Much has changed since we last caught up with Portland darling Sallie Ford a year ago. Most notably, she’s no longer with The Sound Outside, her all-dude backing band (they broke up amicably). Ford simplified her band moniker to just Sallie Ford and pulled in a team of PNW musicians — Cristina Cano on drums, Anita Lee Elliott on bass and Amanda Spring on drums.
“There’s so many musicians in Portland that limiting my options to just girls made it easier,” Ford tells EW over the phone from the road. “I thought I could just learn a lot from them. Also, I wanted girl vocals.”
The rock quartet released its first album, Slap Back, in October; Ford has described the album as an “ode to all the babe rockers,” like PJ Harvey, Exene Cervenka and Heart. “All those women also changed the way I’m able to play music,” she says. “I really look up to the type of writing they did.”
Slap Back, produced by Chris Funk (of The Decemberists), is also a departure from Ford’s last album, Untamed Beast. All traces of rockabilly are gone (OK, perhaps there’s a whisper on track “Dive In”), replaced with a moving target of punk, garage, surfer and psychedelic rock covered in a layer of fuzz.
“I just kind of started to resent that title,” Ford says of being put in the rockabilly genre. “It made me feel like I was just doing something retro — just putting on vintage dresses. I just felt like people were judging my music by my looks, that style.” She adds, “I never really wanted my music to be rockabilly necessarily. I just think that’s so specific. My music is much broader.”
Ford says Funk pushed the band to use synths on Slap Back, while she initially wanted classic ’60s organs and rock-‘n’-roll Wurlitzer piano. “I didn’t understand that synthesizers could be a psychedelic soundscape. It was a little shocking.”
In the end, these were all smart choices. Ford has grown into a grittier sound that suits her, while maintaining that lyrical punch with a wink her fans love; on the album intro, the band yells in scratchy harmony, “I’m happy. I’m spoiled. I’m fine.”
Portland band Old Light joins Sallie Ford 8 pm Tuesday, Dec. 9, at Cozmic; $10 adv., $12 door. All ages.