up in Portland, Ore. Surprisingly enough, the young bandleader didn’t move across the country to play music -- a perfect explanation for bypassing musical cities like Nashville and New York for the Pacific Northwest. 

    The daughter of a puppeteer and a teacher, Ford was actually looking to attend art school before she hooked up with the members of her band, the Sound Outside. And while the quartet’s rock & roll is infused with nods to styles past, it centers on the undeniable charisma and vocal prowess of Ford. Her voice is big and her lyrics are sharp-witted and heady.
    The band’s latest record, Untamed Beast, is out now, and they’ll be playing plenty of it when they open for Thao & the Get Down Stay Down at the Casbah on Sunday night.
    Ford was gracious enough to speak with SoundDiego recently as she traveled toward the Canadian Border for a show in Toronto.
    Scott McDonald: Hi! How are you?
    Sallie Ford: I’m good, thanks. Is it a nice day there? 
    SM: It is.
    SF: You’re lucky. It’s pretty cold and gloomy where we are. But it is nice to have a day off.
    SM: Why Portland?
    SF: I wasn’t involved in music when I moved to Portland. I had played some music as a kid -- a little singing and a little guitar -- but the move was about discovery. I wanted to find out what I wanted to do. And it didn’t take very long. Plus, it has a pretty good reputation. They also have two art schools that I was thinking about going to, and it’s fairly inexpensive. You don’t need to own a car. I always envisioned myself moving somewhere where I didn’t need a car, so I could just take the bus around and get involved in art.
    SM: So music wasn’t even on the radar at the beginning?
    SF: I really wanted to go to art school. But every one that I visited was so expensive. I didn’t want to be paying off student loans 10 years later, but I was very interested in the student life.
    SM: Ironic that music was basically a whim.
    SF: I think there were things in my life that planted the seed to make it happen. And it was a whim, but it was a lucky whim. I’m glad I did it because I don’t believe any other art form could be quite this fulfilling for me.
    SM: Were you busking?
    SF: I did some busking, but [guitarist] Jeff [Munger] was the one I met when he was really doing some busking. He’d play a little four-string guitar, and I saw him one night doing a Johnny Cash song. We talked and then we kept running into each other. And that’s another thing about Portland: You meet someone once and you tend to run into them all the time. I met [drummer] Ford [Tennis] when I was playing a little show at a pizza place, and he asked me if I wanted to work with him. He was already in a band with [bassist] Tyler [Tornfelt], so I went over to their place and we played.
    SM: Pretty humble beginnings. Do you guys ever look at each other onstage in places like Europe and think, "Damn, we’re really doing this?"
    SF: [Laughs] I don’t know. But I think we should do that more often.
    SM: What do you say to people who tag the music as a "throwback"?
    SF: I draw inspiration from music that I love. And from the beginning, the plan was always to find a voice that was inspired by the past but still compliant to a modern sound. All music is throwback, because it’s all been done before. And I think that every time period in American music has something worthwhile. But as I continue to play, it’s become more about not being rooted in any one particular sound.
    SM: The new album Untamed Beast is out. But you’ve been playing those songs for a while, right?
    SF: Yes. I’ve always found that playing new material at shows is a good way to figure out if you want to record something.
    SM: Why do you think so much is made of your language and lyrics?
    SF: I think that comes along those lines of infusing this music with a modern approach. The music that people are comparing it to never had that. And people always say that it’s something that might hold me back from becoming a "mainstream" artist. But I do speak like that to my peers and in everyday life, so that’s what comes out in the lyrics. And I’ll always continue to speak my mind and use whatever words I need to get the message across.
    SM: What has been the biggest change for you between the first record and Untamed Beast?
    SF: I think that would be a conscious effort to really rock harder with my music. I want to bring an energy that’s intense and concentrated. And that’s a bit uncommon for women in music. I want to play so it has that energy -- where people dance and can’t really talk over it. I want people to be overwhelmed by it. That’s the ultimate goal. But I also think I have more growing to do as a performer. And that’s a good thing. An artist needs room to grow. That just means they’ll be doing it for a while. I certainly haven’t achieved all that I can achieve.  
    SM: Working on anything new?
    SF: It’s been a struggle for me. I want to be someone who always has creativity in my life, and yet it’s been over a year since we recorded Untamed Beast. But I also want my new album to be the thing that I’m thinking about when I’m performing for people and not something new [laughs]. But that’s just the way music and the music business is. I’m working on having that turnaround a bit faster and still feel fresh about the music. I also think it’s important to have creative outlets other than music.
    SM: Still enjoying it?
    SF: The success has come pretty slowly. But on the same hand, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of things that I never thought would happen. And I feel pretty lucky about that.
    Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com