SASAMI applies a lifetime of knowledge to her solo debut

Andy Downing
Sasami Ashworth

While the songs that populate Sasami Ashworth’s 2019 debut were written in more recent times, the musician said the album is the culmination of a lifetime spent learning her craft.

“Even with rock music, I was such a student of it. I was always watching YouTube videos on snare phasing and trying to understand the difference between solid state and tube amps. I was obsessed with learning all of the elements of it and not just going in and feeling it out,” said the classically trained Ashworth, who released her eponymous first album earlier this year under the stylized name SASAMI. “I wanted to be able to do that so when I wrote I wasn’t thinking, and I was just letting it happen because I had gained the vernacular and the skills to play it.”

The legwork pays off on SASAMI, which sounds organic and effortless in spite of the myriad years spent immersed in study. Throughout, Ashworth constructs dreamy, layered tracks that tend to project musical calm even when her words, which wrestle with all manner of relationships, from friendships to romantic partnerships, twist and writhe uncomfortably.

“Even though we tried to make it work, it doesn’t,” she sings on the breezy “Not the Time,” delivering her words casually, like a woman completely disconnected from any lingering bitterness.

“I definitely wrote at times when I felt fraught and emotionally vulnerable and frustrated. I was also writing in a cathartic way, and in a way that helped me process whatever I was going through. … When you’re writing a song, sometimes it helps to describe your feelings in a musical way. So if you’re feeling somber, you record in a minor key, and then when you approach the lyrics, it’s like talking with a therapist, where you’re forced to verbalize what you’re feeling,” said Ashworth, who opens for Snail Mail at Skully’s on Thursday, July 25. “It was very much an album that was written and recorded to capture how much a human can feel in one year. … It’s kind of cheesy to say, but in a way it just kind of spilled out of me. It’s just what I needed to write about in the moment. And I think by the time I got to the last song, I had reached some sort of clarity.”

That song, “Turned Out I Was Everyone,” centers on the idea that the various emotions the musician felt so intensely over the course of the year, while in many ways specific to her, were also part of a larger continuum to which anyone could identify. “Thought I was the only one,” she sings. “Turned out I was everyone.”

Musically, songs are frequently littered with sonic winks, such as the moment on “Callous” when the track starts to crackle and degrade even as Ashworth sings, “When I look back, I can see myself so clear.”

“There are a lot of nerdy moments like that,” said Ashworth, who admitted she had never written a song before beginning work on the album, having most recently ended a two-and-a-half-year stint playing synths in indie rock band Cherry Glazerr. “I wanted to make … a record I thought people could enjoy on different levels, whether on a surface level, or, I’m an analog nerd, so I thought maybe some people would even like the tones on it.”

This is particularly true of the guitar tones, which were a large part of the reason Ashworth felt compelled to make such a heavy financial commitment to recording analog rather than digital. (“At a certain point I was like, ‘Fuck. I have way too much debt,’” she said, followed by a nervous laugh.)

“I have a personal feeling that guitars sound better recorded to tape than digitally, and this album was such a guitar album,” said Ashworth, who recorded the album in two- or three-day bursts stretched over months. “And I think recording analog sort of solidified my sound concept, because when you record digitally you have endless possibilities. You can literally slap a fucking million plug-ins on anything, or Auto-Tune anything, and I think I wanted to make sure that before I went off the deep end and had infinite possibilities, I had a clear understanding of my sound and concept. … Plus, I hate looking at a screen, and with tape you’re just listening and trusting your ears. To me, it just felt more natural.” 

Skully’s Music-Diner

7 p.m. Thursday, July 25

1151 N. High St., Short North