article by matthew pollesel } photos by hayley murphy.|
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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:
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
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.
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
Bianca Casady: That is fucked. Are you serious?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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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Matthew Pollesel likes women with facial hair.
[ graphics credits :: header/pulls - george zahora | photos - hayley murphy :: credits graphics ]