Interview: Sallie Ford

Sallie Ford talks about writing, singing, and the hometown she gradually grew to love.

By Anne Adams June 1, 2011

Sallie Ford with bandmates Jeffrey Munger, Tyler Tornfelt, and Ford Tennis.

Last Tuesday Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside welcomed a respectable crowd to east-side record hub Music Millenium, playing a short set and signing copies of their debut full-length release, Dirty Radio. Despite their undeniably tight playing, the juke-rock revivalists kept a casual vibe. “I’m the boss!” Sallie blurted as the group debated song selection. Guitarist Jeff Munger snatched off his trucker cap and playfully swatted her.

But she has a point: Rising quickly from South Carolinian obscurity to Portland name-recognition, and now taking flight for international fame, Sallie Ford has become the master of her domain. Culturephile checks in with her on the cusp of a two-night stint at Doug Fir that will kick off her North American tour.

Three years ago, you were working as a server at a Thai restaurant on Hawthorne and having a hard time getting local bands to return your emails. Since then, you’ve acquired a tight band (The Sound Outside), a great label (Partisan), and the chance to tour the world. How does that feel? It was a Vietnamese restaurant, and I’m very glad I’m not working there anymore! It’s great that music is my job now, but that also means it can be a lot of work. Any unexpected challenges? Some unexpected challenges have been learning about the business side of things and learning to be patient and make good choices.

Your music has been described a few different ways. I’m inclined to call it “Rockabilly,” because that’s a classic form and a fun word—but what do you call it? My easy answer about how to describe my music is: “Rock n Roll.”

Fair enough. Tell us about your songwriting process. Lately, I usually will come up with a melody, and then lyrics, and then I add guitar chords. But I’ve also written guitar chords, then a melody, then lyrics. And occasionally I’ve written lyrics, then fit them to music. I mostly like to just see what comes out, and I never overthink things….I hope that makes sense.

You were already singing in South Carolina before you moved here. How did Portland influence your musicianship (or did it?) I had done some singing in North Carolina before I moved to Portland, but I didn’t start writing my own music ’til i moved to portland. I think it was nice to have a fresh start and not know anyone in Portland.

When you sing, “You may think I’m a clown/ Who gives a sh- t about this town,” which town are you singing about? “Who gives a sh-t about this town” was somewhat about how frustrated I was initially with the music scene in Portland, but I wrote that song because I dreamt about it. I woke up with the melody and words still in my head. Looking back, maybe it was a prayer to find my own “scene.”
Now that I have met more people in the music scene here (and there are many many bands as you know) I have a totally different view on that. I think people are very supportive here and it feels like a great scene to be in. So, which town were you thinking of when you wrote, “I kinda like it here?” The “I like it here” song is called “This Crew,” and it’s the counterpart to “This Town.” It’s about my love of Portland, and of course no city is perfect. That song is mostly about the things I’ve seen and people I’ve met on Hawthorne Boulevard, which has been my “hood” for a while now.

What do you think is most unique/essential to your act: your voice, your songs, or your instrumentation?
I guess my voice is the most important. I love singing more than writing or playing music.

Tell us about your semi-famous freelance puppeteer dad. What great inside tips has he given you about how to manage a creative project?
Puppeteer Hobey Ford is my dad. He definitely has been my hero and role model. He has done a lot of touring with his puppet shows and gives great advice for performers on the road. He never finished college and has always been supportive and inspired me to be self-employed.

You’re (22? 23?) and, obviously, a woman. Do people ever tell you you’re "great for a girl,” or better than they thought you’d be? Do you think the pop music climate, and the touring circuit, are getting more female-friendly? I’m 23. I haven’t heard that before, but I guess maybe I have heard people be surprised that my music is more rockin’ then they expected. I think people are very supportive to touring women musicians, but I don’t have much to compare that to.

Where are you most excited to travel and why?
I’m excited to go to Charleston, SC because we’re gonna go to the beach while we’re there. I grew up going to Folly Beach, and it’s nice to have a paid vacation there! I’m also excited to go to New Orleans and Montreal. I’ve wanted to go to both those places for a while.

Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside will be at the Doug Fir Lounge June 3 and 4, promoting new album Dirty Radio. Sneak a listen here:

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