From her debut solo album to ladies-only tour, indie rocker Sasami Ashworth is calling all the shots.
Backstage at a busy tour stop in Minnesota, the energy is chaotic, and musician Sasami Ashworth interrupts herself mid-sentence—a friend is leaving the venue and she wants to say goodbye. They talk for a while, and firm up plans to meet next time she’s in Minneapolis, then Ashworth jumps seamlessly back into what she was doing. It’s instantly obvious that the up-and-comer welcomes a full plate—and her résumé bears that out, including conservatory studies for classical French horn, composing for film, a stint in the Rolling Stone-lauded rock band Cherry Glazerr, and now a self-titled debut on Domino Records. The polymath has seemingly done it all—but she’s far from finished.
SASAMI, Ashworth’s new record, is a brooding, melodic time capsule that reflects on themes of friendship, sex, and isolation, all seen through the lens of life on the road. Its 10 songs vacillate between sharply-defined guitar riffs and meandering fuzz and decay, uniting hazy romantic nostalgia with the wisdom of perspective. As it traces the emotions of one year in the writer’s life, it also gives listeners insight into the ways that we all cycle through different experiences and versions of ourselves.
“Some songs are about romantic relationships,” Ashworth confides. “Some are about platonic relationships. Sometimes being let down by a platonic female friend is the most heartbreaking thing in the world—more [heartbreaking] than [when you’re let down by] any person you’ve fucked. We fuck a lot of people we don’t care about.”
Ashworth’s ability to untangle the strands of intimate relationships is no doubt affected by the way she’s chosen to record—eschewing big-name producers to collaborate with her brother, Joo-Joo Ashworth of L.A. psych-garage trio Froth. “We were really, really close when we made that album,” she recalls, adding that he was the one who pushed her to record it. “He helped me navigate certain chords on the guitar and was always supportive.”
For a brief moment, there was a chance that her powerful, tender body of work might never see the light of day. “SASAMI was never intended to be a solo album,” the singer reflects. “I was just kind of writing songs while I was on tour with my band, and then every time I came home, I would record them to scratch an itch. Eventually, I had enough songs that it made sense to make an album.”
In the months before SASAMI’s official release, Ashworth was already building an enormous amount of buzz, sharing concert bills with modern indie-rock heavyweights like Japanese Breakfast and Soccer Mommy, and even landing an opening spot for Blondie and Liz Phair. “That was an insane day,” she says. “Liz Phair is kind of my Blondie. I was freaking out that Liz Phair knew who I was.”
It’s no accident that Ashworth is surrounded by female musicians; it’s largely a deliberate choice that she made after years of enduring misogynistic and egotistical male behavior in the music industry. She cites one particularly galling example: “People would always bypass me and Clem [Creevy, of Cherry Glazerr] and talk to the men in the group about our own gear, which was really frustrating.”
Just as frustrating for Ashworth are the comparisons made between her and other Asian-American women in music, among them Mitski and Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som (both of whom are friends). Her response to those who liken them is refreshingly subversive: “It’s definitely lazy, but I’m also just like, ‘Yeah, say my name, say my friends’ names,’” Ashworth offers. “If you’re going to compare me to Jay Som—even though our music doesn’t sound the same—it means people [will be] writing Jay Som’s name, and Jay Som will come up in more SEO searches. I’m just glad people aren’t comparing me to some white dude rock band.”
She’s motivated, on and off the road, by a commitment to seeing women flourish. “My community is kind and uplifting, and I’m really lucky for that,’ Ashworth notes. “I’ve cultivated that, too. I pretty much always tour with women, so there’s generally no ‘safe space’ for men to go to; it forces them to talk to me about stuff.”
When not on tour, Ashworth heads home to L.A., where she stays busy writing, recording, sketching out music videos and planning upcoming shows. “I don’t have time to do anything else, really,” she confesses, adding that she’s not a partier. “I feel guilty if I’m not staying busy. I have 10 emails that I haven’t responded to every single day after responding to 100. There are always a billion things I have to think about.”
Given her unyielding hustle, I’m a little shocked to learn that Ashworth isn’t a Virgo—the zodiac’s most analytical and structured sign. “I’m a Cancer,” she admits, laughing. “If I were a Virgo, I wouldn’t be finishing up my 2016 taxes right now.”
It can be exhausting, the life of a full-time musician. But all of that toil and struggle is counterbalanced by the excitement of making new discoveries. No matter how many emails she has to answer, or administrative tasks she needs to complete, Ashworth always carves out room for creative exploration.
“Before I make the next album, I’m going to get a little experimental and test out some new vibes,” she reveals. “I definitely want to get back into composing and writing symphonic stuff. I have plans with friends to work on some opera next year. And I’ve already recorded 10 new songs since the album’s release.”