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SASAMI Summons Fuzz and Distortion For An Emotional Exorcism

Songwriter Sasami Ashworth is indulging the monster within on her multidimensional sophomore album, Squeeze.

by Fraser Hamilton

Photo by Andrew Thomas Huang

Sasami Ashworth, aka SASAMI, just wants you to let it all out when you hear her new music.

As someone who isn’t afraid to address lyrical topics like facing systemic violence or confronting the inner turmoils of her own relationships, Ashworth knows there’s a lot of complicated emotions ricocheting off the walls of our collective consciousness and has provided an appropriately cathartic soundscape through SASAMI. “I think there’s something to be said about using art, music, or even food, to help lift you up and out of these dark, oppressive times,” she explains over the phone from Los Angeles. “I wanted to create a soundtrack where people could feel their pain and live out some of their more aggressive fantasies through the music.” 

Squeeze is Ashworth’s latest collection of songs that explore the singer’s wide spectrum of moods; a wonderfully nasty piece of work with genres that range from hardcore nu-metal to sunny early 2000s pop-rock. Depending on where you are in the tracklisting, it can be similar to either Sheryl Crow or System of a Down. Ashworth credits her diverse musical inspirations to her mixed heritage. “I was raised by a Korean mom and a Caucasian-American dad who used to make me mix CDs with Dire Straits and Fleetwood Mac on it,” Ashworth recalls. “70s folk rock is in my roots for sure.” 

Previously having been a part of the rock band Cherry Glazerr before pursuing a solo career, SASAMI’s first self-titled record in 2019 was more autobiographical, introspective, and laid-back in terms of sound. With Squeeze, those reflective thoughts are turned outwards in new and exciting ways as Ashworth turns up the volume while leaning into heavier sounds and horror imagery.

It’s not just the music that’s striking. The unforgettable album art was designed by renowned visual artist Andrew Thomas Huang, who recently received a Grammy Award nomination for directing FKA Twigs’ show-stopping “Cellophane” video,  and features Ashworth as a Japanese spirit called the Nure-onna – which essentially looks like a snake with the head of the girl from The Ring. Learning about it while researching her family’s Korean and Japanese history and culture, Ashworth was fascinated by the creature’s bloodthirsty image while putting the record together, and the tales about a feminine, vampiric folk deity who drinks the blood of its male victims became a point of inspiration for the incendiary truth-bombs and general frustrations that Ashworth works through over the course of the album.

“I was really thinking about flipping this narrative about female and femme characters being victims, or dominated by this male energy within heavy rock music,” Ashworth says. “I wanted to make an album with femme characters being the opposite of a victim – more of a villain and a perpetrator of aggression.” It’s a viewpoint that becomes evident right from the start of the record, with the opening song “Skin A Rat” immediately detailing the deep rage against systems of inequality. “Hell-fucked economy!” she belts on the track, over screeching electric guitars. “Crisis identity!”

Much like the coils of the central serpentine figure, everything within Squeeze is twisting – both in terms of tightening the grip on those it calls out and being malleable and open to a variety of musical genres and moods. When choosing the title, Ashworth was drawn to the word’s different meanings. “I like the multi-dimensions of ‘squeeze’,” she says. “It can be an endearing hug, holding on to hope, or a violent grasp or choke. It’s a Rorschach test of a word that projects something different based on what you feel, and I wanted the album to have that fluidity too.”

It’s dizzying, exciting, and sometimes overwhelming material, but it also comes with welcome moments of rest to balance things out. Standout track “The Greatest” goes in a different direction and harnesses the equally punchy thrills of 80s power ballads (think Heart’s “Alone”), detailing a powerful relationship that ended too soon. When all the intense feelings have been burned through, Squeeze concludes on a metaphysical note with the beautifully epic “Not A Love Song,” that ascends above the crashing sea of heartbreak and vitriol, imploring listeners to think beyond the problems affecting them in their own respective bubbles and think in a universal sense. “After so much focus on these very human themes about communication, relationships, societal fractures, and oppression, I wanted to loosen the perspective a bit and shift it higher, more existential,” Ashworth says about the closing track.

It’s not all about feelings of spite, longing, and existentialism, though. At the end of the day, Ashworth doesn’t take herself too seriously – it’s part of why the web of emotion she expresses feels so genuine. “I like to provide chaotic wildness with a mix of tongue and cheek,” she says matter-of-factly. “I really don’t find my music to be so self-serious. It’s somehow violent and aggressive while also being wholesome – which is like, kinda my vibe.”