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Sallie Ford: Exploring how to be alone with ‘Soul Sick,’ life without the Sound Outside



The ‘60s-inspired Portland-based band Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside formed in 2007 and reached prominence in 2011 when they performed on the Late Show with David Letterman. In 2013 the group broke up, but Sallie Ford has not dropped out of the music scene; instead she has sought to develop her own sound with a solo career.

On Feb. 10, Ford released “Soul Sick,” her second album since parting ways with the Sound Outside. This album followed “Slap Back,” her first solo piece with an all-female backing group. “Slap Back” began as a side project where Ford experimented with new writing styles and was intended to have a fun garage-rock feel to it — something very different than her established oldies rock sound.

Slap Back was more a fun project that I just wanted to do,” Ford said. “A lot of those songs were just a different way of writing because I didn’t have a band anymore, and I wrote it all very quickly.”

After its release, Ford felt that “Slap Back” didn’t sound the way she intended it to, and she was disappointed with the public’s response.

“Instead of celebrating it, [people were] bummed out that the Sound Outside wasn’t in the picture anymore,” Ford said. “For me that was pretty hard, to be honest. I needed to find a way to explore how to be alone after being with them for like six years.”

“Soul Sick” is the product of Ford struggling with this breakup and her personal fear of failure as a musician. Inspired in part by Sufjan Steven’s concept albums, Ford wanted to create an album around a theme.

“It was kind of a reaction to my personal issues in general, which of course are going to relate to my band life,” Ford said. “I wanted to do something more deliberate this time, and working with Mike [Coykendall] is what helped me find that vision.” 

Ford had wanted to record an album with Coykendall since moving to Portland in 2006. Coykendall, the producer of “Soul Sick,” plays much of the music on the record and is part of the backing band.

Ford calls “Soul Sick” a confessional album, which is especially apparent on tracks dealing with issues like fear and the eventual acceptance of failure, or how hard life for a middle child can be.

The sound on “Soul Sick” is a bridge between Ford’s work with the Sound Outside and her newly redefined sound from “Slap Back.” The retro feel from her past music is present through the entire album, which does a nice job tying the piece together; but listeners also experience a more genuine and raw Ford than ever before.

“I’ve always liked retro music,” Ford said. “A lot of my childhood I listened to oldies music, and I wanted this album to sound kind of nostalgic that way.”

Nostalgia plays a big role in this album, and several songs tap into Ford’s childhood angst. The resulting product is a refectory piece on personal growth. Not only is “Soul Sick” a relatable album that can remind listeners of their own childhood and personal struggles, but it seems like a positive turning point in Ford’s career. She is able to explore new sounds while simultaneously holding on to her roots and integrity and comes off sounding more mature than ever before.

Ford compares bands to relationships, and in that way, “Soul Sick” is very much an album about a breakup, but also the celebration of a new beginning. As Ford sets out on her North American and European tour, she looks forward to playing shows with her new companions.

“Going out and playing music every night, there is something special about that, and I really love, love, love the people I’m playing with right now,” Ford said.

Before she leaves for Europe, Ford will perform at Mississippi Studios in Portland on Feb. 18. Tickets are $14 in advance and $16 at the door. The show is 21 and over.

Watch Sallie Ford perform “Failure” below:

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Patience Greene

Patience Greene