Interview – Sallie Ford
– by Shawn Conner
“Jealousy is an untamed beast,” Sallie Ford snarls on the opening track of her new album, Untamed Beast.
The follow-up to 2011’s Dirty Radio, Untamed Beast is the third album from Sallie Ford and her band, The Sound Outside: Tyler Tornfelt (upright bass), Ford Tennis (drums), and Jeffrey Munger (lead guitar). Once again, the tough-talking Ford takes the lead on raw-sounding songs with a slightly retro rockabilly feel.
Ford has been building a following in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere, thanks to tours opening for the Avett Brothers and Jack White. Ford had played Vancouver a few times in the past, including a show with Thao and Mirah at the Biltmore Cabaret. With the new album, Ford returns, this time opening for Thao and the Get Down Stay Down at Fortune Sound Club March 6. See them now in a small venue before the blow up Alabama Shakes-style.
We chatted by phone as Sallie was on her way to play Noise Pop in San Francisco. We talked about L.A. punk band X, nudity on album covers, and bands who like to get their johnsons out onstage.
Video – Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, “Party Kids”:
Shawn Conner: What made you pick up and move to Portland in the first place?
Sallie Ford: I just heard about Portland and I wanted to move away from Asheville and possibly find a university to go to. I bought a one-way ticket here and ended up liking it.
I did take some classes at the art schools. I wanted to go to art school for awhile. It was too expensive and I was too insecure about my art to apply for a scholarship.
SC: Did you have intentions of doing music when you moved to Portland?
SF: I grew up doing music as a kid, playing classical violin and guitar, and some singing. I quit when I was 16 because I wanted to do something more rebellious. I was getting into punk music and classical was too tame.
I started doing music again before right before I moved to Portland. When I moved here, I just played some songs for people at parties, just cover songs, and they reacted in a way that I thought “maybe I could do this,” and started writing my own songs.
I did a Cat Power song, a Pixies song, “Where is My MInd”, I really liked doing that. The stuff that I wanted to do was indie-rock with jazz vocals. It didn’t seem like there was anything else.
SC: I read in an interview with you in Teen Vogue that you’ve been getting into X?
SF: Yeah. That one was really cool. I think that they just have a raw sound, a typical punk rock sound. But they also can do something softer. Punk can be so many different things.
I try to always ask people about bands to check out. I’m curious to discover new music. You can uncover one thing and then all of a sudden there’s this group of music you never knew existed. With them, I was recommended the first two records. Under the Big Black Sun is the one I really like a lot. I love that song, “Come Back to Me”.
X, “Come Back to Me”:
SC: Are you a natural performer or did it take a few shows before you started to loosen up?
SF: I think it’s taken a lot more than just a few shows to be where I’m at now. When I first started performing, in front of a lot of people, it was different. I got more used to it. We’d only played a couple of small shows and then we started opening for the The Avett Brothers very soon after, in front of 1,000 people. I had to accept it quickly. I think it was a good experience for me.
SC: Have things been moving too fast?
SF: We still have a lot to grow. Especially in the U.S. and Canada I’d like to do more tours. We’ve only gotten to a few cities. That’s what touring is about, keep going back to the same cities and grow your fans that way. You’re not going to just get over-night success.
SC: Is it just me or have there been a lot of albums with nudity on the covers recently?
SF: I did notice on the cover of the new Unknown Mortal Orchestra there’s a woman wearing a sheer dress.
For me it’s an image of a woman who is comfortable with herself, who’s beautiful and feminine and still has power. She is sexy but the nudity isn’t supposed to be sexual, it’s more of a statement of being comfortable with who you are.
It was actually an idea that came from my friend’s artwork that comes with the album, but the woman is clothed. We all came up with the idea together. We all thought it was bold, and what we wanted to say.
She [the model] is a woman who lives in the midwest. Everyone keeps asking if it’s me. The photographer is Adrienne de Boer. She has a lot of nude photographs she’s already done. It seemed there were a lot of parallels between what she’d done and what our idea was.
SC: What was the craziest thing Deer Tick did when you were touring with them? A friend of mine saw them in Winnipeg and the singer [John McCauley] got his johnson out and played guitar with it.
SF: [laughs] I think he’s got a bit of an obsession with getting his johnson out. I think he did some of that. Oh, man. I can’t remember.
When we met up with him he wasn’t feeling too well the first few days. I think he may have barfed onstage or something like that. [laughs] It’s pretty gross. But they’re talented musicians. I think the music stands for itself, and the records are great. I think they could do without that and still be a great band. I understand performing you feel kind of restless and want to shake people up.
SC: You’ve played Vancouver at least once before, right – with Thao and Mirah?
SF: We played also with Jolie Holland. And we opened for Jack White.
SC: That’s cool! Did he get his johnson out and play guitar?
SF: [laughs] Oh, my.