The Los Angeles-based artist Sasami Ashworth, who records under the eponymous name SASAMI, targets and compels listeners to get in touch with their emotions and let it all out across her daring, hot-blooded sophomore album Squeeze. While Ashworth ties together different sounds, from nu-metal to dream pop, it winds up balancing perfectly which is a triumph. We recently caught up with Ashworth who walks us through her explosive exploration into metal and how she pursued her darkest fantasies on her new album.
On the cover of her sophomore album, Squeeze, Sasami Ashworth's fangs are bared as she's illustrated as a slithery, bloody-mouthed monster. This design — created by Andrew Thomas Huang and Rin Kim — is the imagery that ties into the metal sonic landscape Ashworth unleashes across her daring new album. While exploring human concepts such as systematic oppression, unrequited love, and anger, Ashworth's new album is an open invitation to anyone who's felt their own personal disillusionment during these dark times and she has no problem if you let it all out.
After spending much of last decade playing in the post-punk outfit Dirt Dress and the dreamy garage-pop band Cherry Glazerr, Ashworth came into her own when she released her debut solo album in 2019, exploring noisy, jangle-pop melodies while also embodying shoegaze's supernatural ability. While she does still build upon these sounds on Squeeze, particularly on tracks like "The Greatest" and "Not A Love Song," these moments come in unexpected ways.
Ashworth started heading down a darker path of heavy sounds after her roommate, Kyle Thomas, aka King Tuff, invited her to see the brawny, death metal trio, Barishi when they played in Los Angeles in 2020. After an emotional experience she had from joining the show's mosh pit, she felt the desire to tap into this aggression of sludge metal and would later even recruit Barishi to play as her backing band for the new tour.
Across the eleven jagged, furious tracks on Squeeze, the classically trained singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shapeshifts between different musical genres, featuring nu-metal, shoegaze, folk rock and hook-filled power pop ballads. In short, it's a very busy and unapologetically chaotic album. During lockdown, Ashworth recorded the new album mostly at her home studio in Los Angeles alongside Thomas and her other roommate, Meg Duffy, aka Hand Habits, who were all working on their own albums at the time. Garage-psych rocker, Ty Segall, also co-produced a handful of Squeeze at his home studio in Topanga. Many of the songs on Squeeze evoke that classic, ungodly sound that's rooted in heavy metal's DNA. Between tracks like the possessed cover of Daniel Johnston's deep-cut "Sorry Entertainer" or the juggernaut force of "Skin a Rat," Ashworth lets loose with a primal sense of destruction that's triumphant.
We recently caught up with Ashworth who walks us through her explosive exploration into metal and how she pursued her darkest fantasies on her new album.
Paperface Zine: Hey Sasami, congrats on your new album! I've had it on heavy rotation since its release and it's already one of my favorite records this year. Tell me, what's it been like having it out for over a week?
Sasami Ashworth: Hey thanks so much! Honestly it's a bit strange especially since in this digital age, you can just release something and people can immediately give their feedback. Like that's weird, but I'm glad to be on tour and away from the general release sort of dread which is exciting, but also overwhelming.
You just started your 2022 tour last Friday in Brattleboro, Vermont. What was the first show of the tour like and what has it been like translating these newer tracks to a live audience?
Playing in Brattleboro was exciting because it's the hometown of my backing band [Barishi], so while it was the official launch of the tour, it was also a hometown show at the same time. It's been interesting playing some of these newer songs, since we've been balancing out the heavy and more poppy songs unlike when I toured with Japanese Breakfast last year where we just played the heavy stuff. Really right now, I'm just trying to learn not to lose my voice especially when switching between these heavier songs where I'm screaming and the songs that require actual proper singing like on "Call Me Home" or "Not The Time." It's a bit of a learning curve for me right now haha.
I feel like this new tour is a great summary of every sound you've explored as an artist. And speaking of the heavier stuff, I heard the inspiration for Squeeze came after going to a Barishi show in Los Angeles. How did you get connected with them to the point that they became your backing band for this tour?
So my housemate and collaborator, Kyle Thomas [King Tuff], is from Brattleboro so he knew them and when they came to Los Angeles, Kyle invited me and I almost didn't go because I was really busy still touring and writing, but I'm glad I did — there were chunks of cymbals flying in the air and I had an amazing emotional experience from it. Like I knew I wanted to make a heavier record this time around, but it all clicked that night. I really wanted to tap into metal because I love how theatrical it can be. I was too pigeonholed in the indie rock world which was getting boring for me.
Squeeze uses elements of metal to convey its emotions, but you also incorporate dramatic elements of dream pop, shoegaze, Laurel Canyon-influenced country rock, indie folk and even your familiar orchestral strings and horns. I know you wanted to make a heavier album, but take me through the recording sessions and your initial vision for it.
The first song recorded was with Barishi in Vermont and it was the cover of Daniel Johnston's "Sorry Entertainer." This was all during lockdown and I was trying to figure out how to balance everything on this record, while also record on other people's albums at the same time. Kyle engineered and worked on my album a lot. I also tracked some of the basic tracks at Ty Segall's home studio in Topanga. Really I was trying to work with my friends as much as possible.
There’s a wide range of insanely talented artists who play on the album from Mitski to King Tuff to Ty Segall. From these sessions, were there any songs on this release that turned out way different than their initial idea? Were there any that really surprised you?
Yeah! The original version of "Tried to Understand," was much heavier and more rock-centric and that's eventually going to come out, but I just felt it was too hazy and unfocused for this album. It didn't fit with the intention of the album and my main goal for these songs was to make them clear. Even though they're heavy and intense, I don't think they're messy and I wanted everything here to be laser-focused.
I've always been super-inspired by albums that are all over the place and veer in a left-field direction that might be divisive especially when following up the album where that artist is considered a "genius." There's different albums for different parts of the day you know? I love albums that are consistent with their sound which can be meditative, but I also love playlists that are like jerking me around and keeping me on my toes.
Were there any particular albums or songs you had on heavy rotation when curating the songs for Squeeze? I imagined a lot of System of a Down, which you did that hauntingly beautiful cover of "Toxicity" in 2020! Maybe also some early Brian Eno albums?
I really love that first System of a Down album and what I appreciate about them and artists like Kanye West, is how they can seamlessly transition one song to the next and match them perfectly. Also in this British comedy show I like called The Mighty Boosh, there's this episode where this strange doctor puts together these animals into one body and I wanted a lot of the songs on the album to feel like that.
How did you approach the songwriting and the emotional experience you wanted to create across Squeeze?
All the instrumentals came first during the recording which was a first for me. Like I didn't want to make a mellow record, I wanted the instrumentals to sound hellish to create this emotional world. It was really hard especially because in metal there's a lot of tritones and harmonics and while I was trying to make melodies, I was really trying hard not to sound like Evanescence haha.
You're also pursuing your darkest fantasies here, spinning out feelings of frustration, rage, and horror over these machinations of metal. Can you expand more on that more?
My first record consisted of songs I wrote for myself and really didn't have the intention for anybody to hear them. A lot of people projected their own meaning onto those songs no matter what I intended. So on LP two, I was intentionally leaning more into making these songs sound ambiguous and open-ended so people can project onto them more. I definitely wanted to go in a place of fantasy to tie into the metal sonic landscape.
Really happy you came back to Rochester and played at the Bug Jar last night! Also is it true you stopped by last fall to buy donuts and records?
Haha yeah when I was driving across the country while on tour with Japanese Breakfast, and we stopped by Rochester because I was really craving an apple cider donut and wanted to catch the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO).
From your time studying music at Eastman to just popping in, what have been some of your favorite memories in Rochester?
I definitely loved going to the Bug Jar for shows when I went to school at Eastman. I also worked at Java's on Gibbs Street. I didn't have my drivers license so I rode my bike a lot which was amazing during the spring and fall with how beautiful the weather is there. It's also such a hot spot for independent art.
When I interviewed Russ Torregiano of Needle Drop Records, a few years ago, he told me your old band Cherry Glazerr played a sold out show in his store. What was that show like?
I remember so many people being there and it was really fun and loud. I feel like Cherry Glazzer is similar in many ways to my band now with the vocals being soft and the instrumentals being so guitar-heavy and energetic like there's this big battle happening within the music. There's some dueling guitars in my band now and I'm here to fight.
What did you enjoy most from the show last night? It was really cool seeing Zulu open for you!
I really enjoyed the tender moshes that were happening and it was awesome having Zulu open for us because they're an insanely talented band from L.A. It was awesome seeing the crowd go hard for their set and people got so tired, we had to like bring them back to life.
Squeeze is out now through Domino Recording Company.
Stream the new album below.