Detached from any kind of genre affiliation, which is personal and sometimes polarizing, the way we embrace music works universally. It’s not driven by knowledge but by impulse, a basic craving and a raw emotion.
The self-titled debut of Los Angeles-based Sasami is the latest invitation to temporarily switch off the noise your left brain is annoying you with and simply embrace the music. “The press either wants something super exciting to talk about,” says Sasami, “you know, something where superlatives can be thrown around. Or it should be something brand new… and I’m not that exciting, so I’m the other thing. That’s my brand for this year: being brand new,” she adds with a laugh. It would be wrong to call her a newcomer though because for many years already she’s been, arguably, a musician’s musician. Skilled beyond belief, Sasami Ashworth, known mononymously as Sasami, played in indie-outfit Cherry Glazerr for a while, she was the right hand of prolific arranger and film scorer Nate Walcott, she studied classical music and played in an orchestra, she taught music in Los Angeles, and contributed vocals, strings, and horn arrangements to studio albums from indie darlings such as Avi Buffalo or Wild Nothing, to name just a few.
“That’s my brand for this year: being brand new.”
Ashworth spent years and years playing other people’s music—now she’s finally ready to rise and shine herself. “I’m Korean, and Koreans tend to be very ambitious,” she exclaims. “In my case this reflects on not wanting to make an album unless I knew that it’s going to be good. I never really had the intention to become a solo artist, and one of the main reasons for that probably was that I never really felt emotionally confident enough. A part of me was finally ready to write songs because I already had a chapter that was highly academic, composing interesting music that was supposed to innovate. The songs on my debut are not innovative in any way, it’s more about being straightforward and honest.”
Her debut for Domino Records (home of illustrious artists such as Julia Holter, Cat Power, Animal Collective, and Jon Hopkins) is one of those albums where you immediately know that it’s right up your alley, but it’s too humble and unagitated to reveal all its glory on first contact. One of the many highlights is a haunting duet with Devendra Banhart, another goes by the name of Adult Contemporary, which presents an enraptured slow-burner of a song dealing with the existential uncertainty of our current moment, featuring an all-star cast of female musicians. “The brilliant thing about making music is that it’s your choice, you could easily go and make music that feels esoteric and otherworldly, and people are mystified by the fact that they cannot relate to it at all,” she says. “Complicated music is a good exercise for a certain part of your brain and a certain part of your soul—but it’s a very different experience to listening to a Bob Dylan song that feels sincere.”
There’s no masterplan for world domination and there was no conceptional goal for the album either. In the end, it all comes down to the simple formula of Sasami making music with close friends and family, regardless if she’s recalling the heyday of indie rock or if she’s beguiling the audience with rather calm and introspective songs. “I was basically recollecting favors,” she explains, “it meant that I could stop feeling too precious about things, and start being more democratic in order to find out if a specific part really serves the purpose of the song. It’s like getting dressed to go out: Hmm, this is a sick jacket, but is it a bit too much? And very often it’s just detracting from the things that really matter. If your part is not important you simply have to shut up, regardless if you’re the best player in town.”
Ashworth is refreshingly clear-headed and upfront about her art versus the music industry and for her, getting back to basics with this album was of primary importance. “The album was recorded completely analog—there’s just too many plug-ins and infinite options when you record digitally, and I don’t like that,” she explains. “You know, there’s infinite people to impress, but do I really want to impress people who like super-obscure music? Do I want to impress the pop people? It’s just too much to spin your mind around so it all comes down to do I like it? It’s a pretty small goal, but it’s definitely something I could feel the most proud of.”
Korea-born, Los Angeles-based artist Sasami has made a name for herself with various roles, from playing in orchestras to supporting local rock bands. Her most recent album, Sasami, was released March 8.
If you enjoyed this interview, find more portraits of creatives living in L.A. here.