Sera Cahoone drew on Colorado memories for sad songs

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A palpable sense of longing permeates Sera Cahoone’s Deer Creek Canyon, this coming through even before you know anything about the inspiration for the album’s name. Consider the title track, where the Seattle-based songwriter sings “Deer Creek Canyon is where I am from/And it’s where you are still/For all the love I have here I needed to be on my own/My brother and my sister both left and now they’ve gone back home.”

Ultimately, Deer Creek Canyon seems like the work of someone wistfully wishing they were somewhere else. That isn’t that far from the truth, even though Cahoone makes a point of noting that she loves her adopted home of Seattle. It’s just that there are times when she finds herself thinking of Colorado, where she was raised, and where most of her family still lives. That seeped into the writing.

“A lot of this record, I was homesick,” Cahoone admits, calling the Straight from a Colorado gas-station pit stop on her current tour. “That really came through in the songs, even if the songs aren’t always about me and how I’m feeling.”

While she tends to work on material 12 months of the year, the 38-year-old confesses that there times when the gloomy Pacific Northwest inspires her more than others.

“When it’s dark and rainy, and you’re inside and bummed out all the time, it definitely does help the writing,” she says with a laugh. “But even though I like Seattle, I have to say that I can have a hard time with the rain. Being from Colorado, it doesn’t rain a lot there. Seattle has definitely taken some getting used to—the winters can be a little tough for sure.”

No surprise, then, that Deer Creek Canyon is the kind of record you’re often tempted to file under melancholy. Cahoone certainly knows how to play things slow, pretty, and dreamy, as evidenced by the pedal steel–swept folk of “Worry All Your Life” and the codeine alt-country of “Here With Me”. But she’s also not afraid to push the boundaries of Americana, dragging her inner soul sister onto the dance floor for “And Still We Move” and drifting into chamber-pop territory with “One to Blame”, which is dressed up, quite gorgeously, with mournful strings.

If all this sounds like the work of a musician who’s not interested in sticking to one musical template, that’s no accident. Even though she came to the game of performing solo late, Cahoone has an impressive résumé as a musician, having done time behind the kit in Seattle indie-rock unit Carissa’s Wierd and in the folksy Band of Horses. Making the move from the drums to the front of the stage was, the musician admits, difficult.

“It was a pretty tough transition,” Cahoone says. “I’m actually a pretty shy, awkward person, so it took me a really long time to get comfortable with people hearing what I’m saying. But I guess it’s also really helped me to not be as shy and awkward as I used to be.”

This brings us, in a roundabout way, back to the title of her third record. Not only is Cahoone now okay with standing up in front of the world on-stage, she’s also okay with sharing her inner musings with perfect strangers. Like, for example, the way that Deer Creek Canyon isn’t some pretty-sounding place she discovered on Google Maps.

“That song is about my mom—she lives up on a place called Deer Creek Canyon,” Cahoone says. “And it’s about missing home again. Deer Creek Canyon is a really amazing place that’s always been really special to me. There are all sorts of memories attached to it. Like the time I got high for the first time and it was really awful—funny things like that.”

Sera Cahoone plays the Media Club on Saturday (November 17).

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