Friday, April 20, 2007

Interview: CocoRosie


CocoRosie has come a long way from the bathtub.

The duo, made up of sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady, had very turbulent childhoods. Their Cherokee father moved them from reservation to reservation, teaching at various Steiner Waldorf schools, and their mother, also a teacher and an artist, moved from state to state.

Bianca eventually pursued the visual arts, studied linguistics and sociology, and attended “Kill Whitey” parties in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, Sierra, who changed boarding schools frequently from the age of 13, eventually moved to Paris to study opera at the Paris Conservatory. In 2003, Bianca left Brooklyn to explore the world, inexplicably finding herself at Sierra’s doorstep, and the two were united after ten years of separation.

This chance encounter led to impromptu recording sessions in Sierra’s Paris apartment. The two chose the most isolated and acoustically suitable room in the house – the bathroom – in which they recorded over the next two months.

These recordings circulated amongst their friends, eventually making it into the hands of Touch and Go Records, which signed the band and issued their 2004 debut album, “La Maison De Mon Rêve” (French for “the house of my dream”).

For a duo that never contemplated being signed – Bianca has not even had formal musical training – their success is perhaps reflective of the shift towards independence in the music industry.

“I don’t know anything about the music industry ten years ago, but it seems that [now] in all industries people are attaining the technology they need to produce things by themselves. It would have been hard for Billie Holiday to record an album in her bedroom,” says Bianca Casady.

The comparison is particularly apt, as Bianca’s vocals are reminiscent of Holiday’s earthy delivery, providing a sharp disparity to Sierra’s classically-trained soprano.

But CocoRosie’s sound defies attempts at classification, as their idiosyncratic methodology includes sound effects from children’s pull-string toys, beat boxing courtesy of Parisian vocalist Spleen and sampling, alongside traditional instruments such as guitar and harp.

Before finalizing the deal, Touch and Go requested that CocoRosie perform live in front of the label’s management, something they had never done before. But after a week of whirlwind rehearsals, the sisters gave a strong performance, and they have been touring frequently ever since.

Perhaps as a result of their diverse childhoods, the two have adapted readily to playing in a variety of regions.

“It’s not so different when you get on stage. In Brazil the people sing and dance with us. In Italy they talk. In Germany their mouths are wide open. Europe is smoky,” says Casady.

Their sophomore release, 2005’s “Noah’s Ark,” was mainly written on the road, and includes guest appearances from Devendra Banhart and Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons).

Despite these artistic connections to the “freak folk” movement, as well as a permanent residence in the Brooklyn, an incubator independent music, the sisters remain outsiders.

“We love this little farm on the south of France. It’s the only place we feel home. We don’t feel attached to any scene,” says Casady.

They decided to return to France during the recording process of their most recent album, “The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn,” which Casady describes cryptically as “more mud and wind and worms.” Along with gathering vocal samples from an old horse, the two also explored family cemeteries in the French countryside during the creative process.

“The lyrics took a very personal journey. We wrote and recorded at night, alone,” says Casady.

They mixed and mastered the disc in the surreal country of Iceland, whose cultural icons of elves and fairies seem to conform to CocoRosie’s subject matter.

Although past lyrics are often inscrutable, such as “All of the aborted babies will turn into little Bambies” (from “K-Hole”), the new album is not devoid of more explicit allusions. “Japan” contains the line, “Everybody wants to go to Iraq/But once you go there, you don't come back…We may have our freedom but we’re still on crack.” Spirituality pervades the album, and Sierra’s vocals are often reminiscent of gospel.

Ultimately, music has been a unifying force for the Sierra and Bianca, and they have remained “inseparable” after the formation of CocoRosie.

“[Our relationship]’s gotten better, like a good bottle of wine,” says Casady

Bianca has also founded her own label, called Voodo-EROS, which distributed the “soft metal” group Metallic Falcons, which consists Sierra and Matteah Baim as members. Bianca also opened an art gallery and performance space on 123 Ludlow Street, dubbed the Voodoo Eros Museum of Nice Items, which recently featured her artwork.

Bianca’s artwork mirrors the bizarre, childish qualities of CocoRosie’s music. She created the cover art to “Noah’s Ark,” which features doodles of a zebra, horse and unicorn, quite possibly in copulation. Splotches of magenta watercolor form the clouds, and an abstract wash of green ink becomes a meadow.

Despite a great personal investment in all forms of art, Bianca’s views regarding distribution remain quite liberal.

“I think file sharing is fine. [Recorded] material is dead. Live music will never go out of fashion,” says Casady.

This forward way of thinking is indicative the vibrant way the group views art, and life in general.

“We leave it all a mystery until in happens. I can't imagine tomorrow,” says Casady.

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Thanks to Bianca and Miranda from Touch and Go Records for setting this up. As mentioned many, many times, CocoRosie plays at the Warsaw tonight (my tickets have been taken, sorry!).

1 comment:

Designate said...

Thank you for putting me in your blogroll, I added yours to mine as well :)

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