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coco rosie
article by matthew pollesel } photos by hayley murphy.

As sibling acts go, CocoRosie certainly don't make for very dramatic press -- there's no "are they married or are they siblings?" manufactured drama, no public break-ups and make-ups, no complex albums that divide people firmly into "love" and "hate" camps. They're just two sisters who happen to have created an exceptional album, La Maison de Mon Rève, that brings together wildly diverse styles of music, at once contrasting and pulling together Sierra Casady's training in classical music and opera and Bianca Casady's past as a poetry teacher and artist.

In sitting down with the sisters before their set as openers for Bright Eyes in Montreal, I learned two things. First, being known primarily for their music suits them just fine. Second, I was totally crushing on one of them. Here's what else came out of the interview:

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Splendid: I read something yesterday about how you think your album is about contradictions in American society, but whoever wrote the profile didn't elaborate on that at all. I was wondering what you meant by that.

Bianca Casady: Is that a quote? Contradictions in American society?

Splendid: It may have been a paraphrase. They said that was how you described it.

Sierra Casady: That may have been me.

Bianca Casady: Really? You know, I wouldn't say that sums up the content of our music in any way. It might have been a more specific reference, about something obvious like "Jesus Loves Me" or something. I feel like Christianity still plays a really big part in American culture, and Western culture in general, and that in itself is built in with a load of contradictions that would affect American society. That's about all I have to say about that.

Splendid: You're the one who said it?

Sierra Casady: Possibly. It was contradictions about American society?

Splendid: Yeah, that after September 11th, you felt that there were too many contradictions in American society so you wrote an album about that.

Bianca Casady: No. That's not us, we wouldn't say anything about September 11th. That's impossible. (To Sierra) You didn't, did you?

Sierra Casady: Not me, no. Not meaning to, anyway.

Bianca Casady: September 11th? No way. It's some sort of big misunderstanding. I've never brought up September 11th.

Splendid: Okay.

Bianca Casady: You know what, I know what you're talking about, actually. It's starting to come to mind. Where'd you read this?

Splendid: It was in the press kit that Touch and Go put together for you guys.

Bianca Casady: That is fucked. Are you serious?

Splendid: Yeah.

AUDIO: Jesus Loves Me

Bianca Casady: That's fucked.

Sierra Casady: The press kit they put together?

Bianca Casady: Yeah, that is really fucked up. I have to figure out what that is. This summer I got an e-mail interview that was really weird to me, and didn't make a lot of sense. I think someone it was in someone's second language, and it wasn't in English. I thought someone didn't take a lot of time for these questions, and then Devendra sitting right next to me doing his e-mail, and he did the same interview, and it had all the same questions. And this is reminding me...there was a question about September 11th.

Sierra Casady: So they mixed up your interview with Devendra's?

Bianca Casady: No! This isn't going to be your fault, but I'm a little pissed off. But this doesn't have anything to do with you.

(Bianca's cell rings, she answers it)

Sierra Casady: Maybe we should move on.

Splendid: Actually, about "Jesus Loves Me" -- that song surprised me, because you guys use the "n" word, and a lot of people don't, obviously, unless they happen to be hip-hop artists. What has been the reaction to that, and why did you use it in the first place?

Sierra Casady: The statement in general, and the use of it, is pretty obvious to most people, and it's not usually discussed or confronted with us, or at least a lot less in Europe. In the States, we've had very few, but some occasions, where people have gotten confused by the message, and wonder if we were being offensive, and maybe if we were ourselves racist, which was really shocking. There was one gig we had where we weren't allowed to sing that song.

Splendid: Really? Where?

Sierra Casady: It was at a record store in Los Angeles. It was shocking to us. And then I don't know if we can answer why we use that word. (To Bianca) The "n" word?

Bianca Casady: Why?

Splendid: Yeah. What was the statement behind "Jesus Loves Me"?

Bianca Casady: You really don't know? Or you just want to hear it out of my mouth?

Splendid: Actually, I really don't know.

Bianca Casady: Really? Well... "Jesus Loves Me", I don't know if you recognize it, but it's a children's song, and it's really popular. I don't know if it's really popular in Canada as well. Anyway, kids learn it really early, and it's really stripping down Christianity to its most basic, to a child's perspective. There's such a large population of African-Americans for whom Christianity is a huge thing, but Christianity still remains to be exclusive, and is very segregated, and it's very intricately connected to an old-fashioned mentality that's still very racist. To me, it's a huge contradiction with Christ's message.

Splendid: Do you think that's just a uniquely American thing, though, or have you found that it's more universal in your experience?

Bianca Casady: I think it's kind of universal, saying it's a Western thing. I don't think as relevant in, you know, Africa, where there's certainly a lot of Christianity now, but there is a more specific context to it in American society.

Splendid: What do you think about creating your music in a modern American context? Given the social pressures, and the political pressures on labels? How does that impact how you create?

Bianca Casady: The social pressures? I'm not sure what you mean.

Sierra Casady: The industry!

Splendid: Yeah, the industry, the social climate that you're creating music in.

Sierra Casady: You know, the fashion, the fads, the business, the industry, all that.

Splendid: Under Bush, for example, there's been much more hesitancy to put out anything that's remotely controversial, but at the same time people have said music --

Bianca Casady: I haven't found that to be true on the level that we're putting stuff out at all. Maybe, like, Atlantic Records is hesitant, but I feel like left and right people have been -- it's not even where we're coming from at all -- but I think left and right people have been making real "Fuck Bush" art. It hasn't really been our focus. Everything has an impact on the moment in which we're creating something, and our record that we did, we were in Paris, and it was -- as much as we were in our own imaginations and really isolated -- I think there was a certain atmosphere it created, that America was just invading Iraq, and the French were heavily criticizing America, so being in that environment I think pushed it up a bit, towards being self-critical in a way. But I feel like it's just part of a landscape, and so much of it is really delving into our imaginations, and quite removed. I feel like it's pretty holistic, in the sense that it's about our imaginations.

Splendid: So do you think the album could have been anywhere, since it's an exploration of your imaginations?

Bianca Casady: I think we could have created something and finished something anywhere, and I don't know if there's even such a thing as good and bad, but it wouldn't be the same. I feel like it's sort of like having a baby -- even if you have the same two parents, you're always going to have a different baby. So I kind of feel like we could make another baby.

Splendid: What do you think of the fact that everyone is focusing on the context in which you made the album? Every review I've read says the same thing, about making it in a Parisian apartment -

Bianca Casady: I'm not that impressed by it. I think people really want a story, and so us living in Paris and this and that provides them with a story that gives them this little platform to talk about us. But I feel like it's just a little chapter in our lives as artists, and we've had very dreamy lives all along, and we've had wild phases all over the place, and lived everywhere, and tried really different things. I feel like in a way, I'm looking forward to making another record, and just being like "We made it on the road", or wherever, nowhere, and it's a lot less about the context.

Splendid: Don't you think it's kind of self-perpetuating? I mean, when I wanted to find out more about you guys, since all I knew was what I'd heard on the album, was that you'd recorded an album in a Parisian apartment. So I assume that most other people who interviewed you had that same experience -- that was what they went to find out more about you, that was what they found out, so that was what they asked about.

Sierra Casady: Right.

Splendid: Do you think that's self-perpetuating?

Bianca Casady: Oh yeah, and I don't know how to help stop that while still being co-operative. My biggest frustration with journalists is that they ask the question that they read and they don't even add anything to the question. It's like, "So I read that you recorded in Paris, is this true?" "Yes" So they're basically just creating a checklist, which I find really bizarre since you can read that all over the web. I don't know if that's just the way the media works, this desperation for a story, and somehow we had the right thing. Would people have been interested in us if we recorded on ProTools in San Francisco? I would hope so.

Splendid: What would you prefer that people focus on?

Bianca Casady: Just the music. That's it. And anything that the music brings them, to me, is complete valid on any level. Sure, you've got the record art, and this small impression of what we look like, or at least how we've presented ourselves, which isn't that important but it's what we're giving. But really just the music. I'm more interested in what it provokes in the individual than in repeating my story of it being just a phase of our lives.

Splendid: You guys have been lumped in with acts like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. I don't know anything about Joanna Newsom, but I know that you guys made La Maison de Mon Rève in a totally different context than Devendra did. Why do you think you've still been lumped in together?

Bianca Casady: It's hard to say. I don't know really what it is. Technically...it's organic, it's kind of youthful, it has a freshness, it doesn't sound like a studio creation, the lyrics are both poetic and sort of out there. But otherwise, I feel like it's something that's not as easy to describe.

Sierra Casady: It's miscellaneous.

Bianca Casady: Yes! Maybe it's some emotional chord that it hits that appeals to the same type of person, so they can't help but put them together. Or maybe it's the timing. I don't know, really...at first we were compared so much, like we were called the female Devendras, the twin female Devendras, which is going really far, because I don't think we sound anything alike. We're all a particular kind of vocalist, and there's simple instrumentation, but still, he's using a guitar, which is more traditional in that sense.

Sierra Casady: Traditional folk.

Bianca Casady: Yeah, and we're crossing into other genres of music. He's not crossing back and forth. I wonder the same thing. It's funny, because it makes the world feel so tiny to be so close to people that your names are always mentioned in the same breath.

AUDIO: Tahitian Rain Song

Splendid: So are you okay with people labeling your music as folk, or would you rather they used some other term?

Bianca Casady: At first we were really offended, actually, but now I don't think we care. We were just shocked, and we weren't really a part of this scene that we know about now. It was like "What the hell are they talking about?" We don't own any of these records, we didn't even know there was this whole "new folk" thing.

Sierra Casady: We were like "Folk music? Oh my god!" But I think it's when we realized there isn't a different category that we'd prefer, we were like "Okay, it might be something on the fringes of that."

Splendid: So you'd say it's more about the limitations that come from pigeonholing into genres?

Sierra Casady: Yeah.

Bianca Casady: I don't think it's good for anybody. But, you know, if you sing and write songs that are a bit narrative, you get labelled "folky". But we're also prepared to do things that might fit into some other category.

Splendid: This may be completely off, since it was something else I read, but you both studied classical and opera?

Bianca Casady: Just her.

Sierra Casady: Just me.

Splendid: Okay, because some profile said you were studying the same thing in New York City. Actually, I think it was the same one that mentioned September 11th.

Bianca Casady: Not true. Now, you have to tell me more about this, because nothing pisses me off more than being quoted saying something about September 11th. I would rather it said anything else.

Sierra Casady: No, no... I saw this. It said we were living twin lives in New York and Paris, you were studying opera, and we didn't realize each other existed.

Bianca Casady: Where did you find this? Is it on the web, or what?

Splendid: I Googled you, and it was one of the first hits, and it was a bunch of clippings that had been put together.

Bianca Casady: Okay, so it wasn't our label, they just put together the clippings.

Splendid: Yeah, exactly. This profile basically said you were living twin lives in different cities, and then September 11th made you get up and move to Paris.

Bianca Casady: That's so wrong. I moved there, like, two years after that. In 2003. It was 2001, right? I moved in 2003. That's just totally off, altogether.

Sierra Casady: That's funny.

Bianca Casady: What was I doing? I was living in New York, not doing music, not studying music. I was doing fashion and teaching poetry and just doing a lot of projects that weren't music. Around September 11th, she (points at Sierra) was studying in New York, and then at some point she moved to Paris and started studying music.

Splendid: So teaching poetry gives a better explanation of where a lot of your music comes from. I don't hear a lot of classical or opera in it -- of course, I don't have a very good understanding of that kind of music.

Sierra Casady: Yeah, I mean, if I wanted to be an opera singer, I'd still be in that mode, in training and in that work. But no, for me, working on the album was a total rejection of classical society, and everything that pertained to that, and all my training. I was in a rebellious state, musically. For me, going back to a more rootsy, gospely, bluesy, anti-classical... I was having that moment, and I was exploding, and it was something I didn't realize I even had in me. Then, all of a sudden, the combination of Bianca and I and that moment brought that out of me. It was really everything but classical for me.

Splendid: So what made you want to reject it all?

Bianca Casady: The limitations.

Sierra Casady: Well how would you feel? If you had been made to give everything in your mind and your body and your soul everyday, and just have people put you down, and make you feel tiny, and put the weight of your entire existence on what you could do vocally? They just continue to try and push you down, and make you small. How would you feel? Pretty bad, right?

Splendid: It would be horrible, yeah.

Sierra Casady: It was a very intense training, and as much as there are amazing things I've drawn from developing such a technique and such discipline, there are also huge insecurities I've been left with, unfortunately, from that kind of environment and training.

Bianca Casady: There are?

Sierra Casady: Absolutely.

Bianca Casady: I didn't know that.

Sierra Casady: Yeah, absolutely. To be yelled at, and verbally abused, and having professors try and shape you and form you and make you this complete artificial robot, and just work you, and tear you apart every day. It's horrible.

Splendid: What made you go into studying it?

Sierra Casady: Maybe I'm masochistic. Maybe there's a tendency in me that's very romantic. The other, and I think primary, reason is because I have a naturally operatic voice, so I was sent in that direction out of high school. I found things in that world that really turned me on, so I stuck with it for awhile, and it was severely romantic for me, and it was incredible. It was dark as well, but it was incredible.

Splendid: Would it have been possible for you to stay in it? Would there have been room within opera to do what you wanted to do?

Sierra Casady: It's a complete mystery. The last couple of years of my studies, that was the huge dilemma for me, I was "Is this possible? Am I going to be able to make it?" I had support around me that said yes, and others that said, "No, your personality will never be able to go through with this." And I didn't know, I just didn't know. I finally let part of myself give up on that, and the other part kind of gathered my inspirations and all the things I had learned, and brought them with me. I'm still using them, and I've reconnected myself to a lot of my classical inspirations, as far as composing, and for live performances.

Splendid: So does that mean for the next album -- which you may record on the road, or somewhere other than Paris --

Bianca Casady: Yes!

Splendid: You'll have more of a classical influence?

Sierra Casady: Maybe. You'll have to wait and check it out.

Splendid: With the songs you've written, I mean -- assuming you've written songs since La Maison de Mon Rève -- have you found there's been more of a classical bent to them?

Sierra Casady: I don't know if I can talk about that. We're right in the heat of its birth right now. It's just a supermystery, and we're battling that, and yeah, we've done a bunch of work on it, but I don't think we're ready to talk about that yet.

Splendid: Okay, that's fine. How do you find the creative process differs between being on the road and having all this attention versus being in an apartment in Paris and having the freedom to do whatever you want?

Bianca Casady: It's much more tricky. We're always inspired, but having enough time to really trap that inspiration is difficult. We've had little breaks off the tour, and that's when we've worked. The second we've stopped moving, we're ready to work.

Sierra Casady: For me, I'd call it "this", opposed to "the other", "this" being the distraction.

Bianca Casady: I can't say in the end what's going to produce better results, but I know working in a concentrated space, just isolated like that, is very fulfilling, the start and finish is much more obvious. This whole process has been a lot less obvious to us.

Sierra Casady: I want to make some tea.

AUDIO: Madonna

Splendid: I don't want to keep you from your tea. Is there anything you guys want to talk about?

Sierra Casady: Well, I have a project on the sly. That is a little bit shy. It's starting to get out a little bit more, and it's a band called Metallic Falcons, and you might want to keep your eye out.

Splendid: What is it?

Sierra Casady: Ummm...

Bianca Casady: Baby metal.

Sierra Casady: Yeah, baby metal. Like heavy metal...

Splendid: For babies?

Bianca Casady: For babies.

Sierra Casady: In lullaby form. Heavy metal for babies.

Splendid: As in, like, covers of metal songs done as lullabies?

Sierra Casady: No.

Bianca Casady: All original songs.

Sierra Casady: Original songs, but that's the concept.

Splendid: That's really cool. Is it actually going to lead to an album?

Sierra Casady: Right now we have a short album that we've completed but we haven't decided exactly what we want to do with it. We're taking it slow, because I've been busy, but it should be pretty special. We haven't decided what we want to do with it.

Splendid: What makes it heavy metal for babies?

Bianca Casady: It's extremely electric, and really grungy.

Sierra Casady: It's truly heavy metal, like real heavy metal.

Bianca Casady: Without the abrasiveness. It's beautiful, but it's heavily electric, and heavily distorted. The sounds are very metal.

Sierra Casady: Imagine fairy dust falling on a silent meadow.

Splendid: Okay.

Sierra Casady: Done heavy metal.

Splendid: I'm going to have to hear it. Is it the kind of thing you'd want parents to play for their kids when they're putting them down to bed?

Bianca Casady: The singing --

Sierra Casady: Which is very minimal --

Bianca Casady: Is very angelic. The singing is not the way metal singing is done. That's the real lullaby part of it, and then the music itself is metal, but it's slow. It's slow metal.

Sierra Casady: It's slowed down.

Bianca Casady: It doesn't sound acoustic-y at all, it's really metal.

Splendid: Is it just you two?

Bianca Casady: No, I'm not even in it, I'm just speaking for her because I don't think she speaks about it very well.

Sierra Casady: I'm a little shy about it.

Bianca Casady: It's her and her friend.

Sierra Casady: It's me and my friend Mattea, Mattea Beam.

Splendid: How is it being in a band with your sister?

Sierra Casady: It's absolutely incredible, and just a nightmare.

Bianca Casady: If we weren't sisters, we probably would've broken up a long time ago, because there's less of a tie. But we probably would treat each other with more respect, so we might not have had a reason to break up.

Sierra Casady: It's confusing, but none of this would ever exist. None of the creations would ever happen, and none of the odd combinations that come together to form what CocoRosie is would ever have met or considered each other if it weren't for the fact that we're both tuned in to a very fine rainbow.

Bianca Casady: I think we draw a lot on how we were raised by our parents, and in the experiences that we share.

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COCOROSIE LINKS

Read Splendid's review of La Maison de Mon Rève.

Visit Touch & Go, CocoRosie's US label. T&G doesn't seem to have devoted much space to the sisters, but we're hurting for links here.

Buy CocoRosie stuff at Insound.


· · · · · · ·

Matthew Pollesel likes women with facial hair.

[ graphics credits :: header/pulls - george zahora | photos - hayley murphy :: credits graphics ]

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