Sera Cahoone, a Littleton native and graduate of Columbine High School, now lives in Seattle, where she once played drums for Band of Horses and Carissa’s Wierd. But she quickly rose to critical acclaim as a singer-songwriter with the release of a self-titled solo album in 2006.
Cahoone’s dusty, welcoming songs feature mellow, beautifully delivered country rock that breathes depth into deceptively gloomy music. Her most recent release, 2013’s impressive Deer Creek Canyon, is both hopeful and dark, paying tribute to Cahoone’s Colorado roots and juxtaposing lyrics like “My heart is breaking/and I’m the one to blame” with tasteful, woodsy alt-folk.
Recently, Cahoone’s world — one in which the sounds of acoustic guitar, pedal steel and banjo abound — merged with one filled with soccer balls and World Cup trophies, when she and Seattle Reign FC (and U.S. Women’s National Team) star Megan Rapinoe got engaged. Cahoone, who is completing a new album, discussed that and more with Westword in an interview by phone from her Seattle home.
Adam Perry: You left Colorado in 1998. What’s it like coming back?
Sera Cahoone: I love it every time. I still definitely call Denver home. Every time I play there it’s special, because my family’s all there, and friends, and it always feels good.
Do you still carry Colorado in your songwriting?
Definitely. Deer Creek Canyon was based on Deer Creek Canyon Road there. My mom lives up on top of there, so that song is about my mother and going home. Colorado is a huge part of me. I miss it a lot, but it’s too hard to move. I was so excited to play the Fox Theatre, because it’s the one place in Colorado I’ve never played. I used to go there in high school all the time. I saw Radiohead and all these huge bands there, and I was always like, “I can’t wait to play here one day.”
What was the Denver music scene like when you were just starting out compared to what’s happening now?
I feel like it’s changed a lot. I know they have that great radio station with [102.3 FM] OpenAir; stuff like that is exciting. When I was living there, I was really young and didn’t have a full view of what was going on. But there are so many great bands out of Denver now, always. I always keep an eye out for Denver bands, because there’s such a great vibe going on there, which is super-exciting to me. I want to be involved in it, but I’m not, because I’m in Seattle — but I still feel like a part of it. I loved seeing Nathaniel [Rateliff] on [The Tonight Show]. That was amazing.
How did you decide to fully shift from being a drummer to being a singer-songwriter?
When I was in high school, I would kind of mess around with the guitar, but I was super-shy, so I kind of just did it on the side. I always wanted to play the guitar, because [with] drums you can only do so much, really. I started singing a little bit, and when I moved to Seattle I started to just force myself to play open mikes. I didn’t know anyone, so I would just kind of go out to open mikes and try to get over my awkward shyness of even singing in front of people. I think I just really wanted to do something different for a while. I never expected to be where I am right now with it.
You didn’t think you’d have a career doing your own songs?
I wanted to put out a record. I wanted to do all the guitar and play all the drums; that was my goal with my very first record. I didn’t have much money, but I wanted to just do the record for myself. I sent it to KEXP here, to John “In the Morning” [Richards], thinking that it would get played on a local thing. He played it on his show, and I was like, “Holy shit.” I think it was just the demo; my record wasn’t [finished] yet. Having the huge support of KEXP got it in people’s ears, and it’s kind of just gone from there, I guess. Of course I wanted to play shows, because I felt really excited about my songs and wanted people to hear it — but I also didn’t really expect to be where I am with it.
Deer Creek Canyon had a lot of difficult but necessary life lessons, like “You’re the only one who has control of what you need.” Do you find yourself trying to live by the lessons in your songs?
That’s an interesting question. Yeah, I guess in ways, of course, something like that will come out. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things that do come out. That’s something I love about the songs, is how they do affect people, and that’s why I do what I do. So I would answer yes.
If you Google “Sera Cahoone” and “sad,” you’ll find tons of articles about you. But “Might as Well,” for instance, has melancholy music with lyrics that are romantic in a positive way. Where does that mixture of moods come from?
It’s funny, because people do put “sad.” Sometimes I have people asking if I’m okay [laughs]. I’m actually a very happy person, but I’m also a very sensitive person; I think I see a lot of hopefulness in relationships and in life. But I love sad songs in general. Whenever I put music on, I like to listen to songs that make me feel something, and I’ve always loved super-somber music. So I think when I write songs, that’s just what comes out, because I listen to that kind of music so much and that’s what really gets me.
Did you listen to music that was a little twisted growing up? The Carter Family?
Yeah, I loved a lot of old country music. My mother listened to old folk records. And I was super into heavy metal in junior high. But I think when I got really into music, it was more singer-songwriter, sad music that I wanted to sit with. Tracy Chapman, for example.
It seems like it was a huge surprise to most of your fans to suddenly see you on SportsCenter. Has that kind of mass exposure grown your fan base?
I definitely have a lot more Megan Rapinoe fans [laughs]. That could even be youngsters or gay [people], so of course.... Usually it’s more in the Americana world. But I also haven’t played a ton of shows [lately]; I haven’t put out a record. So it’s hard for me to really say. But, yeah, it’s been interesting.
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What’s it like to be famous in one realm and then enter a very public relationship with someone who is famous in another?
I feel like ever since I met Megan, we’ve had this connection where we’ve understood each other in a lot of ways. I mean, she’s definitely [famous] on a much higher level than me, but it’s exciting because I get to live this completely “other” life and get to go see her play soccer and not have to be doing my thing. I feel like we understand each other in this way that’s been really sweet. But, yes, it is interesting. It’s just cool to see each other in, I don’t know, work mode.
So will the new songs all be happy?
[Laughs.] There are definitely some more sweet songs in there, but I think when I write, I just love writing sad songs, even if it’s not about me. If it’s too happy, it’s hard for me. Even when I start strumming a guitar part, it’s like, “Oh, that sounds sad.” I feel like it’s more natural for me to write sad songs. I can just go to that place; it makes me feel calm.