Sera Cahoone knows what it's like to have Thom Yorke hold your hands and sing to you
Lauded Sub Pop recording artist Sera Cahoone grew up in Colorado -- Littleton, to be exact. By the time she was in middle school, she was playing drums for gigging bands, and in the early '90s, she formed the experimental-rock band Idle Mind with her friend Roger Green. Although one of the more promising local acts of the time, the pair split and Cahoone got a job in Seattle, where she quickly became a fixture in that city's scene.
In the Emerald City, Cahoone, who more or less grew up playing drums, explored more of her roots in country music and folk. While doing so, she befriended and played drums for the critically-acclaimed indie pop band Carissa's Wierd, and after that band dissolved, two of her former bandmates hit her up to do some session work, and she ended up drumming on Band of Horses's debut album.
Since then, Cahoone has been writing and recording noteworthy music of her own on Sub Pop, including her latest, the tender and pastoral Deer Creek Canyon. Named after her old stamping grounds, the album centers on coming to terms with the past and living in the present, and Cahoone's lifelong love of old-time country music, as well as her love of her home state. We recently spoke with the warm and charming Cahoone about growing up in the Denver area, her experience in Seattle and her enduring love of Colorado.
Westword: What part of Littleton did you grow up in, and what were your first exposures to live music?
Sera Cahoone: I grew up kind of in the Columbine Knolls area. But my mom lives up on Deer Creek Canyon, so I kind of went back and forth. Ken Caryl Junior High area. [My first exposure to live music happened when] I was nine or something. My mom took me to see Pat Benatar at Mile High Stadium or something. I could have been a little younger than that. It was slightly overwhelming because there were so many people and we were so far away.
How about without parental supervision, as it were?
That's such a good question, and I don't know why I can't remember my very first concert. I remember seeing Radiohead when I was very young at the Fox Theatre, and that was pretty insane. I think I was in early high school. We were right up front, and Thom [Yorke] held my hands for a second and sang to me. It was totally bizarre. I felt very cool.
You started playing drums fairly young. How did you get started playing drums?
Growing up, I had been pretty obsessed with drums. I'd always be banging on stuff. My brother and I used to act like we were in a band, and I would take rods off of hangers and act like I was playing the drums. So I finally convinced my mom, when I was, like, eleven, to get me a drum set. It was just really natural for me. I just sat down and played "Wild Thing," which is slightly hilarious. I would always air drum a song so I just picked it up right away.
In a March 2008 article in the Denver Post, you talked about backing a blues band at Ziggie's when you were twelve. Did you play live much like that before getting out of high school?
Growing up, we would just do a lot of open jam nights. Even in junior high, I was trying to be in bands. I think my first big band was in ninth grade and we did our talent show. We played at some weird club in Littleton a couple of times. It's not there anymore. It was right by the Cooper 7 movie theater. I remember GG Allin played at some point.
I think maybe GG Allin played there with Josh Taylor's old band Secret Girls -- pre-Friends Forever. But certainly some local band opened up for him there in the early '90s.
I didn't go to the show, and I'm really bummed I didn't.
How did you meet Roger Green and end up playing with him in Idle Mind?
We went to high school together, him and Patrick [Park]. I met Patrick in jazz band, actually. Roger and I, my dad lived by his mom. I really wanted to get into a band with Patrick because I liked his musical style. We needed a guitarist, and we met up with Roger, and it's all history from there. I've known Roger forever and he's the best.
Did you have in mind in terms of the kinds of things you wanted to do?
I think it was very guitar driven with pedals. I don't think we necessarily set out to do anything crazy. I just think we wanted to do good music, and Patrick was a great songwriter. It was nice to play drums with someone that was that good.
What were some of the places and bands you played with at that time, and what are some of your vivid memories of playing in Denver at that time?
We played with Space Team Electra a few times, and they were so good. Unfortunately the Denver scene is such a slight blur to me because I was pretty young, and I feel like I was slightly out of it. We opened for the Ocean Blue, and we played a lot of Bluebird shows. Patrick worked there, as well. We tended to open for bigger bands rather than play with a lot of local bands, [for instance] that band that did "Closing Time" -- Semisonic.
When you moved to Seattle, where did you play?
When I first moved here, even before I moved here, I started doing open mikes with my guitar. There's this place called OK Hotel that's unfortunately not there anymore. I used to go there every Wednesday and play. I think my very first show was at a place called the Sit & Spin, which isn't there anymore either, unfortunately. It was a venue and a laundromat.
How would you say Seattle has changed, if it has, in terms of being a musician there since the time you were starting out?
It's always been a vibrant music scene for sure. I didn't live here during the whole Nirvana thing, so I'm sure that was really intense. When I moved here, I didn't know a ton of people. Now knowing a ton of people and a lot of bands, it does seem to have a great folk scene. Also there's a hip-hop scene, and I feel like that's grown a lot. It's really cool to see. Do you know Macklemore from here? He just put out a record basically by himself, and it just hit number one on iTunes, which is insane. It's such a diverse city, and I think it's always been that way.
Though you didn't go on tour with Band of Horses, you recorded on the first album. How did you end up playing with that group?
I was in a band with Ben [Bridwell] and Mat [Brooke] called Carissa's Wierd. So I drummed for them. We all went and did our separate things, but they basically just needed a drummer, so I went in and played on the record. I was never in the band. It was natural just playing with them, so it was really fun just to do that. Carissa's Wierd had a lot of drummers, and I played in the band right before the end.
How did it come about that you joined that band?
I had met with Ben and Jeff [Hellis], who had been in Carissa's Wierd before me, and we had kind of jammed a few times. He had drummed on some of my songs. We hit it off, and he was one of the first musicians I met here, really, with whom I really clicked. He called me one day -- Carissa's Wierd was one of my favorite bands -- and asked if I wanted to play drums. It was a really great fit because I love to play really mellow drums. I already knew their music so well so it was an easy transition for me.
In the aforementioned Post article, you talked about how you listen mostly to classic country music. Who are some of your favorite artists, and are there particular albums you'd recommend?
I have a lot of favorites. But Merle Haggard is one of my favorites to listen to. Especially his older stuff. I'm A Lonesome Fugitive is one of my favorite records. Buck Owens, and I love Loretta Lynn, of course -- pretty much any of her records are amazing. Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, I could go on.
In a July 2012 article for Exclaim, you said you get homesick and think about moving back to Colorado. What do you miss about Colorado versus Seattle?
I miss a lot about it. I feel like I fight with a lot wanting to go back. My whole family's there. I miss the weather so much. I love that it's always sunny but cold and snowing. It's just such a beautiful place. I miss so much about it. I love Seattle, but I definitely fight with that even not wanting to live in the city.
What ultimately keeps you in Seattle?
I have really great friends, and it's such a great music scene; it's really hard to leave. I think it would be hard to leave right now. Denver is a place where I've always wanted to get into the scene, but I feel like I'm out so far. But that's a big goal of mine to try and meet more bands in Denver and get a comfortable place there as well and try and build something there. So that's kind of really important to me to let people know how much I care about it and really want to be a part of it.
The actual Deer Creek Canyon is southwest of Littleton. Why did you choose that title for your record? Does that place hold a special resonance for you?
There's so much special about it. Yeah, my mom lives up there, and when I was younger and feeling sad or having a hard time, I would always drive up there. With this new record I wrote a song called "Deer Creek Canyon," and it just kind of brought the whole record together, and that's where that came from. The name felt right because there was so much that I was missing of home in writing this record.
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