Interview: Sallie Ford re-groups

Goodbye, "Sound Outside," hello ladies. The retro-rock wünderkind explains her lineup change.

Singer Sallie Ford has enjoyed rare prominence in the Portland music scene. Swooping in from South Carolina in her early 20’s, she gigged solo for about a year, building a repertoire of original songs. Next she recruited a trap-tight backing combo, The Sound Outside, which buoyed her to a win of Willamette Week’s Best New Band 2010.

From there, she nabbed out-of-town representation (probably key), quit her day job slinging Pho, and walked into an indie rockers’ waking dream. She and the boys shared a bill with “queen of rockabilly” Wanda Jackson at Soul’d Out. They played Sasquatch, Pickathon, and other farther-flung festivals. Made music videos. Toured Europe. Appeared on Letterman, casually complimenting Dave’s glasses.

Wow. A band that’s doing this well can’t afford to break up, right? Well, last month, after four years in the limelight, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside announced that they’d be parting ways. Two yuletide farewell shows at the Doug Fir, and the Sound Outside subsided. Ford will move forward in the coming months with a new all-female lineup: Cristina Cano (keyboard), Amanda Spring (drums), and Anita Lee Elliot (bass/guitar). The quartet will bill as simply “Sallie Ford.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Sallie Ford:

You very recently announced that you were disbanding “the Sound Outside,” but when and why did you guys initially decide to do that?

Well, it wasn’t that I disbanded them, it was a mutual decision. I think we first talked about taking a break last summer when we were in Europe. It had been an exhausting tour, and Jeff [Munger] especially had voiced that he wanted to take time off. Later, when we discussed it again seriously and how long the break would be, no one knew the answer.  I had already begun to search for an all-lady side project, and as time went on, it looked like the Sound Outside would be no more. I started to think more seriously about my all-lady band, and I made sure to find musicians who were willing to tour with me in 2014.

Touring has been hard on me as well, but I’m certain this is what I want to do. I invite the good and the bad. I’ve learned a lot about myself from touring, and I’ve learned a lot of tricks to try to be happier on the road.

The Sound Outside: Ford Tennis, Jeff Munger, and Tyler Tornfelt

The Sound Outside: Ford Tennis, Jeff Munger, and Tyler Tornfelt

Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside seemed, from a booking standpoint, destined for a long career of mainstream festivals, then moving into a blues-rock niche. Do you think the new lineup (all women, simply called “Sallie Ford”) will continue that trajectory, or start it over at the top, or move you into a completely different genre category?

The guys and I never really wanted to stick to doing one genre in the past. Each album—and even each song—had a different sound to it. I think lately we were sort of heading into a surf, garage and ’60’s sound, and you can hear that on our latest release, Summer EP. I want to stick with that sound, but also not be bound by it.

The new Sallie Ford, sans Sound Outside: Cristina Cano (keyboard), Amanda Spring (drums), Sallie Ford (vox/songs), Anita Lee Elliot (bass/guitar)

The new Sallie Ford, sans Sound Outside: Cristina Cano (keyboard), Amanda Spring (drums), Sallie Ford (vox/songs), Anita Lee Elliot (bass/guitar)

How do you anticipate your arrangements will change with the new lineup? Will changing from upright to electric bass impact the “vintage” vibe? And how will changing from lone lady to frontwoman of an all-female band impact the impression you give your audience?

I think inevitably the sound will change with the new players. All of the new band members sing, and have been frontpeople of their own groups. I think people will be excited to see all ladies rocking out on stage. That’s what we plan to do: rock.

How did you meet Anita, Cristina, and Amanda?

I had met Anita a while back through mutual friends and then we played a gig with [one of her previous bands] Blue Giant in New York City.

I had asked around about girl musicians in town, and my friend Mike Midlo (of Pancake Breakfast), suggested Cristina Cano from Albatross, which is the side project of Ryan Sollee from Builders and the Butchers. [Cano, also an actor, costarred and music-directed in Action Adventure Theatre’s “Fall of the Band” and has fronted indie band Siren and the Sea.] Mike had said that Cristina seemed like the kind of gal you could drink whiskey with. He also said she had a killer voice. I looked up her stuff and was sold. I got Cristina’s number and gave her a call.

Another friend suggested Amanda Spring and I had heard of her project, “Point Juncture, WA” . I was very impressed how she could sing and drum at the same time. [Spring is also known for prog-electronica solo project Ioa, and her first musical, Aika & Rose, which will debut at Headwaters Theatre next week].

I arranged our first jam back in October, and I immediately knew it was gonna be awesome.

How do you feel about the broader context of “girl groups,” from Motown to modern? What’s the cliché, and what’s your reality?

I guess the cliché is that girls are there for eye candy, but this last year I’ve been doing my darnedest to be a woman who makes rock music, and music that is in-your-face. I want to continue that, and it’s great to also have females backing me up. It’s a dream I’ve had for a while now, and it feels damn good for it to be a reality now!

Tell me about the two closing shows at Doug Fir, and local fans’ reception to your news.

Some fans didn’t seem to read the whole announcement about how I was going to continue with music, and that was frustrating. I was also sad to part from the guys, but we all knew it was the right decision. The last shows were awesome, and we were so glad to have our Portland fans there.

What will you be recording at Destination Universe, and when will you live-debut your new lineup? What are your next touring plans?

I have been doing a lot of writing, and there is talk of going into the studio. We already played two songs at a Lou Reed cover night at Dante’s, I supposed that was our “debut.” It was great. We’re playing again soon—at Mississippi Studios March 7th for a women’s music night to raise money for the Rock ‘n’ Roll camp for girls! I know we plan on touring this year; it’s just all up in the air right now.

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury
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