CocoRosie is perplexing. Their name foretells the hybridization of sound they create, a heterogeneous concoction of pitches and instrumentation. At its shrillest registers, the music is haunting. It cuts through midnight fog like the rays of a lighthouse on a distant shore. Consistently fascinating, sisters Bianca (Coco) and Sierra (Rosie) Casady craft complex, patchwork narratives that transcend the limitations of genre. I recently spoke with Bianca prior to the release of CocoRosie’s fifth album, Tales of the GrassWidow which comes out on May 28. Bianca is restless, contemplative; an insightful, visual thinker who seems to be more fascinated with the questions she and her art conjures than the answers themselves.
Who is The GrassWidow? Where did that character emerge from and what is she going through?
The GrassWidow is a child, she has no name, she has no face, her presence is mutable. She has been broken but she has learned to self preserve. The GrassWidow finds comfort in the natural world.
What were you listening to while making this album? What images and sounds inspired it?
We toured with a band from India called The Rajasthan Roots. We recorded some bits of songs on the side of the road which later made it onto the record. We are inspired by eastern music of all kinds. We have been listening to Koto music recently. I find it haunting and unpredictable, at least to my ears. I recently worked on a dance/video project with dancer Biño Sauitzvy to a piece of Koto music I found, we shot everything outside in the winter light.
What drew you aesthetically to work with Valgeir Sigurðsson? What is it like to work alongside him?
We find a kind of kinship with his harmonious relationship to technology and nature. This we explore together in the studio.
Obviously the two of you have vastly different sounds that converge in all of these songs. What prompts each of you to approach music like this and how do you combine these elements during the songwriting process?
We experiment a lot. There is a lot of playing around, being silly, and then suddenly it gets very serious. We never know when we will hit that point though. We take turns, send the other one into the kitchen, we are terrible gluttons, especially for tea parties. We drink so much tea when we are working, it’s really a drug. Creating music is always a searching for us, a kind of hunt, but we never know what it is we are hunting, we hunt with out eyes closed, smelling in the darkness.
There’s an overwhelming sense of sadness in a lot of your music. What specifically compels you to tackle such difficult, sometimes traumatic issues? What experiences from your past draw you to this subject matter?
Pain can be a source of beauty, and of course the pain transforms when it’s let out of its hiding place and it’s allowed to take new shapes in sound and word. I feel the pain in our music is in the state of transformation when it’s being recorded. What you hear is not a silenced pain, ashamed of itself, but one which is curious about the light, pushing toward the surface, beginning to flower before our very eyes. It feels healing.
The song “Gravediggress” has a long story and mythology behind it. Are all the songs on the album accompanied by such tales and do you craft these larger stories while writing the songs?
This album in particular is more narrative. There are poetic songs from the previous album, which I find impossible to talk about, windy poetry I can’t explain. This new body of songs were being written over some time in the form of stories, not necessarily stories with a beginning, middle and end, but still stories where you could identify the character and the landscape or realm in which she dwelt.
What distinguishes this new album from the rest of your work? Why is it important now?
This record is far more dedicated to the human condition; it is compassionate and reaches some moments of hope. We look towards the earth, away from the sky and we search for solutions and utopic projections for the future.
How do you balance funneling artistic visions through endeavors like visual works and fashion as opposed to music? What drives you to seek these other avenues?
In art for instance, visual art, I feel like I can delve into very different issues which language and music cannot handle. The subject of race has become so stifled by language and I tend to deal a lot with race in my visual art. In visual art there is a world of symbols which you cannot write about or sing about, at least not so blatantly although we do sing about symbols. We love crossing over into different worlds when we work, going from one artistic platform to the next teaching us many things and we discover more about the content of the work.
You are adamant about feminism and the rights of women. What do you perceive is the biggest threat to the freedom of women worldwide? Do you view yourself as a voice of change when you target these issues?
Right now I am just asking a lot of questions. I know that feminism needs to be free to be modular and constantly transforming and certainly one of the biggest threats to feminism is women truing on each other within the dogmas of feminism. The question of “universal feminism” seems to be the big issue right now. Many people are saying you can’t set a standard of women’s right’s which is the same everywhere, we have to tailor it to each specific cultural atmosphere. It feels paradoxical to lower our standards of treatment towards women depending on the place. Women should be able to drive! Everywhere! If a woman is not allowed to drive, is she not a prisoner?
Some of your songs address the issues of parenthood and the abandonment of children. How did your parents shape your existence?
That’s a long question and answer which we are looking at most of the time. At a certain age we like to imagine that we were not shaped by our parents and their mental ailments, but alas, we have run into the inevitable doom of the contours of trauma. It’s a rich place to draw from if you can brave it. We believe wholeheartedly in self-healing at a very aggressive level. I dance like my father. I have my mother’s feet and lust for working. They have given us a wide spectrum of qualities both dark and light. The creative sanctuary that we were forced to retreat to is now our best tool and it clearly serves our work.
Is there a genre of music that doesn’t appeal to either of you? Or one that you wouldn’t attempt to work within?
That’s easy ROCK. But funnily enough, the Blues Rock that we were subjected to loudly for many hours has made its way deep into our sense of rhythm and writing.
What has Native American culture meant to your music? Have you seen the influence of it change over this past decade?
We went to many Pow Wows and sang a lot with drums at home. This has to be in there somewhere.
If you went back to high school and graduated, what superlatives would each of you win and why?
I hate school, it’s a nightmare. When I first learned that I could just walk my little body out the front door and down the street, there was no turning back. It felt like working in a bank. I never worked in a bank but it has the same atmosphere. Now hearing about girls that get shot trying to stand up for their right to go to school, I feel a bit ashamed, perhaps I took my education for granted, or maybe I just wasn’t mean to go to school.
You have addressed your sexuality publicly before. How important is sexuality in both of your lives? Do you see differences in acceptance in sexuality in other countries vs. the United States?
More and more I am just dealing with being a woman. The sex part isn’t that interesting to discuss. I had several gender crisis’, and looking back it feels all due to misogynist expectations of what femininity is suppose to look like. Right now I am learning to own and express the feminine.
What do you think of the current political climate towards gay marriage and rights?
Religion is the problem in the center of so many social issues. People should marry whom ever they want. Personally I don’t really like the idea of marriage, I guess because it’s so heavily steeped in religion.
You place a high premium on visual presentation. What has recently inspired you the most visually and how have you incorporated it into performance and appearance?
Scarecrows! And yes. Walking in nature at the right time of day always takes my breath away. The sky is the most stunning painting, the gradual and sudden fade of hues, I write about it constantly as pedestrian as it may sound, it sparks something in me every time.
If you could go back and change one thing about this album, what would it be and why?
I haven’t thought about that. I guess that’s a good thing.
You brought up a thought-provoking question via twitter that I have wondered before: How does one separate femininity and feminism?
This question came from an interview I did where a journalist said “I prefer the femininity in your record rather than the feminism.” Not only did this statement reek of misogyny but it felt like a huge contradiction and illustrated a confused society on the subject of feminism. I have been searching for clues on how to restore femininity into feminism. It’s practically the same word. Also something I wondered, if feminism is not feminine than what is it? Masculine?
If you could impart wisdom upon a future generation of women, what would you tell them? How do you view the world changing for women in the near future?
That’s heavy. I do not know. I hope all women can wake up and get out of the sleepy syndrome of servitude volunteer. We do not regret that which we have never had. Freedom. Women, you cannot trust your own instincts which have been bread within the confines of slavery.
Where do you see yourselves in five years?
Moving, working, dancing with children.