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.
Music. Community. Culture.
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.