ABOVE: SALLIE FORD AND THE SOUND OUTSIDE
When it comes to the perfect live show, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside bank on brutal honesty, rambunctious noise, and keeping the crowd on their tapping toes—and Ford will be the first person to tell you that.
"The whole goal of playing music is to have people listen to you," says Ford over coffee in Chelsea, the day before her show downtown at the Rockwood Music Hall. "It may as well be loud and full of honesty and opinion. I'm not really the kind of person that's trying to make a huge point, but at the same time, I'm there singing a song, so I may as well. I don't really see the point of music besides that. Anybody who doesn't write a song with that in mind, I don't think they're doing their job right. Just being blunt about things lyrically—that makes the most sense to me."
Untamed Beast, her forthcoming album on Partisan and the follow-up to 2011's Dirty Radio, offers the kind of frankness the title suggests. The enthusiasm and Ford's ability to marry drastically different genres and time periods in American music shined on her label debut, but Untamed Beast takes Ford and company into darker, grittier territory with a surge of unflinching independence that's both inspiring and approachable. She may cuss and holler in between her beautifully belted stanzas, but that's exactly how Ford—and her exponentially growing fan base—likes it.
HILARY HUGHES: Welcome back to New York! You guys have been all over the place lately, touring Europe in the summer and fall, and playing a handful of festivals in between. Did the record come about while touring, or did you write Untamed Beast while at home in Portland?
SALLIE FORD: I have written on the road, but I don't usually. It's fun to jam on the road, as much as I can. I'll just come up with ideas a little bit here and there, and it's fun to just have the guys play along with me. Most of [Untamed Beast] was written when I was at home. It's hard for me to write lyrics on the road. Touring is pretty busy—it's like, you don't have much time to think about anything but sleeping, eating, drinking, and beer. [laughs]
HUGHES: Sounds like a basic, vital routine! Now, the name of the record in particular is a pretty bold statement. Is this an autobiographical title for you? How did you arrive at Untamed Beast?
FORD: I guess it's kind of about the energy of the record. It's unhinged. It's wild. All of the songs are autobiographical, but I also just want people to relate with songs, to make stories that would be personal to them as well. I kind of approach the personal songs with humor, if that makes any sense, just throwing in a lot of normal language. And cuss words.
HUGHES: I feel like people cheer every time they hear you drop a "fuck" in a line.
FORD: [laughs] Yeah!
HUGHES: What was it that set you off throughout the creative process behind Untamed Beast? Are there any stylistic changes that came about that surprised you?
FORD: After playing music for so long, I've been discovering that I just like music that has a higher energy and more of a punk-rock kind of feel to it. So I thought I'd try it. I think the music was headed in that direction. For a live show, that energy keeps my attention. When you go see live music and you want to dance, that's a good live show, for me, that's what I wanted to do. In Portland, there's a lot of slower music where people have to be really serious and sit there, and they talk during the set, and it's just so boring. Maybe that had an effect on [Untamed Beast], just avoiding that.
HUGHES: Is there a song that represents this development?
FORD: There are a few, but I guess that "Bad Boys" lyrically has some of that humor that I was talking about, where I was writing from a joking place, in a way. Stylistically, I think that song is in that same vein—it's what I've been into recently, a '60s feel that's also punk-rock in a way. Another song I'm really proud of is "They Told Me," 'cause I think it doesn't have a specific style to it.
HUGHES: Was leading off the record with "They Told Me" a deliberate choice? It feels like a mantra for Untamed Beast on the whole.
FORD: With "They Told Me," it just seemed like a good start to the record. I guess now that I think about it it's the most mantra-like on the record. Maybe subconsciously I'm trying to make a big statement! I think growing a tough skin, that's the mantra of "They Told Me"—sticking to my guns.
HUGHES: I'm sure there's a lot of pressure involved in keeping that energy up. How do you feel about that?
FORD: With the way I sing, I realized what I wanted to do differently than the last record, which is to figure out how to use my voice in a more aggressive way, and in a way that I think is closer to who I am. It's almost like therapy, letting out aggression and just screaming sometimes. I think that performing that way is really powerful, too, because then I think I can really get in the zone. In general, it's easy to be angry and have energy like that, for me. But maybe I'm just an intense person. It's been a long time since I wrote the record and we've spent time experimenting with these songs before it comes out, and I have had a lot of opportunity to dance and really shape what the performance behind the record is.
SALLIE FORD AND THE SOUND OUTSIDE WILL PLAY ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL TOMORROW, JANUARY 11. UNTAMED BEAST IS OUT FEBRUARY 19. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.