Singing powerfully amidst reverb-soaked guitar and primal drums, Sallie Ford comes on strong in the second album from the Portland, Ore.-based Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside. The record earns its Untamed Beast title.
Ford and the Sound Outside’s 2011 album, Dirty Radio, plus a Late Show with David Letterman appearance, co-bills with the Avett Brothers and Jack White and performances at Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival and the South By Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin put the band in the national spotlight.
With a new album to promote, the band returned to SXSW again this week. Making multiple appearances, including one at one of Austin’s best-known venues, Antone’s, this latest visit to Texas’ capital city will be another hectic SXSW experience for the group.
“We get in this evening around 11,” the traveling Ford said Tuesday afternoon, 370 miles from Austin. “Then we have to wake up at 6 a.m. and drive another hour and be at a radio station at 8 a.m. It’ll be crazy.”
The band’s SXSW craziness in 2011 included having to hand-carry its gear to a gig on Austin’s closed-to-vehicular-traffic Sixth Street.
“But we had a skateboard, so we put some amps on there,” Ford said.
As self-effacing as she is talented, North Carolina native Ford doesn’t inflate her band’s accomplishments. The group’s Bonnaroo show, for instance, was kind of a bust, even a bit cringe-inducing.
“Not many people came to see us,” she said. “I think a couple of kids from my high school were there. I looked out into the audience and was like, ‘Oh, no!’ ”
The band’s CD signing at Bonnaroo didn’t go well either.
“I got to ride in the golf cart to the CD signing,” she said. “But there was nobody there! So we just left.”
The combination of not being able to sleep in a hot tent and being awoken by the sounds of the Grateful Dead at 7 a.m. inspired Ford and her bandmates to make an early exit from Bonnaroo.
“We were gonna stay the whole weekend and watch the music but I was like, ‘We gotta get out of here and take a shower.’ ”
Ford grew up in Asheville, N.C., with artistic parents and sisters. Her father is a musician and nationally known puppet artist. Her mother is a musician and music teacher.
Ford played violin and guitar as a child. She dabbled with many career possibilities and didn’t get serious about music until her post-high school move to Portland in 2006.
“It didn’t take long after I moved to Portland to get into music,” she said. “I met some kids who were playing music and I thought maybe I’d give it a try.”
Ford’s talent bloomed in Portland. Encouraging performances at open mics and meeting a musician from Alaska who, in turn, knew Ford’s future bandmates from Alaska, bassist Tyler Tornfelt and drummer Ford Tennis, led to the formation of Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside.
Singing became more important than playing the instruments she’d grown up playing.
“Yeah, that’s what drew me back into music. Experimenting with my voice is a lot of fun. It can be an instrument, too. For a while that was more important than guitar, but I’ve been getting back into that as well.”
Sallie Ford and the band also have some rare bragging rights. They have a genuine Portland native in their Portland band.
“Which makes us legit,” she said. “Because most people in Portland bands are from somewhere else.”