Sera Cahoone: Canyon Crooner

By Jeremy Gerrard

In many ways, your personality is shaped by where you’re from. However, as you grow older, your personality is better defined by where you’ve gone, or by where you’re going. Sera Cahoone grew up in the Colorado canyons, but she’s made a name for herself in the northwest by collaborating with others and by putting on sincere solo performances. Her lyrics and her approach to music reflect that geographical hybrid, but she’s also influenced by the country, blues, and folk stamps that notable southerners have left behind: Mississippi John Hurt and Loretta Lynn, to name a couple. But Sera Cahoone also has another home: Sub Pop Records.

One of the more renowned record labels for inventive upcoming artists, Sub Pop has also housed others you may have heard of recently and not so recently: Nirvana, Fleet Foxes, the Shins, Fruit Bats, the Vaselines, Band of Horses, Blitzen Trapper, Beach House, and many, many others. Hailing from a label like Sub Pop invites certain expectations, yet we know that expectations aren’t always the same as realities: not every southern Californian is a gay surfer aspiring to be an actor; not every northern Californian is a pot-smoking liberal. You’ve got to talk to people individually to know their true colors. Recently, Synthesis talked with Sera Cahoone about her approach to music—we’ve got the questions, she’s got the answers; read on and decide if you want to ride in the leisurely boat she’s floatin’.

What’s the role of a musician in your eyes? Or, what makes a successful musician?
That’s a tough question. I’d say someone who makes it clear that what’s flowing out of them is natural and genuine.

Okay, but someone could have a load of crap naturally and genuinely flowing out of them, too, so….
Well, I guess success is different for everyone, so it depends. You know it when you see it.

Looking at your compositions, it looks like you feel most comfortable with simple major and minor chords in the 4/4 time signature. How much room for inventiveness do you find within those boundaries?
I’m not the greatest guitarist, you know. I’m still learning. I guess I just do what I can. I want to get better. But I don’t necessarily think that music has to fill a niche to be successful.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of your songs are in the mid-tempo pocket. What’s that a reflection of?
A lot of it is because I listen to a lot of old country tunes, and they tend to be in that tempo. But sometimes playing a song faster just doesn’t feel right for the mood. The mood of my songs tend to be mid-tempo, whatever that means, so the pace reflects that.

Speaking of the tunes you listen to, could you talk about the influences that have shaped your music. Particularly, are there ones that are not obvious to the average listener?
I listen to Mississippi John Hurt a lot, and he made me try out some more finger-picking stuff that appears on [Deer Creek Canyon]. I also love Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, those folks.

I also hear some Townes Van Zandt in there?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Anything from that time and scene.

I love that you pay heed to these great musicians, but can you think of any ways that your music has also transcended them?
I feel like they’ve influenced me in ways that make me want to write music like that. But a lot of the ways that my music transcends these influences is by the musicians I bring in to the mix and bounce ideas off of. Each musician brings their own style, and the combination of those different styles is something that’s simultaneously unique and traditional.

When you begin to write a song, are your priorities music and melody or lyrics and content?
Definitely music and melody. I’m not the greatest writer, so sitting down to write lyrics just doesn’t feel natural to me. I need to work out a guitar part or a drum part and then let the melody or the rhythm bring the lyrics to me. I usually know what kind of lyrics I want, but it takes a while for them to come out.

Lastly, and I always ask every artist this, what song do you wish you would’ve written?
There’s so many, but I’d have to say “Fist City” by Loretta Lynn.

Excellent choice.
Maybe I’ll cover it some day.

I think you’re too sweet to sing those lyrics.

Sera Cahoone will perform at Café Coda this Wednesday, November 14th along with support act the Parson Red Heads and local talent Broken Rodeo and Jack Knight. This all ages show will begin at 8PM and costs $8.

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