Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Sasami PC Kyle Thomas 14160006 Hi Res

Sasami Ashworth and the cleansing nature of noise

25 February 2022, 08:30

“I'm going to take off all of my clothes, run into a snowy forest and howl like a wolf for 24 hours, or something like that,” Sasami Ashworth jests when asked how she’ll be celebrating the release of her second album, Squeeze.

Released today, the follow up to the 2019 self-titled SASAMI debut, Squeeze is the sound of the 31–year-old LA–based producer and songwriter unleashed; raging against inequality and broken communication, fuelled by metal riffs, antagonistic lyrics and thrashing beats. A primal howl seems like a fitting tribute to a record that’s an exhilarating fusion of metal, folk and pop.

“I feel like everyone has a dark metal side that they don't know is there until they find the right access point,” Ashworth offers, acknowledging the contrast in sound between her two records. “People are ready for metal post-lockdown. There are certain musical themes, or musical sounds that really connect to certain human emotions. To me, a lot of the metal sounds on the album connect to a heavy, rageful emotion that every human experiences at some point.”

The songwriter has undeniably put the pedal to the metal on Squeeze, but she retains some of her signature folkier sound too. The album is just as much inspired by the likes of Sheryl Crow and her “all time favourite band” Fleetwood Mac, as it is by Mannequin Pussy’s raucous track "F.U.C.A.W." and “freebleeding” at a System Of A Down concert (something she joked about on Twitter.)

“I like being into music that might not necessarily be the scene that was created for me, but I'm weaseling my way into it," she tells me. As a classically trained composer and a former member of Cherry Glazerr, it’s odd to think of Ashworth as “weaseling” her way in anywhere. With heavier music genres predominantly populated by white male faces, Ashworth offers a much needed, fresh take on the diversity of metal by fusing her myriad of musical skills together to make an authentically heavy record. She offers more perspective on this “weaseling” by elaborating on her entry points into music, which started in the family home.

“Neither of my parents were professional musicians, but they were both very into music. My dad was always making me CDs and forcing us to learn Beatles’ songs on the piano and guitar and he would make us all sing together around the holidays. I also grew up in a church where music was a big part of the ceremony of the church. My mom was always taking us to these Japanese karaoke rooms where you can rent your own room and you have the booklet with all the different songs and you get to pick the songs and sing along to them. My mom would be singing old Japanese and Korean ballads and we would be singing Britney Spears.”

Ricocheting between the power of Korean ballads and glossiness of 90s pop songs seems like a fun place to be. Ashworth took a “pretty serious” interest in classical music in her teenage years though, attending the Idyllwild Arts Academy summer camps, an Arts High School in L.A. and a music conservatory in New York. “I played the french horn, which is a really random instrument, most people play flute, clarinet or violin - this is where my weaseling first kicked in. I got a lot of scholarships and opportunities just because I played this instrument because they didn't have enough people to fill the spots.”

Filling in the gaps, or blasting them wide open is something Ashworth excels at on Squeeze. Whether she’s raging away on the blistering “Skin A Rat”, smoldering with frustration on “Say It” or musing about apathy on “Call Me Home”, she does so with brutal conviction. It’s a record of unfiltered emotions and experiences, fuelled by her determined “weaseling” spirit. But what else influenced this dramatic sound shift?

“I was really inspired by a lot of Japanese art while making this album," she tells me. "Specifically horror films like Hausu (1977) and Lady Snowblood (1973) and even films like Tampopo (1985), which is a spaghetti western about ramen. I love this colliding of different worlds. I love anything that's multifaceted or a mashup. For years, I've been obsessed with this mashup of "All Star" by Smash Mouth and "Imagine" by John Lennon. I don't know why I'm just obsessed with things that are mashed together? Like, I can't even eat chocolate that doesn't have salt on it. I just love weird contrasting things all mashed up together. Fusion is my thing.”

Finding joy in the mixing and duality of things is Ashworth's niche. The artwork for Squeeze is a form of visual mashup too, featuring a depiction of the Japanese folk spirit Nure-onna, an entity with a woman’s head and a serpent's body. A descendant of the Zainichi people on her mother’s side, (a diaspora of ethnic Koreans who lived in Japan during Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945), she acknowledges and celebrates her heritage on Squeeze, finding strength in the image of Nure-onna.

“I was really inspired by how her character is almost like a trick,” Ashworth explains. “If you just see her head floating above the surface of the river or the ocean, you would just think she's just a normal woman bathing. But as you get closer, she reveals her snake-like body and you see this more malicious and villainous side of her. I think that in pop culture, in folklore and in heavy rock music, oftentimes women are objectified or are made to be a victim or disempowered in the narrative. So I really wanted to maintain this super on-the-nose, exaggerated narrative where femme creatures are the opposite of victims and are almost the perpetrators of violence. In that way, it's kind of reclamatory to make this kind of violent, aggressive art.”

Is it fair to say that the album’s onomatopoeia-like title Squeeze is a type of aural purge, challenging the tired trope of “women as victims” then? “The title to me has multiple meanings, depending on what you decide to project onto it,” Ashworth counters. “It could be a hug or an endearing squeeze. It could be comforting like when you squeeze someone you love. Or, it could be like a desperate squeezing out of every last drop, an act of desperation or frustration. It can be a violent choke, like a murderous grasp. It's a very visceral word that immediately has a lot of different feelings attached to it, and that was kind of the main thing for me. With the album artwork and the album title, it's not even that I want to tell anybody anything particular, I just want to make something that's open for people to interpret something onto it. It's not really my goal to tell people a specific story. It's more to just give people an experience.

"My first album was so autobiographical, it wasn't really intended for anyone to listen to, I was just making it for myself. I was still in Cherry Glazerr at the time and I wasn't a solo artist or on a label. Even then, people projected their own meanings and their own interpretations of what those songs were. So going into this album, I knew that people were going to do that, it's just human nature. We find ourselves in everything we see, or we see what we want to see and feel what we want to feel, from everything that we encounter. So I wanted to make something that was more open ended, but extreme enough that I knew that people would feel something from it.”

Being non-prescriptive fits Squeeze's message of “anti-toxic positivity” too, which is reflected in Ashworth's direct lyrics, clear vocals and visceral sounds. It’s the processing of the darker side of human emotions that she feels is key to eventually arriving at a place of peace. As long as fans find their own form of catharsis through listening to Squeeze, Ashworth feels content.

“It's definitely an album intended to help people shake off some emotional weight. I mean, don't get me wrong, I fucking love the song "I Gotta Feeling" by The Black Eyed Peas, but sometimes I need to listen to some darker shit before I'm ready to hear that, you know? I don't think you can go straight from having a bad day into Black Eyed Peas, but "I Gotta Feeling" is the only toxic positivity that I support. Anything else is shit.”

“What makes a certain type of positivity toxic, as opposed to healing, is that it's skipping the process of cleansing yourself from whatever it is that’s bringing you negativity,” she explains further. “I have this metaphor that’s like, if you have dirty clothes, you can't put them in the dryer before putting them in the washing machine first. I kind of want this album to be the washing machine where you get all the toxins out and you don't skip over anything.

"So many of the songs are about love not being reciprocated, communication not being reciprocated, systemic oppression - just feelings of frustration, feelings of violence and rage. So instead of being like, ‘Okay, I feel really upset and angry because this world is extremely fucked up and being a human is extremely painful - I'm just going to listen to happy music and turn my mood around’ I want people to actually just fucking sweating it out in a mosh pit and begin processing it. So this album, to me, is very much about having some sort of chaotic release of emotions that are kind of pent up.”

Whilst there are several ragers on the album that provide this release, “Say It” seems to epitomize this unleashing of emotions. “Those lyrics to me definitely echo the anti-positivity sentiment,” Ashworth agrees. “They’re not saying ‘please tell me what I want to hear’ they're saying ‘just tell me what you're thinking for fucks sake. Just communicate with me!" It's very much my Cancer energy. If I don't get a text back I spin out for days. That's really the origin of a lot of this music, it’s just me not getting texts responded back to. I can make a whole album of the chaos that ensues when someone doesn't respond to a text.”

"I feel like this album is an ode to all those people out there who spiral constantly and need something to do while they're spiraling."

The relief of hearing Ashworth admit they can’t get a text back is palpable. “There are certain people in this world - and I think everybody does this a little bit, but some of us are more susceptible to this," she tells me, "where if we're given any sort of space to fill in the blanks, we're going to fill it with the most fucked up, worst case scenario, devil's advocate shit. So if someone's not responding to me, it's because they fucking hate me and they never want to talk to me again. As opposed to like, you know, they're just at lunch with their mom or something? I feel like this album is an ode to all those people out there who spiral constantly and need something to do while they're spiraling. I'm like, ‘honey, just come over here and do a little mosh dance for 40 minutes until your friend texts you back. It's gonna be okay.’”

Crafting anthems for over-thinkers is a genuine kindness: “The album is a safe space to spiral,” she continues. “Anything that is said and done while you're listening to it, stays there. What happens in Squeeze, stays in Squeeze. I talk a lot about this album being like a fantasy album, but really it's a negative fantasy album. I’m not fantasizing about all the good stuff. Some people have a kind of strength of will to resist spiraling that I just don't have. I just play my guitar and make sounds to make up for my other weaknesses.”

If Ashworth is supposedly at her “weakest” on Squeeze, it’s a formidable, enviable type of weakness. She admits that she leans towards the metal inspired songs on the record: “Those particular songs feel like magnum opuses because it takes a certain skill level to perform them. I hired literally the best drummer to play on “Skin A Rat” and I had my friend Casey who's an amazing metal guitarist and bassist play on it too. I really respect the technique that goes into metal instrumental performance. That's part of the reason why I'm so lucky to be on tour with Barishi who also play on "Sorry Entertainer". They're a metal band from Vermont and they're so technically skilled at their instruments, it just feels like such a privilege to have my little metal orchestra on tour with me.”

Along with Barishi, Ashworth worked with a number of other artists on Squeeze, including Ty Segall, Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy, King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas, Christian Lee Hutson, Moaning’s Pascal Stevenson and London based musician Charlie Valentine aka No Home. Ashworth discovered No Home’s album fucking hell online during the midst of the pandemic, becoming an instant fan. I share my memories of seeing Valentine perform live supporting Big Joanie in London three years ago and Ashworth is keen to enthuse about their talents too: “I think that she has a really similar sensibility in genre-bending and not being stuck in one box. I'm just inspired by how innovative her brain is. In building my album, which I definitely actively was making for femme, non-binary, queer, POC people in a lot of ways - because that's who I am - I did work with a lot of cis men in making the instrumentals and I wanted to make sure that I still had representation from my community on the album. No Home is a black woman from the UK, so it was really an honour for me to have her write the verses on "Squeeze". That song is about how violence creeps into the mundanity of femme people's lives. I think she's really heavy and deep and political in her music. I thought that it would be an honour to have her life perspective and her musical perspective on the song. She's the real fucking deal.”

Squeeze confirms that Ashworth is also “the real fucking deal”. When asked what she’s most proud of about her new offering, it’s her commitment to personal authenticity that takes precedence. “I feel like no matter how it gets received, I really stuck to what my vision for the album was, and was fully acknowledging that it was experimental and not the safest sophomore album to make. It's very whiplash-y in the way that it has all these different energies and swings back and forth like a blood sugar spike. I feel proud of myself for committing to the composition, seeing it through to the end and just not really giving a fuck if anyone likes it or not, because I like it. All I can do is be true to that. Which is easier said than done, especially when you quit your day job and your musical job is your only way of receiving income. There is a very important business side to being a musician, but it's kind of a double edged sword. If you focus too much on that side, then you kind of lose yourself and your soul isn't in the music quite as much.”

So far, Ashworth's fans have been positive about the sound of Squeeze but she tends not to read comments on social media. “That's one of the good things about being a solo artist in your early 30s, as opposed to being a teenager,” she continues. “If I had been making this music - well, I never would have made this music earlier in my life. I had to be exactly where I'm at right now to make this album. But I think if I were to be in a public position in my teens or early 20s, I'd be fucking a nightmare. I was so insecure and I cared so much about what people thought. I think it would be pretty difficult for me to navigate the court of public opinion.

"I'm much better about not reading comments and just listening to audiobooks every time I have an urge to go on Twitter or Instagram now. I think I have a pretty healthy relationship with not not reading too much into other people's opinions. That was part of the reason why I wanted to make an album that was so extreme. I know people are going to have a reaction to it, whether it's love or hate, is irrelevant to me.”

"I'm excited to scare Mitski’s fans. She knows what she's doing, inviting me on tour..."

Something Ashworth does feel strongly about is her recent tour with Japanese Breakfast and her upcoming tour supporting Mitski in the UK and HAIM in the US. “I'm about to jump into a four month marathon tour scenario. I’m excited, but I'm mostly just concerned about throwing my voice out on tour. The experience of performing the heavy songs is extremely cathartic for me, it's so fun, but it's also like washing your pants over and over again, for four months, without ever taking them out of the washing machine. They’re going to get shredded to a pulp. I'm a little bit worried that’s what’s going to happen to me, but I'm excited. I love being on tour. I'm such a tour dog.

"I workout in the gym every morning while I'm on tour, because the live show for this album is extremely physical. I run around like a demon for 40 minutes, so I need to be in good shape. I think it's one of those things where forcing myself to get in shape enough to do the show just naturally keeps me kind of healthy too. I'm definitely a health goth.”

One thing’s for sure, when Sasami Ashworth's new sound hits the UK crowds, it will blast away any doubt that she’s earned her place on that stage. “UK kids love rock music, so I think our shows there are going to be really fun. I'm excited to scare Mitski’s fans. She knows what she's doing, inviting me on tour. She knows…”

Squeeze is out now via Domino
Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next