SASAMI: An Interview
by Gabby Estlund
Sasami’s interest in the music industry took off in middle school while in the wind ensemble at a summer music camp, Idyllwild: “I just knew I was amongst my people. I’ve always been a very music oriented person.”
I got the opportunity to speak with solo artist Sasami Ashworth, 26, a Los Angeles native and ex-Cherry Glazerr member via a phone call. We talked about her music, her life, and her upcoming show in Iowa City. Her hard work and honesty about herself and how she interacts with the music industry are admirable and shone so clearly although we were not face-to-face. She does all the songwriting and arranging -- her favorite part of the process -- as well as managing her merchandise and her brand in general. For her, songwriting is more of a stream-of-consciousness experience, while arranging is what takes the longest. Since committing to the music industry as a career a few years ago, she sees music as a balance between living a “dream-come-true privilege” and a job. Her debut album, self-titled Sasami, released in March of 2018, recounts her impulse to write about her feelings while on tour. Her inspiration for songwriting comes from “26 years of backlogs and information” and says she’s focused on practicing and studying music and improving her playing abilities, but more importantly, she’s trying to get out of her own way.
Through her euphonic rhythms, Sasami saturates her lyrics with raw emotion; she is clear and direct and yet beautiful in her delivery. In her song “Callous,” Sasami drifts into a memory of heartbreak and anger, emotions that myself and my peers are sure to relate to. I know it’s not your fault / you were born / with a spoon in your throat / and a gun in your hand / and a plan for yourself / I’m not grieving. When performing live, she hopes the audience is enlivened and the emotions they’re already feeling are heightened. “If they’re feeling hyped up, I hope they feel extra excited. I hope they’re able to get deep with their emotions.”
Though she does not specifically get to choose where she performs, her booking agents selects shows for bigger cities along her tour route, and Iowa City was one of them. I asked if she knew where her music was most popular, and she joked, “Oh, I don’t know, Iowa City!” She humbly spoke about her growing fame, mentioning that getting recognized in public is usually “awkward and over fast,” adding, “I think it’s neat and also embarrassing when people recognize me.” Currently, Sasami is on tour with Snail Mail, a solo project comprised of singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan. Their tour goes from Minneapolis to New York. I enquired about her time as a performer, and whether connecting with her audience has gotten easier. “Every audience, every circumstance -- it’s different. There’s so many intimate factors and how you feel inevitably is going to affect how you connect with people - whether on stage or off.” The humility that soaked her comment, and our conversation as a whole was a reminder that musicians are real people, who go through real experiences and real struggles.
Aside from singing, Sasami also plays guitar, the keyboard, and the french horn, just to name a few. Right now, she’s into her guitar the most, but that changes as time goes on. She is not the only musician in her family either. She says her brother, Juju, is a more talented guitar player than herself, and featured him on some of her songs in her album. They are close to each other and have a strong connection through music. She went on to attend a specialized high school, where she focused on studying french horn, and later got her degree in french horn and music education. In her time as a music teacher, she made it clear that improvisation in learning is extremely important to being successful. She compared learning music in an improv-focused environment to the way kids learn languages. “You listen first, then you babble. Then you talk and you learn how to make sentences, and then you learn how to read and write. A lot of music schools teach kids how to read and write before they learn how to just babble. So to me it seems like a very restrictive way of making music. Can you imagine if you only knew how to read, but couldn’t talk? Improv is a very important way of learning how to express yourself through music.”
When Sasami isn’t performing, touring, or taking care of the business side of things, she’s consuming social justice podcasts. She spoke of an episode about busing in the 1960s and ‘70s. “Just thinking about a bus full of tiny, adorable black kids driving to a school and there’d be hoards of white people protesting their existence - it’s horrifying.” The conviction in her tone embodied what so many young people might feel but are unable to express. She is aware and present in this time of distress for America, and I attentively listened. Upon asking if she’d experienced any strange interactions since beginning her time as a performer, Sasami told me the story of when she was wearing overalls on stage at a show and a drunken white man yelled that she had a nice skirt. She explained things like this happen often, but that interaction was unique because the crowd kept staring at him as he heckled her the entire night. He came up to her after the show as she was manning her merch table, and tried to make her apologize for embarrassing him. When she refused, he slammed all of her merch to the ground and punched a security guard as he was escorted out. Luckily, he was arrested, but we both agreed that her experience brings to light the type of things that women and other marginalized groups go through. “Just navigating the world as a woman of color can be, well, you know. Especially because I surround myself with more queer people and women of color, I think I sometimes forget how not safe I am.”
Her and I discussed the recent, well-publicised Trump rally in which the President and his audience participated in hateful speech against Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Representative who was born in Somalia. Sasami bluntly put into words the thoughts and feelings that many people are feeling during this tumultuous time in the United States. “It’s just f****** scary and sad.” “I’m sure I have conservative fans, and I’m not trying to ostresize them. I want them to feel embraced. I’m not ‘me against you’, I’m ‘us for us’. That’s all I am.” She spoke with wisdom and charisma, and whether she knows it or not, Sasami is someone that young people can, and should, look up to.
I asked for her closing words of wisdom; she earnestly responded. “Have empathy. For yourself, for other people. No one’s perfect, and everyone - especially right now - is operating on a heightened sense of fear. Try to have empathy and love for the people around you… but also hold people accountable.”