Life takes us strange places, and teen angst is a common motivator. It led Sera Cahoone, a shy Littleton teen, to sign on as drummer with high school headbangers — quite the departure from the spare melancholy soaked roots she now makes. Although she's lived in Seattle for this last decade, Cahoone still makes regular pilgrimages home, a place she revisits on her third solo album, Deer Creek Canyon.
Recorded with Thom Monahan (Pernice Brothers, Devendra Banhart), it's an autumnal album fueled by Jason Kardong's pedal steel peals and Cahoone's dulcet croon, transparent as tissue paper. In form, Deer Creek Canyon comes across as a singer-songwriter project with all the vocal-driven acoustic strumming that implies. But in execution, it's more textured, moody and atmospheric than most such fare, with a tender melancholia that suggest vivid moments filtered through the gauzy scrim of memory.
"Deer Creek Canyon is really special to me. I would drive up there all the time. It was a place I could go think. It's the first place I ever got stoned," says Cahoone. "The song 'Deer Creek Canyon' was about my mother and missing home, because I get really homesick sometimes. My whole family is there. I love Colorado a lot. I struggle with having left, but it was the right thing for me to do."
A snowboarder as a youth, she moved to Seattle in order to open a snowboard shop and fell in with some very talented friends. A drummer buddy, Jeff MacIsaac, recommended her as his replacement in underground cult fave Carissa's Wierd, with whom she spent the next couple years drumming.
When Carissa's Wierd broke up in '03, frontman Ben Bridwell went on to form Band of Horses, with Cahoone contributing drums to the band's Sub Pop debut. She parlayed those contacts into a distribution deal with Sub Pop for her self-titled 2005 debut, then signed with the label directly for 2008's full-band album Only As the Day Is Long.
But the grind of touring soon began taking its toll. In early 2009, she had half of Deer Creek Canyon written and was anticipating its release by year's end. It took a while longer.
"I didn't put any pressure on myself, obviously," she says, chuckling. "I wasn't in a rush, even though maybe I should've been. But I just really didn't care. I needed to make things feel good again."
Released on Sub Pop this past September, Deer Creek Canyon turned out to be worth the wait. While a number of songs move at a good clip — including the banjo-driven "Every Little Word" and the bustling roots number "Nervous Wreck" — more often they tremble forward more cautiously, as on the gorgeous cello and violin-aided mea culpa "One to Blame."
"I can't write happy songs, it feels strange to me," admits Cahoone, "I actually enjoy writing sad songs — even if a lot of them aren't necessarily about me."
As for those occasional bouts of homesickness, it's a price the singer-songwriter is willing to pay. "There is still a lot I love about Colorado. I'd like to be there more, but I'm not ready to move back anytime soon."