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TJ WEST: Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion


TJ WEST: Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion

By Kim Grant, Contributing Writer

The husband-wife duo Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion have been making music together for 13 years.  Guthrie grew up in a musical household as the daughter of Arlo Guthrie and granddaughter of Woody.  Irion’s roots are of the literary kind, as he is kin to authors Thomas Steinbeck and John Steinbeck.  Guthrie and Irion’s latest record, Wassaic Way was produced by Wilco band members Jeff Tweedy and Patrick Sansone and was recorded at the band’s Chicago studio, The Loft.  Guthrie and Irion are known for their solid harmonies and pop instrumentation. The addition of Tweedy and Sansone’s production to the project adds an eclectic and experimental quality that gives it beautiful shape.

The pair are now on tour in support of Wassaic Way and Turnstyled Junkpiled was able to catch up with them.

TJ:  How did you choose Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone as your producers for Wassaic Way?

Johnny:  We had been touring with the band Autumn Defense, which is John Stirratt and Pat Sansone of Wilco.  That led to an invite to Solid Sound (Wilco’s music and art’s festival) and a visit to record at The Loft.  It was all very organic.

Sarah Lee:  The list was not very long and Jeff was on top of that list.  We asked and he said “yes!”

TJ:  What inspired Wassaic Way?

Johnny:  We are always trying to write tunes, so some of the songs were written before we knew we would be working with Jeff and Pat.  When it was confirmed that we’d be working with them I started writing maniacally.  I would say half of the album was written for the recording at The Loft, which became Wassaic Way.

Sarah Lee:  It was time to make a new album; we had too many songs not to record them.  We spend a lot of time on the road and these songs are a collection of what we’ve seen, people we’ve met, feelings we’ve had, words and melodies we have been lucky enough to capture.

TJ:  Did you both do the writing and composing for the album?

Johnny:  We write separately and then bring our ideas to the table.

Sarah Lee:  Johnny did about 80% of the writing and composing.  I threw in 10% and Jeff and Pat did the rest, or thereabouts.

TJ:  What is your songwriting process?

Johnny:  Wake up and make something happen!

Sarah Lee:  Johnny has this constant drive to write songs.  It’s amazing to me.  He always has about 6 in his pocket that he is working on.  He reminds me of the way Woody was.  Always reading, writing and taking into account everything he sees, hears and feels for a song.  We have a little writing cabin on our land back in Massachusetts and Johnny spent about 4 hours a day for several months putting together the songs that we originally sent in to the producers.  I had a few laying around that I polished off and sent in.  I even polished off a few of Johnny’s ole’ tunes that I always loved and he had forgotten about.  In the end, we narrowed it down and brought them to Pat and Jeff, who were extremely generous with helping us to arrange the music and words before we recorded them.

TJ:  You’re touring in support of the album to quite a few cities.  What do you do to relax on the road?

Sarah Lee:  The drive I think is the most relaxing part, depending on traffic and the weather elements.  But I think my favorite part of the tour is always the show—that’s when I breathe the most.  Of course, napping is also quite relaxing!

TJ:  Do you take your family on the road with you?poster sarah and johnny

Sarah Lee:  We do!  We have a 6 year old and an 11 year old (both girls).  They travel most of the time with us and other times they stay with family.  We have a big family and everyone helps each other out.  We are very fortunate to have people in our lives that understand our way of life and want to support us.  Not only that, because we have traveled so much in the last 12 years, we have friends all over this great big world.  That makes it easier for a family to be on the road.  My little one asked the other day “Mom, are we gypsies?”  And I calmly replied with a confident smile, “Yes, we are.”

TJ:  What is the best way you could end this tour?

Sarah Lee:  Well, we get to spend a week in Hawaii at the end of March.  That’s probably the best way we’ve ever ended a tour.  Of course, it doesn’t really ever end for us.

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion will be performing in Los Angeles at The Echo on Saturday, February 8th at 6pm.  Neal Casal opens and it is an all-ages show.  For more information please visit

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