Breaking Out on her Own Terms: an Interview with Sasami
GRACE SMITH // DECEMBER 6, 2019
Two weeks ago, ethereal synth and melancholy guitar reverberated through the Cat in the Cream. Sasami Ashworth, a 28-year-old Los Angeles based musician, was touring for her self-titled album. Her performance could be epitomized as “shoegazing with stage presence”. The genre ‘shoegazing’ lies at the intersection of indie and alternative rock, derived from the wave of psychedelic groups that spent their performances staring at effects pedals and heavily detached from the audience. However, SASAMI broke the stage’s three foot barrier, often pausing between songs to banter with the audience.
SASAMI wore white eyeliner, partial braids, and a pirate-esque shirt with a corset and short billowy sleeves. She played a white PureSalem Tom Cat electric guitar, accompanied by a bassist and drummer. Audience members alternated between swaying or bobbing their neck and shoulders in what I could best describe as the “Harkness Two-Step”. This bobbing only intensified as electric dissonance swelled in the finale song “Free”. I had the opportunity to sit and chat with SASAMI on the day of her performance.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity
How does it feel to be back at a conservatory?
It’s good! I want to go over to the conservatory and see if anyone’s rehearsing or something. Is the conservatory nearby? Sasami graduated from Eastman School of Music in 2012, specializing in french horn. After this interview, she ended up crashing a Brahms 1 orchestra rehearsal in Finney Chapel.
SASAMI is your debut album, which is so exciting! What was your process for developing it?
That album I actually wrote on tour. I was in another band and it was kind of just a hobby/outlet/diary to work on songs. And by the time I had recorded enough songs to make an album it was also a natural time to split from that band. It all just happened really organically. Sasami played synth for the band Cherry Glazerr until she decided to pursue a solo career in January 2018.
Was there a particular way you wanted your music to make listeners feel?
I think in a lot of ways I wanted to make music for myself. Because I had spent so much time being in orchestra where you’re a part of a bigger thing and you’re playing music that you didn’t write. For years I played in bands and worked on other people’s albums, so this was the first album that was truly mine. I think I was really making music to elicit emotions from myself, hoping that if it was good other people would connect to it. And they are! Yeah, like there’s other sad ass horny people out there [laughs].
You’ve really lived a full life: scoring for films, teaching music to children, and touring with all these incredible bands. Out of all those experiences, what was your favorite gig?
Mmm! I liked one tour I did opening for King Tuff, because I was opening and playing in the band. So I got to play two shows and I wasn’t tour managing or selling merch. I wasn’t doing anything except for playing music for most of the day and that’s my ideal scenario.
So I looked at your social media and saw this “unsettling elf aesthetic”...
[Laughs] So that’s for the holiday EP that came out today, lil drmr bb. The imagery is me as an elf because it’s a holiday album. You know, it’s on brand. And people are really into freaky shit so it’s a freaky elf aesthetic.
Do you have any tips for young musicians trying to make it?
I would say don’t make music your main source of income, right away. Like make sure you are keeping your music and your art pure for as long as you can. Because I think once money gets involved, it changes how you make art. I’m grateful that I made this album when I wasn’t pursuing a solo career. I think that it was really honest and I made a lot of decisions that I probably wouldn’t make now.
Do you feel pressure to sound a certain way now that there’s money involved?
You just have more stakeholders and there’s more opinions involved. Not that people who are doing music full time can’t make incredible art! It’s just somewhat... tainted or something. It’s not as pure as when you’re working at a coffee shop and you’re all sad and you’re making albums at home on the side. That’s like some other level that’s really hard to replicate, you know, once people are involved. There’s a lot more things to think about, that you weren’t thinking of when you were just recording in your bedroom. Or for me, on tour in hallways and hotels.
Where was “Not The Time” written?
I feel like that was maybe written on this phone. [She checks her notes app]. Written in Birmingham, Alabama! On tour with Cherry Glazerr. I remember because I was listening to a lot of Neil Young and blues, a lot of southern music. That song was originally written as kind of a country-ish song [laughs]. In the studio we decided to go in a more My Bloody Valentine direction.
What does your sweatshirt say?
[Laughs] Do you know the brand “Comme des Garcon”? Should I? No, it’s like a really fancy designer. Some other random brand made this “Comme des FUCKDOWN”. My sister’s boyfriend gave it to me, they’re young and cool. I don’t know! It’s warm.
How do you feel identity has impacted your experience in the industry and your work? If you’re comfortable sharing.
Yeah! I think that identity politics are really tied into my work, because I’m very honest and aware of how capitalism intersects with the music industry. For me, being a really small artist, I don’t really have a lot of capital. But what I do have is my team and musicians that I hire to play with or open for me. I think it’s really important, of course, to uplift poc, queer, and other minority voices. But I also think it’s really important to make sure they get paid. Because yeah you can repost shit on twitter as much as you want, but if you’re not sending dollars to those people, it’s very echo-chamber-y. Capitalism is built on the backs of white supremacy and that’s just a fact, I think people try to be in denial of that. But the truth is that we do exist in a capitalist society and you do need to participate in that to exist not by choice, but by survival. As I say, clout doesn’t pay the bills. Clout won’t buy me groceries.
Is there anything you want readers to know?
For new musicians or people who aren’t musicians at all, I think that the process of making music, improvising, and writing music is really therapeutic and powerful. I think people get intimidated by it. I would recommend anyone who’s reading this to just pick up an instrument, don’t judge yourself and make music freely. Because it should be fun, and joyful, and expressive, or whatever you want it to be! I just think making music is the best feeling, everyone should do it. HOT TIP: Sasami may have put some of her merch in the free store.