Official video for "Get Out," off of Sallie Ford's "Soul Sick."

A Real Self-Made Lady: Talking With Sallie Ford

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Several years ago, Portland-based musician Sallie Ford found herself in the midst of a superbly draining European tour with her former band, The Sound Outside. After a few conversations, it became clear that members of the group were looking for a new direction — and for Ford, that meant departing from the outfit for a solo career. 

Fast forward in time, and Ford is fresh off the release of Soul Sick, her second post-The Sound Outside effort, released in February on Vanguard Records. The album seethes genuine introspection (and, occasionally, self-loathing,) accompanied by a sturdy chorus of raucous, treble-heavy guitars. 

WOUB’s Emily Votaw spoke with Ford about her journey as a self-made lady, looking inward to create art outward, and the moody shore of Oregon. Ford will perform at the Nelsonville Music Festival on Friday, June 2 at 4 p.m. on the boxcar stage and again on Saturday, June 3 as a part of a Gladden House Session.  


WOUB: Where are you today?

Sallie Ford: I’m in Portland still I fly to Columbus in a couple days

WOUB: Well, I’m calling in particular about the Nelsonville Music Festival. I believe you played it before a few years ago?

SF: Yeah, I played there many years ago with my band The Sound Outside. Six years ago, maybe longer. I really enjoyed it – I remember it was the year that Jessica Lea Mayfield played, and I got to meet her, which was very cool. I’m very excited about the line-up this year.

WOUB: Me too! Well, I wanted to start at the beginning. What are your earliest musical memories?

SF: My parents were both musicians, so we grew up singing kids songs and they played a lot of music around the house — oldies especially were my favorites, The Beatles, Aretha Franklin. We took a lot of family road trips and we would sing these rounds of “Row, Row Your Boat,” and my parents knew all these crazy versions of it. I got pretty comfortable singing harmonies in a group at a very young age. It took a little longer to get comfortable singing by myself, but I could sing in a group setting from an early age.

WOUB: When did it become clear to you that you needed to pursue music professionally?

SF: I guess it was before I moved to Portland. I had done some classical music for a long time as a kid and a teenager, and I quit because I had wanted to do something more creative, making my own visual art. But it wasn’t the same – it’s not the same to approach an art that you are unfamiliar with versus one that you have been doing for years and years. So decided to do music in an entirely new way, in a way that I had never tried before – in a way not associated with classical music at all. Right before I moved to Portland I started writing my own songs and singing and developing a concept for my music, as a way to celebrate my femininity – I feel like singing is the way I discovered that.

WOUB: Why did you decide to move to Portland in the first place?

SF: At the time I was just daydreaming about getting out of my hometown. When I was still thinking about pursuing visual art, I had researched all these good art schools all over the country, and I had found a few in Portland. But then I started thinking that maybe I could just move there without going to an expensive art school that was probably just going to put me into debt. I had just done some trvelign before that, backpacking by myself in Europe, so I kind of felt like I could do anything. So I bought a one way ticket to Portland, stayed at a hostel and then moved in with some people I found on Craigslist.

WOUB: I’m jumping around a little, but I wanted to ask you about Soul Sick. Could you tell me a little about the writing and recording process of it

SF: That album is super special to me. I did all the writing of the songs, and in doing that processed a lot of feelings, and it was all about the experience of learning about myself. In the studio, I worked with my good friend Mike Coykendall, and I feel like we worked very well together, I think we made a really cool album come together.

WOUB: What about the cover art? It looks like you’re on the Oregon coast.

SF: I had asked one of my friends, who is a photographer, to take some photos for my album, and he said that he knew the Oregon coast really well, that he could show me all these secret spots that he knew about. I have a love hate relationship with the Oregon coast because I’m originally from the east coast, and I love the beach – where it’s sandy and the water is warm. The Oregon coast is not like that at all – it’s moody and rocky and rainy. The photo itself just came together, it was kind of magical.

WOUB: You’re playing the boxcar stage and as a part of a Gladden House recording session at this year’s Nelsonville Music Festival. Could you tell me a little about playing in such intimate settings?

SF: Oh yeah, it’s out of my comfort zone, but it’s also how I got started. Usually it’s just too complicated to play with a full band in some settings, so I’ve learned to play solo in a way that I’m comfortable with. I always bring my electric guitar – I kind of refuse to play acoustic.