CocoRosie Comes Full Circle

CocoRosie Comes Full Circle

Ten Years and Six Albums Later, Cocorosie Is Still Supremely Subverting the Mainstream, But That Hasn't Stopped the World From Listening

Ten Years and Six Albums Later, Cocorosie Is Still Supremely Subverting the Mainstream, But That Hasn't Stopped the World From Listening

Text: Ian David Monroe

Pinning down Bianca and Sierra Casady—better known as CocoRosie—is a feat near impossible, and that doesn’t include their decade-spanning genre-crossing discography and gender-fucking personas. No, instead they’re quite literally hard to track down. For starters, they aren’t even in the same country. Sierra is in California and Bianca is in France finishing up a tour of her solo project, Bianca Casady and the CIA. So interviewing both requires two separate calls, except that Bianca has no cellphone and Sierra hasn’t even properly set hers up. It’s a lack of convention that I should have expected; after all, that has always been the allure of CocoRosie.

Once on the phone, on two separate calls, both admit to completely checking out of the mainstream following their “Future Feminism” residency at NYC’s The Hole gallery in collaboration with Kembra Pfaler, Johanna Constantine, and Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons. The project aimed at spreading the “pillars” of a proactive version of feminism that calls not for equality of the genders, but an overhaul reversal of inequalities. In the year since, Bianca and Sierra have moved into other projects, but carved out time to create an album, Heartache City, the follow-up to 2013’s Tales of a Grasswidow.

To escape the world and focus on their art, CocoRosie retreated to a barn in the South of France where they recorded their debut album, La maison de mon rêve. “It’s not even really a music studio, just a room where we’ve been putting old instruments,” clarifies Bianca. “We’ve been holding on to little tapes, particularly toys and objects, since we started and we knew they were precious.” Those instruments were dusted off and used once again, making Heartache City, a return to form. “The last few years we’ve explored a really complex production style. We had this kind of craving to get back to a much simpler production style similar to our first record,” says Bianca. That room also stores suitcases full of the sisters’ decade worth of writings. “Bianca’s a prolific writer. There must be hundreds of poems. What stood out for us, we wrote songs around,” remembers Sierra.

While the impetus for creating the album came from a sentient place, albums for CocoRosie aren’t entirely a conscious effort, but instead an “exploration of the subconscious self,” says Sierra. There’s room for fun, too, though: “We were decked out in lots of wigs. I was on rollerskates,” delights Sierra.

Bianca opens up more on their process, the nature of artists, and how her and her sister aren’t the same people they were ten years ago:

What’s been the biggest difference with touring solo versus as CocoRosie?

BIANCA CASADY There’s a lot, a lot, a lot of difference. I’m exploring tonality in music very differently, especially vocally. Everything that I’m doing solo is kind of broken and deranged, so it’s a bit like dark side of CocoRosie, but I’m also exploring really anti-entertainment approach to performance.

You don’t think of CocoRosie as dark?

BC It is. But I feel like it’s always accompanied with a lightness, a sense of beauty, and something playful, and my sister brings a lot of those aspects.

A lot of your lyrics aren’t easy to understand right away. Could you walk me through some of the themes? BC Yeah, even for us it’s not easy to understand right away. Sometimes [it] can be poetry I wrote years ago mixed with a new experience, and the choruses and hooks are often bringing a whole other possible meaning to the story. It’s not really easy for me to define the songs lyrically, actually.

Were there any fond memories that came up with things you pulled out the old instruments?

BC For me, just kind of returning to Sierra’s musical sense. She really played all of the instruments on the first record. I hadn’t really touched music at that time, but have gotten more involved in the last years. We returned to her playing all of the instruments and it feels like just where we started in a way, not necessarily as singers. I think we both have changed a lot. And then, I have no idea where it came from, but suddenly the poetry turned out really rap influenced and that was kind of a surprise. Hip-hop was a big influence when we started making music.

So in a way you’ve come full circle.

BC That might be a sort of ten-year thing. I’ve noticed I personally go through a ten-year creative cycle. Maybe other artists are the same way.

You said that you and Sierra both changed a lot and I wondered in what ways?

BC Musically, I feel like my sense of rhythm has really transformed a lot, especially recently. I’ve discovered a new sense of rhythm in delivering these words. On a more personal point, I think we’ve developed a different kind of respect for each other now, and we gave each other a lot of space on this record. I was working on beats, drums, and lyrics, and gave her complete space with all of the melodies and instrumentation. You can see that we worked through the struggle.

Outside of making the record and touring it, do you and Sierra spend a lot of time together?

BC We spend quite a bit of time together. Lately we find ourselves working on another project together, musically, and have even found other collaborative dynamics. She has gotten more into acting, performance, and dance and I’ve gotten more into writer/director roles. We discovered that we have completely different chemistry there. I’m working on writing another play and having her as one of the main characters.

Would CocoRosie soundtrack the play or would Bianca Casady and the CIA?

BC The last play that I did I worked completely independently, but there’s a good chance we would write all of the music together, which we find extremely fun. We can really go anywhere we want to and there’s no going to far with doing music for theater.

When you say you “no going to far,” does CocoRosie have boundaries?

BC In a way I feel like we do have certain limitations and I especially discovered doing that in my own project. I believe that limitations create style and distinction and it’s not that our project has no boundaries. The boundaries make it what it is. It’s not a big free-for-all. I’m really aware of the fact that I have a partnership and I just can’t do whatever I want and its not just all about me and my expression.

I got to see your performance for the Future Feminism show. Was that spontaneous?

BC Yeah that was spontaneous. That whole show was completely unrehearsed, in every way. We hadn’t played in a long time. We just had such a good time at that show it just gave us the courage to suddenly book a bunch of shows without rehearsal. That was a special night. It felt electric.

Are you still working on the Future Feminism project or has it taken a pause?

BC I think all of us are pretty active in our own artistic careers. That was a unique thing where we all dedicated a lot of time to this project together. We also forfeited our personal aesthetic, which is something none of us usually do. It took a lot out of us, too. We were confronted by the public a lot, and it was a very interesting experience. It’s hard to say exactly what came out of all of that, but I have a feeling it had an affect. It pushed some sort of shift.

On “Lost Girls” you sing, “lift up your skirt someone’s going to stop you soon.” I can’t tell if that statement, song, is a warning or…

BC It’s interesting when other people try to interpret our point of view in the lyrics. We’re always exploring multiple points of view and a kind of sad experience and its rarely judgment. I don’t know if there’s a better word, but it’s always an exploration. There’s always songs for exploring the racist or the rapist, and writing it from the first person as a way to…I guess if you try to understand that point of view it helps you to see the world around that person and what’s informing them.

Would it be safe to say that maybe CocoRosie isn’t painting a specific picture, but putting up a mirror?

BC Yeah, also creating a space where you’re allowed to feel anything and have any experience in a space that’s not shameful. If we find ourselves with any kind of objective it’s getting rid of shame and we use our creative outlets to try to erase that in ourselves. I find that political correctness, especially in the United States, can be kind of crippling in a way. I’m all for people reflecting on themselves, and understanding their own racism and not alienating others and being aware of the language that they use, but at the same moment, especially artists, are supposed to break those rules.

In a way artists are meant to go even further so that when society goes even just a little it’s not as extreme.

BC I definitely can relate to that idea. Sometimes it means doing things that receive a lot of ridicule and misunderstanding also. I’ve just accepted that as an artist.

ORDER HEARTACHE CITY, OUT NOW, HERE. THEY PERFORM AT WEBSTER HALL FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25. ORDER YOUR TICKETS HERE

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