ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sallie Ford has released the beast, and her music may never be the same.
“You may think of me as just a little girl/but I’m here to prove you wrong,” she belts on “Bad Boys” from her latest album, “Untamed Beast,” released in February. “I can (fornicate)/I can drink/And I don’t care what you think.”
It’s a new sound and a new lyrical direction for Ford, a Portland, Ore., singer and songwriter who fronts the band The Sound Outside. Her 2011 debut, “Dirty Radio,” won her a lot of buzz for its classic rock ‘n’ roll sound (often pegged as rockabilly, much to her irritation), her soulful, bluesy singing (often delivered in an affected, hiccup-y style) and her confessional lyrics (often revealing a vulnerable side, especially concerning matters of the heart).
“I guess you always listen to your old records as a musician and feel embarrassed by them,” Ford said from her home in Portland a few days before hitting the road with Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. “For me, listening to ‘Dirty Radio’ over and over again it was like, ‘Oh, God, what was I thinking?’ I think people naturally change their sound, like their clothes.”
Her singing on “Untamed Beast” is in more of a straightforward rock style, and the band – Jeff Munger on guitar, Tyler Tornfelt on bass and drummer Ford Tennis – turns up the reverb and cranks out the music over a steady beat that showcases superb playing by all, especially Munger, who clearly listened to plenty of Dick Dale records in his formative years.
Her sound is what garnered most of the attention in the early days and landed the band some high-profile gigs, including a well-received one on “Late Night With David Letterman.” But her lyrics showed depth, especially on such songs as “Thirteen Years Old,” “Nightmares,” “Not an Animal” and “Write Me a Letter” (“Just like they took away the Polaroid picture/They’re gonna take away everything that means something/Today I think I saw ten thousand cellphones/But not one decent conversation”).
Romance, of course, is the heart of rock ‘n’ roll, and Ford’s no stranger to it. On “Untamed Beast,” though, even what could be called love songs are tinged with pain and a degree of anger.
Was there a particularly wicked breakup?
“People keep asking me that,” she said, laughing. “Not really. I think the whole ‘angry’ stuff is anytime I’m angry I tend to write a song, and that’s a good way of getting the drive and inspiration to write a song.”
That anger can come even from something as mundane as a lousy job. Ford said that a particularly unpleasant waitressing experience produced not one but two songs, “Cage” from her first album and “Devil” from “Untamed Beast”: “I could tell them to shove it/But the devil don’t have no ears/I wish that they would go to hell/But if you ask me they already are in hell.”
“I’m just trying to make people laugh a little bit, and also get sassy, but in a different way,” she said. “I feel like, yeah, there is always that stuff in rock ‘n’ roll where they’re getting sassy and talking themselves up, giving attitude.”
Ford, who grew up in Asheville, N.C., the daughter of a music-teacher mother and a father (Hobey Ford) who’s a puppeteer, started on violin and classical guitar at about age 11. She says she was never particularly comfortable performing on stage and still struggles with it sometimes, but she’s much happier when her audience is up and dancing.
“My favorite kind of performing situation would be a bar where people can dance if they want to,” she said. “It’s always nice to play a bar when there’s lots of people there too, lots of drinking, and less where people are seated and staring at us like we’re some kind of science experiment.”