Vintage sheen: Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside

Group blends eras and genres into a danceable whole

Ford and her band
Photo by Liz Devine

Sallie Ford says that growing up, she was more comfortable singing in groups than by herself. (Her sister, after all, was the one with the performance flair.) Ford was never one for the spotlight, she says.

You’d just never guess that, listening to her music.

Ford’s voice is the opposite of camera-shy. On the contrary, her powerful pipes arrive on your ears like a bucket of ice water. Her belting, aggressive punk-meets-rockabilly voice demands attention and forms the centerpiece of her band, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, whose era- and genre-blending sound comes together on Untamed Beast, the band’s recently released second album.

Given the spate of tough-gal lyrics on her album (“I could take all that money / I don’t want no dirty money,” “I like bad boys, but I’m like a bad boy too,” “Hey there boy, don’t you give me lip, boy”), Ford (at least in interviews) speaks surprisingly softly about her music, preferring to let her work carry a big stick. She can tend to mumble at the end of sentences, and when asked if she had to overcome stage fright to be the leader of her band, she quickly starts humbly praising the showmanship of the rest of the band, and later remarks she sometimes feels she’s not all that good at guitar, despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s quite a contrast from the heavy-fisted aggression of her first two albums (the lyrics to “I Swear,” which the band performed on Letterman in 2011, include choice lines such as “When I turn on the radio / It all sounds the same / What have these people done to music?”).

Untamed Beast hearkens back to a couple decades’ worth of country and blues, and it carries a decidedly vintage tone. But above all, it has a restless rock pulse throughout. Just don’t call it Americana, at least not to Ford’s face. She’s not a fan of genre labels.

“I like to challenge people to talk about music in more descriptive ways that don’t say things like folk, or Americana, or any of those branches of music genres,” Ford says.

She laughs.

“You know, no band likes to be called Americana,” she says, then pauses. “Well, I doubt it. Maybe some of them do. But you know — roots-rock, or rockabilly. They’re all just so bad. They don’t mean anything!” So how does she describe her band to strangers?

“Well, we say rock ’n’ roll,” she says. “I don’t know why I’m OK with that one and not other ones. But maybe because it isn’t really specific?”

Born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina, Ford experimented with various artistic mediums before settling as a musician. Before she moved to Portland, Ore., in 2006, she had never before played in a band. She fell in with a group of transplanted Alaskans and became friends with drummer Ford Tennis, who was playing in a band with bassist Tyler Tornfelt. Ford found her guitarist when she kept running into Jeffrey Munger busking around Portland. The three members are the only band she’s ever really played with, Ford says.

When she first started playing music, she wanted to create an indie-sounding band with jazzy vocals on top. But she found that to be a little too restrictive, and she wanted to play music with more of an edge.

“I was listening to a lot of Saddle Creek and Sub Pop stuff in high school. I thought it’d be cool to do a band like that but with jazz vocals, like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald,” Ford says. “That was cool, but I think for me it was too proper. So just over time I think I found the roughness in that, or the more rockin’ sound in that. Also, performing it’s just better for me and more interesting to have music that has energy and that makes people want to dance.”

And dance they will. Ford’s music is infectious and addictive, so it’s not hard to imagine the band playing a room packed with gyrating bodies. As for the possibility that Ford might continue to dial up the rock in the band’s sound? That might be the most exciting possibility of all.

Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside open for Thao & The Get Down Stay Down at the Larimer Lounge Monday, March 11. Doors at 8 p.m. 18 and over. Tickets are $15.75. Call 303-291-1007.