Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside had a pretty good run. In the span of just a few years—from the late 2000s to the early 2010s—the band generated a bunch of buzz in Portland and beyond, toured big venues with the Avett Brothers (who were also big fans), signed a record deal with a respected indie label, and played Late Show with David Letterman. It was fun. It was also exhausting.
“I think everyone was pretty tired of being on the road. I was pretty tired of it, to be honest,” says Ford. “It’s hard. It’s really hard. You have these hopes of how it’s going to be. You spend all this money and use all this gas to go and play for like 10 people or something. It’s so hard.”
For Ford and the band—drummer Ford Tennis, guitarist Jeffrey Munger, and bassist Tyler Tornfelt—the hard parts eventually outweighed the fun parts, and the Sound Outside ceased operations in late 2013, putting their boisterous blend of soul, jazz, rockabilly, and early rock ’n’ roll to bed with a handful of farewell shows at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland. (Ford has since recorded a pair of solo albums.)
Just over five years later, they’ve gotten the band back together—for just three shows. The Sound Outside will ring in March by playing a bunch of their old favorites and some surprise covers during two nights in Portland and one in Seattle, with no further commitment (for now). Their guiding philosophy on this new journey is simple: “Fun first!”
There’s no big, shocking story behind the band’s rebirth. It’s not the result of a rediscovered creative spark, or a sudden surge of popularity in Sweden. In fact, Ford says, Munger was “kind of the instigator of it all,” and he didn’t even send the text that planted the seed for the reunion.
“Jeff’s girlfriend is one of my best friends, [and] she texted me, like, ‘Jeff wants to do reunion shows,’” says Ford. “I don’t think she sent it because he was chicken. He’s just funny about texting... He had a flip phone until just a few months ago, I think.”
Ford admits she was an easy target for a reunion. Munger lives in Astoria now, and Ford sees him every few months when she goes out to hang at the Sou’wester Lodge in Seaview, Washington. They had talked about playing some Sound Outside shows, and then the idea picked up momentum last spring when Munger and Tennis joined Ford onstage for an impromptu performance.
“That was interesting,” Ford says. “It wasn’t like we fell right back into it, but it was pretty good. I remember being like, ‘Oh god, do we still know how to play like this?’ It wasn’t perfect. But it was fun.”
Late last year, the band began rehearsing in earnest, which included not only playing together, but also looking up old lyrics on the internet, revisiting old songs to remember how to play certain parts, and lots of catching up.
“It’s been very fun, very nostalgic,” Ford says. “They were my family, you know? They were the band I spent the most time with, for sure, and we all talk about that. I think we hit that sweet spot where the music business was still doing good and we all had the energy for it because we were young. It was just really organic the way we came together and did it.”
Beyond the upcoming gigs, the four friends have no concrete plans. Ford has been writing songs, she says, and there’s been talk of recording them, though “we definitely wouldn’t want to spend a ton of money on it,” she says. They’re going to reissue their first EP, Not an Animal, on cassette and press up some classic Sound Outside T-shirts for the reunion. Don’t count on a bunch of additional shows, though. None of them are interested in that—even Ford, who continued to tour regularly until a couple years ago.
“I have a cat now. I’ve gotten really good at cooking. I have a drum set. I’ve gotten into drawing,” she says. “It’s just the little things that you can’t do when you’re gone all the time.”
But Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside don’t have to go anywhere to play for people who love them and their music. There are plenty of those right here in the Northwest.
“We have a community of people that I kind of forgot about. People that came on tour with us or that made videos with us or whatever,” Ford says. “Doing this has definitely reminded me of the community that surrounds this band.”