Bianca Casady on CocoRosie's new album, non-Western instumenation and the influence of the Wayans brothers
Founded in 2003 in Paris by sisters Bianca "Coco" Casady and Sierra "Rosie" Casady, CocoRosie has been responsible for making music that combines otherwordly electronic pop with organic sounds, hip-hop and conceptual art. As a whole, it's the musical equivalent of a magical-realism novel featuring mythological creatures and situations -- think: John Crowley and Charles De Lint instead of Lord Dunsany or Tolkien.
Fans of Joanna Newsom and Bat For Lashes would do well to pick up any of the duo's albums, including its latest, Grey Oceans, which offers a darker vision of the sisters' imagination without losing their knack for catchy, yet completely unconventional, melodies. In advance of CocoRosie's show tonight at the Gothic Theater, we spoke with Bianca about the act's songwriting, its proclivity for non-Western instruments on the new album and the unexpected influence of the Wayans brothers film White Chicks.
Westword (Tom Murphy): How did you come to work with Valgeir Sigurosson on The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn, and can you tell me the story behind that album title?
Bianca "Coco" Casady: We were spending a lot of time on an old farm in the south of France, and there's an old family graveyard on the property. It was late Autumn, and we were working a lot at night. We had a very spooky studio in the barn, so a lot of the poetry became about ghosts due to the atmosphere around us. There was a baby grave that we mythologized in our poetry. We sort of imagined the ghost of the baby having adventures around the farm.
Valgeir we met in Iceland during a concert, and he invited us over to collaborate. We had an amazing time and just did a few songs, and that kind of planted the seeds for what we did nine months later with the album. It was an extreme combination of being alone on the farm and then going to Iceland and working in a very different way -- working on the more electronic side of the record.
WW: Your sound is partly organic and partly otherworldly, what musical interests lead to that kind of songwriting?
BC: We've always approached music in a non-musical way. We think of our songs as little films. We start off with soundscapes that set the tone of the music before we actually write the melodies. There's a specific location and time that each song comes from. That, and the poetry is where our music comes from.
WW: In terms of poetry, what kind of poetry, or, perhaps, what specific poets resonate most with you?
BC: My sister is very fond of Rumi and his mystical writing. I loved Rimbaud, Baudelaire and William Blake -- that romantic and spiritual type of writing.
WW: You said that you think of your songs as films, so mood is clearly an important element in your songwriting. Are there any particular films or filmmakers that helped to shape or influence what you do?
BC: It's hard to say. There's this movie by Peter Weir called Picnic at Hanging Rock that I think about a lot. We also really like The Dark Crystal, which informed our latest music video. It's not a specific scene but more the crystal itself and the landscape.
Actually, we were really influenced by this film called White Chicks. I got entirely obsessed with it. I always tend to like movies where people are switching genders, especially men. Men dressing as women and all the different situations they get into and all the kind of more subtle gender politics when they are finding themselves in new situations. That's very exciting to me.
WW: How is your songwriting for film scores different from how you write for an album?
BC: I feel like it's a lot more open-ended. There's less of a beginning and an end to the story. It's really focusing on just building the atmosphere. The use of voice is less representative of the personal.
WW: Can you tell me a bit about the song "God Has a Voice, She Speaks Through Me"?
BC: I don't know what to say about that. I was doing a lot of work at that time based on the burqa, and I was really fascinated by women living under the veil. I even heard about a story in Iran where they were offering sex changes to gay men in order to get rid of homosexuality. So these men who were transsexual candidates, once they underwent the operation, they went under the veil.
A lot of my work stems from my fascination with that story -- the extremity of that situation. The song is a little bit about that, and the more obvious side of it is being exhausted from thousands of years of a male image of god being foisted upon us. So I tried to create a more personal vision of god.
WW: Are there any particular themes that you explore on Grey Ocean and is there anything musical that you were able to try for this album that you perhaps haven't been able to before?
BC: We tried a lot of new things. We found ourselves gravitating toward Eastern acoustic instruments. I started playing a lot of different types of flutes -- a lot of Chinese flutes. Sierra played some Chinese harps. The pianist we worked with indulged in a lot of Arabic flavor on the piano. With a combination of what he was doing and some of these instruments, I felt like we were able to travel further musically and explore new cultures of music.
As vocalists we were intrigued by that music as well, and we tried to undo some of Western conditioning. I played a Chinese flute called a hulusi, and Sierra played a konghu. But we really tried everything: We used Mexican marimba, organs, something similar to a celesta.
I started using a much older vernacular for this album, and I fell back into rhyme a lot. I went back in time a little bit with the poetry. There's not a lot of contemporary references. The vernacular I used was sort of Shakespearean.
There's a lot of medieval imagery. I was drawn to the use of language from that period, and that directed what we did musically, because we start with the poetry first. I think there's a lot more spiritual material on the album -- it's kind of a heavy record. It's less personal in a way, but it's more expansive and a little more timeless.