There are artists who can command attention. They lean into their songs with an irresistible edge and total emotional connection and stay there. Sallie Ford is one of those artists. On her fourth album, Soul Sick, Ford gathered her strengths, took them into Portland’s Type Foundry studio along with producer Mike Coykendall (M Ward, She & Him) at the helm and created music that draws on all of her influences but still comes out her own. Looking at her life, there isn’t much way it could have come out differently. And this is the album which proves it.
Sallie Ford grew up in Asheville, North Carolina in a musical family. At nineteen she moved to Portland, OR to explore her creative side which led to her career in music. Like all aspiring artists, there were enough twists and turns along with several serious dead ends, but Sallie persevered by creating songs that took those life challenges and turned them upside down into inspired music. Much of it is inspired by ‘60s music, whether it’s the music of the British Invasion like the Kinks and the Troggs, or American groups Canned Heat and ? & the Mysterians. Add on other influences like girl groups the Shirelles, the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes, and the sound of Soul Sick comes into focus.
As Sallie describes, "This is a ‘confessional’ album. It’s about struggling with my issues – some that I’ve overcome and some that I still carry around.” The album opens with the line, "Woke up feeling sour on the sweetest summer day,” which just about sums up Sallie Ford’s state of mind a few years ago. A band breakup with the Sound Outside in 2013 led to new realizations about the things in her life that needed to change. As she jumped headfirst into those efforts, she signed with Vanguard Records, handpicked a new all-female backing band and released the debut album under her own name, 2014’s Slap Back. It marked a big transition in Ford’s sound, allowing her voice to take center stage amid a band sound of chugging distorted grit. It also gave her a new chance to take a stronger grip on her career and her personal life. With those deep shifts gave new questions, though, ones that weren’t always easy to answer. "I felt confused, down about life and unsure of myself,” explains Ford.
In search of definitive answers, Sallie Ford began therapy, "This is an album about insecurity, anxiety and depression, especially after the Sound Outside and I split up and had my first summer in four years where I wasn’t touring.” Ford says. "I was a middle child and a homeschooler, so I’ve always felt like an outsider. I explored what my music means to me, and how I’ve always struggled with feeling the pressure of not being good enough and wanting to quit. On these new songs, it felt good to write on one theme and from one place. All in all, Soul Sick has taught me a lot about myself and helped me to heal.”
A lot of that healing is captured in the actual music played on the album. It is laced with a lot of nostalgic feeling, and produced to enhance that essence. "I asked Mike Coykendall (M. Ward and She & Him) to produce, Ford says. "He loves old rock & roll and always records on tape, but he’s also an experimenter, exploring new things with his music. He’s the most honest and genuine musician I’ve met. This album is as much his creation as mine. It was spontaneous in a lot of ways, but also the best-crafted thing I’ve ever done.”
One listen to Soul Sick attests to all those thoughts. Ford’s vocals continue to mature, with less nuanced delivery and more belting clarity. Her vulnerability and ‘60s fusion have evolved her sound into new territory, but also provide a bridge for new and previous listeners. "I think my biggest goal with this new album is to be relatable to what I originally started out as, as well as what I’ve become,” Ford says.
No matter how you approach Soul Sick, the only prognosis is: mission accomplished. With a new studio band including Garth Klippert (Old Light) and Kris Doty (Modern Kin) on board, the fire is there. Add on guest musicians Ben Nugent (Dolorean), Ralph Carney (Tom Waits, the B-52s), John Coykendall and Kirk Hamilton, and these 11 new songs stand as Sallie Ford’s step into a new world. "It wasn’t even my goal at first to write these songs, it was more like ‘I want to write about struggling with my demons.’ But it became something more. I felt like some of that negativity I was able to write about with a positive light after the fact.”