Singer Sallie Ford tries to melt away genres
New York • A confused French journalist gave Sallie Ford a chance to get something off her chest.
The reporter asked Ford and her band, the Sound Outside, about being "rockability" artists, not realizing that adding a 't' to rockabilly created a brand new musical style. They borrowed the word as the title of a song on their new album that complains about pigeonholing musicians.
"We thought it was a fun way to look at the silly use of words," said Jeffrey Munger, the band's guitar player.
In "Rockability," Ford sings, "I'm not a part of any scene. I can't wait to see the day when all the genres melt away."
The tag probably stems from the tone in Munger's Teisco guitar, which has a surfer twang to it. Ford's swagger fits well, too. Despite the song's lyrics, Ford said the label doesn't really bother her, so long as people realize her influences aren't that limited. She likes contemporaries like Regina Spektor and Cat Power, along with blues and jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington.
"To me, a feminine voice from the past had this mystique to them that not a lot of people are doing," Ford said. "All these jazz singers, I like the tone of their voice where it's feminine but still powerful."
Ford, 25, grew up in Asheville, N.C., playing classical violin and piano with a supportive family (her dad is a puppet artist). She got an electric guitar for her 16th birthday and turned to rock 'n' roll from classical because she wanted to express herself in her own songs instead of performing material written by others.
After dropping out of college in 2006, she moved to Portland, Ore., where she met her rhythm section of bass player Tyler Tornfelt and drummer Ford Tennis. Munger completed the Sound Outside. This year's album, "Untamed Beast," is their second and an attempt to make more aggressive rock tunes that people can dance to.
Distinctive in her cat-eye glasses, Ford is quiet and sweetly shy offstage. She's a tough broad onstage, her guttural vocals reminiscent of a young Chrissie Hynde in the Pretenders.
She's not big on ethereal lyrics, either: you know what she wants. "Do Me Right" is an order, not a suggestion. On "Bad Boys," she makes it clear she can play on their turf. "You may think of me as just a little girl," she sings. "But I am here to prove you wrong."
"I found out another word for innuendo was hokum," she said over a beer, a few hours before playing in a Brooklyn nightclub. "I have tried to do songs with more innuendo, but maybe I wasn't that good at it. I just thought maybe I'd be blunt. It's a good way to get people to listen and I thought it would be a fun way to write."
As much as the music demands attention, so does the album cover, which shows a naked woman sitting cross-legged in a chair, with one hand holding an ice cream cone and the other the horn of an animal skull that conceals her face. Ford's idea in commissioning the work was to convey feminine power with nudity but not in a sexual sense.
She feels a certain obligation to advance the cause of women in rock 'n' roll.
"There are not many girls who do rock 'n' roll music," she said. "There are, but not that many. I'd like to make that point, that girls can rock out, too."