Softness Is Power on Sasami Ashworth's Debut Album 'Sasami'

Ashworth talks honesty, lyrics and touring in her first Exclaim! interview
Softness Is Power on Sasami Ashworth's Debut Album 'Sasami'
"I wasn't ever really intending on making an album or doing my own thing," admits Sasami Ashworth, better known mononymously, in a phone interview from Southern California ahead of the release of her debut record, SASAMI. "It was just kind of a project that I was working on. It just all came at a really natural time."
 
The "Not the Time" singer's first record is searingly honest and powerfully resonant, propelled by stream-of-consciousness lyrics and softly detailed arrangements whose power builds throughout the album. Ashworth stresses the importance of honesty in her writing style.
 
"In some ways, I was never thinking about lyrics that were poetic, but lyrics that more accurately described how I felt. I was kind of just having faith that people have had a relatable experience, you know? The lyric writing process for me is super therapeutic, in the same way that reading a self-help book is."
 
That said, Ashworth says she feels "more connected to the music than the lyrics in a lot of ways," perhaps a result of her background; the Los Angeles based multi-instrumentalist has collaborated with a variety of artists, including Hand Habits' Meg Duffy and Clementine Creevy's Cherry Glazerr, for the better part of a decade. Growing up, she received classical training, studying piano and later French horn before working as an elementary school music teacher and teaching music theory at summer camps.
 
Ashworth wrote and recorded SASAMI over the course of a year, honing her own sound and writing style, then recorded it with her brother, JooJoo Ashworth, and Thomas Dolas, who mixed and engineered the album. Ashworth sought to transform demos recorded on her iPad and lyrics written while on tour with Cherry Glazerr into polished songs.
 
"When I start thinking about crafting the arrangement, and harmonies and stuff like that, I feel like I'm definitely trying to expand sonically and not keep it too intimate," she explains. "I mean, there are definitely places where I keep it sparse, but that's probably more for like, musical contrasts than palpable intimacy."
 
Recognizing the style of songwriting she had developed was part of the album's creation, as Ashworth can be harsh when judging her own writing.
 
"When I was putting the album together, I was like, 'Damn, so many of these songs feel the same to me, in terms of like, they start with something that is kind of just guitar and vocals, and then drums come in later, and stuff like that.' But the more I listen to other music, I think that is pretty normal, because when you're trying to tell a story, you don't rev right into the most epic part — you have to like, build into it."
 
SASAMI is a gradually paced document of Ashworth's experiences in a variety of different relationships, including the difficult friendship that inspired "Callous," a song that she says is often mistaken to be about a lover. "You can be painfully, brutally honest and no one will ever really know whether it's about them or not," she laughs.
 
But it's that ability to make her feelings both specific and universal concurrently that draws fans in and makes her songwriting so compelling. The stripped-back instrumentation of single "Free," which is punctuated by distorted guitars for a moment before the song's steady shaker backing returns, is an example: "You've got a good thing back at home / And so it changes as you've grown / You've got a lovely thing at home / So I confuse when you might lose it all," she sings, evoking the dissolution of something good and liberation from something destructive at the same time.
 
Having already spent a considerable amount of time on tour — including much of 2018 debuting SASAMI's songs solo on guitar while opening for a plethora of artists including King Tuff, Mitski and Snail Mail — Ashworth will soon embark on a headlining tour, where she'll present her album with a three-piece band: "I think that if you think of the live performance as a different palette, but with the same relative contrasts, then you can create a really similarly exciting experience with different resources."
 
The road has been a place where she has developed a supportive and caring network of fellow women who tour for a living, and she's excited to do the same moving forward.
 
"It's hard because a lot of my friends are musicians who are way more successful than me, and they've always been really generous about supporting me and uplifting me," Ashworth asserts. "I'm hoping to do that for other people too."

SASAMI is out March 8 courtesy of Domino Records.