I dropped by to see John's studio, Bocce, and ask him about working with Sera Cahoone (see Sera interview here) and Margo Cilker (see Margo interview here).

How did you first meet Sera Cahoone?

Her manager contacted me, and we totally hit it off. She's super cool and I love her drumming. We ended up making Sera's From Where I Started, and it was really fun. We did a strings record too [The Flora String Sessions]. Then Margo said to Sera, "I love your record. Will you produce me?" Sera called me and said, "Do you want to do this?" I said, "Totally."

Sera said that she was really comfortable working with you.

She's a friend now. But also, since I had produced her record before Margo's – and got sounds, drum sounds, and went through that process – we never even talked about that "technical" stuff. It was just, "Great. Let's record it." It came together quickly because she and I already knew that that's the way we were going to do it. It made that part easy. Then it was way more about takes and performances. I should add that Margo really has her shit together!

In what ways?

For the first record we did [Pohorylle], Margo was this real low-key person and funny, like, "Yeah, I want to make a record." But she would go in, do a vocal take, and we were like, "Holy shit. That's a great take." She was tracking a lot of guitar and vocals together, and it was clear that she had been working hard on doing that. Where Sera was extremely beneficial was with feel and tempo. She was able to get the nuts and bolts of how the song should be arranged, and that really helped. We got [Paul] Brainard [guitars, pedal steel] on a bunch of songs on this new record, which was great because I love working with Paul.

Same here. And Jenny [Conlee-Drizos; piano, accordion, organ] too. Those are my two local first-calls, for their instruments.

Oh, absolutely. That's a big part of what I think is so fun about this record. "Let's get Jenny. Let's get Paul." They played over everything. We just said, "Go for it." There were ideas we had, but mostly we knew that we're going to get a spirit out of it. It was great, and they're both such nice people too. There's this unspoken trust that makes the project so much more fun. I realized when Sera and I were becoming friends, that she wants to make sure she can have trust in a situation. So that when she gets in the room with someone like Margo, she's doing a lot of the things that a producer should do. She's pushing Margo in good ways, but also helping her build confidence. Having somebody that makes a decision is such a huge thing! When you decide to have a producer, and there's a producer that is comfortable in that role, then you're helping them make decisions. Sera is really good at that. If we're saying, "Let's try this," and Sera didn't like it, she'd say, "I'm not into it." I think that's really helpful when making a record.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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