Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sera Cahoone Returns With "Deer Creek Canyon"

On September 25th, Sub Pop Records released Sera Cahoone's third solo album called Deer Creek Canyon. Inspired by her origins in the Colorado canyons, Sera has crafted a lasting collection of tunes that explore the notion of "home" while digging deeper into personal struggles with love and friendship.

After relocating to Seattle in 1998, Sera connected with the local music community and performed with such notable acts as Carissa's Weird, Band of Horses, Betsy Olson, and Patrick Park. She has released two previous solo albums, her 2006 self-titled debut (that was very well received on KEXP) and and 2008's Only As The Day Is Long, that opened up her sound to more of a full-band affair.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sera about her musical trajectory leading up to and including Deer Creek Canyon.

Since coming to Seattle in 1998, you have played with Carissa’s Wierd, Band of Horses, Betsy Olson, and Patrick Park. How have these experiences influenced your own work and musical sensibilities, as well as your own sense of community?

Sera Cahoone: Well, I went to high school with Patrick Park. By that time I had been playing drums since I was 11 so I was really into music. It was great to meet another kid who was as serious about playing music as I was.

We became friends in jazz band (nerdy) and formed a band called Idlemind. I really learned a lot from him. He's always been a huge influence in my music. I learned to be a better drummer from him and he taught me how to be more sensitive and not have the drums get in the way of the song.

So going to Carissa's Wierd was very natural. Their songs are so sparse and beautiful that I just loved the band before I ever played with them.  And, of course, they wrote such sad songs and I'm always such a sucker for sad songs! This led to me playing drums on Band Of Horses first record which was great experience for me.

As for Betsy Olson, she writes some damn good blues songs and I just love getting a chance to bang on the drums with her. I feel so lucky to live in Seattle where there is such a great and supportive music community.

Please discuss the writing/ recording of your solo debut in 2006. What was most challenging, surprising, rewarding about making that album? What was your biggest takeaway?

Sera: Everything about this record was surprising and rewarding for me. I was a drummer but had been writing songs on the guitar since I was in high school. I recorded my record in four days with absolutely no expectations. All I knew is I wanted to get these songs recorded.

I didn't bother looking for a label and just mailed John Richards and KEXP a copy hoping maybe it would get played on Audiooasis the local show. Then John actually played it in on the morning show. It gave me a heart attack! The response from KEXP was just so amazing. KEXP had a huge part of the success of that record and for my success still.

How did you connect with Sub Pop for your next record?

Sera: I met Megan Jasper at party a very long time ago. We kept in touch .They ended up picking up my first record for distribution only. So, we slowly built a relationship from that.

How did those experiences of making your first record and your subsequent live performances prepare you for writing/ recording/ making Only As The Day Is Long (Sub Pop, 2008)?

Sera: On the first record, I only had my pedal steel player Jason Kardong, who I had been playing with. We found Jeff Fielder (banjo/dobro etc) right before we had to go record. After I recorded my first record I started putting a full band together. We played shows and toured together as a band. So by the time Only As The Day Is Long was ready to be recorded I had a full band ready to record.

I wanted Only As The Day to be a little more of a collective effort instrumentally. The first album I wrote the songs, played guitar and drums. On the second one, I wanted a band's perspective on the parts.

When did you begin working on the material for the new album?

Sera: Pretty much right after I released Only As The Day.

Can you talk a little bit about Deer Creek Canyon (specifically Colorado Canyon, where you grew up/ where your mother lives- as a location, source of inspiration for this album)?

Sera: Deer Creek Canyon has always been a very special place to me. It's a beautiful canyon in Littleton Colorado.  My mother lives up on the top of one of the mountains there. My father also lives in Littleton but in more of the suburbs. So I would go back and forth.

The minute I drive up Deer Creek Canyon everything clears away. I can think again. Whenever I was having those high school blues I would just drive all around. It's actually the first place I ever got high (sorry mom). My friends and I decided to park on the side of the road and hike up one night. I think we smoked like seven bowls or something. It was absolutely awful. I thought I was going to die! Haha… I'm such a wuss.

Did you have a set vision and/ or preconceived thematic direction for the record?

Sera: No, I didn't set out for anything in particular. I just wanted to take my time with this one. I wasn't putting a ton of pressure on myself. When the songs came, they came. Sometimes that took a very long time I know. But I feel really good about this record and I know it was the right way to go.

Was there a tune that set the course for the album?

Sera: Definitely when I finished the song "Deer Creek Canyon". It really shaped the whole record for me. The whole vibe of it.

Please discuss your process(es) both musically and lyrically, and where/ how do these culminate/ influence each other during your writing.

Sera: I guess it's the drummer in me, but I always hear rhythm first. I'll write a guitar part with that in mind and immediately go to my drums to find something that fits. I write a lot of songs sitting at my drum kit with a guitar on my lap.

Lyrics are last for me. I tend to know what the song is about in my head, a feeling or an emotion. But it can take awhile to get that into words. I find it helps me to have the song structured a bit before I really feel what the lyrics will be.

Can you discuss the limited edition 7" featuring two non-album tracks, “Dog Song” by Sera Cahoone, and “I Like to Fuck” by Toby and Skeeter (Featuring you and Jason Kardong)?

Sera: Ha! Well, I will start with "Dog Song". I have a crazy dog named Chichi. A little toy poodle. Probably the cutest dog ever. But she has some issues! Always has since she was a little baby. She will attack you over a piece of dog food or even if you just look at her the wrong way and she's not in the mood. She's had trainers and tried doggy prozac. My ex and I have been through hell with her.  But we love her so what can you do?

One night before she basically held us hostage in our house (I know, a little toy poodle!!). So I woke up singing and strumming "Goddamnit you dog" and it all went from there.  The song really made both of us feel better because we could laugh about it. Hahaha, even Chichi chilled out a bit...

"I Like To Fuck" is a funny one too. Jay started writing this song about Toby and Skeeter. The name Toby is Jay's alter ego. If he drinks too much whiskey he kinda turns into a jackass (sorry Jay). So we all started calling him Toby Cody. Then I started drinking whiskey and turning into a jackass so my alter ego name was Skeeter. When we were on the road Jay showed me the idea he had for this song. We basically just put it together as a joke song.

We started playing this song for people and it cracked them up. So when Sub Pop mentioned we should have an order incentive, I thought these two songs would be funny. So I recorded them at home and here they are for the world to hear. Yikes!

What were you listening to during this time of writing that influenced you most (as well as during the recording, that may have inspired you sonically and with arrangements)?

Sera: I was going through a pretty big Mississippi John Hurt phase. I wrote about 3 songs on this record fingerpicking. Which I was pretty awful at but I was determined so I kept at it. So thank you John Hurt!

What are some of your biggest non-musical influences/ sources of inspiration? 

Sera: I would have to say environment. The mountains are always an inspiration for me. Getting away from home, going on road trips, driving cross country. I think also the rain and the gray of Seattle winter can inspire me. It will put me in a mood and I will start hearing the bones of a new song in my head.

Please describe your experiences recording at Bear Creek Studio, then working with Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Vetiver)?

Sera: Bear Creek is such an amazing studio. I really wanted to try and record this record in the middle of the mountains somewhere. But that's easier said then done. But, Bear Creak has that feel. It's an old barn in Woodenville. The minute I walked in I knew it was a pretty magical place.

And working with Thom was one of the best things that could have happened. We clicked right away. He really dived into my songs and I really appreciated that about him. We were totally on the same page. He's brilliant.

Can you tell us about your history with your band and your working relationship together?

Sera: Sure. I have basically been playing with the same band for many many years. Jason Kardong the longest. Since before my first record came out. So 2005. But I've played with everyone since about 2006 I would say.

How collaborative was the writing/ recording processes with your band (Jason Kardong (pedal steel), Jeff Fielder (acoustic guitar, banjo, dobro), Jonas Haskins (bass), Jason Merculief (drums), Sarah Standard (violin), plus Tomo Nakayama (piano and organ), and Emily Ann Peterson (cello))?

Sera: I kinda went back to the way I did my first record. I really wanted to play more drums on this one and my band was all touring with other people. So I just kinda kept a lot of these songs to myself right up until we went into the studio. I would record a song at my house and send it to Jason Kardong.  He would usually throw a part down and send it back.

But Jay is really the only one that would hear a lot these songs. He would write me back and be like "These are the worst songs ever Sera what the hell you doing?!!" Joking. Thank god he didn't do that!

I would work on recording them at home with drums, harmonica, guitar and vocals. I'd record rough drafts. Then going into the studio my band is so great that I knew they would each bring their own special parts to these songs. I'm very lucky.

Now that the record is set to be released, how would you say it connects most to your other work? What would you say sets this record furthest apart?

Sera: I think this record still fits right in. But for me Deer Creek Canyon just feels more mature. I really took my time with everything. I'm proud of each song. I wanted to make sure the vocals were right up there.

It feels different to me but still the kind of music I like to make. I'm not really interested in forcing a new sound just so it's new. I like to think this one has evolved naturally. And well, I'm a lot older now!

What are your plans for the rest of 2012?

Sera: Tour, tour, tour!

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