Since 2003, the Brooklyn/France-based provocatesses CocoRosie have been executing gangster-nymph vaudevilles of helium. This past May, the duo released their fifth album, Tales of a GrassWidow. Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady fuse genres in 12 songs: freak-art, electro-operatic, folk-rap. It's an estrogen-charged outré vision where emotive compositions mix epics and beatboxing into elfin, beat-strung lullabies. Pianos are stoically composed, and a sheen of synth and beats is laced intricately via Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Feist). There's really no chicanery with CocoRosie—these women have formed their own unique, intelligent mold, and live, their show is potent.
The Casady sisters are strong-willed, pro-female leads who are unafraid to let their themes grate against society's male-dominated grain. They very much stand for equality of the sexes, and are there as voices to point out injustices toward women (and Mother Earth). In the GrassWidow song "Child Bride," Sierra sings, "Whose little girl am I? The man with the black hat will take me home tonight." The Emma Freeman directed video for the song shows a (literally) muzzled young girl being married off to a foul, wicked man in a macabre religious ceremony, like her mother before her. Not surprisingly, it’s well done and punches buttons. CocoRosie will be in Seattle (at Neumos) on October 25. Bianca spoke from Munich, Germany. CocoRosie will be in Seattle (at Neumos) on October 25. Bianca spoke from Munich, Germany.
How's Munich? Is it manic in Munich? I've always wanted to ask someone that. It's rainy and cold for summer. I'm hazing from the bumpy drive. Not so manic.
How was working with Valgeir Sigurðsson on Tales of a GrassWidow? Where did you all record? This is the second time we've worked with him on a record. Going back to his studio in Iceland six years later—during the same time of year—was pretty surreal. It's an amazing studio to record in, and Iceland is magical. I feel somehow connected to it. We freestyled together, as we did in the past. Actually, the idea to go there to finish the record was completely spontaneous. We did a lot of work on the album prior to going to work with Valgeir, but as always in the studio, some new songs emerged. "Far Away" was born there—it actually came from a snowy walk watching the northern lights at night.
Your lyrics seem effortless and directly tapped into/out of your subconscious. How do you spark that? Who are your favorite lyricists? I write most of the time, with, of course, some dry spells. I try to carry a typewriter around because it really helps. I go through phases where I can't write by hand, and I never really do creative writing with the computer. I like Tom Waits's lyrics, and [pauses] I'm scrapping my mind, Old Dirty Bastard. Antony Hegarty for the windy-spiritual depths. I grew up listening to Tori Amos. I think her sensuality and sense of taboo influenced me.
Anything you've read lately that's moved or grabbed you? Neither of us are big readers. I got my hands on a book called Unorthodox not too long ago. It's a memoir from a young woman who left the Hasidic cult she grew up in. It made me so angry. As in many sky-god religions, women are made to feel deeply dirty and ashamed of their menstruation. These religions have hijacked women's power of creation.
You're beginning a print publication called Girls Against God. What went into its formation? What do you want to do with it? It all started with the title Girls Against God. Often, projects are born this way with us, just pouring from a single name that contains an idea. The concept of a male god is the root of so many of our troubles and misconceptions about women and men. For me, the imbalance of the sexes across the globe stems from the idea that god is our creator and god is a male. I started talking with artists about the issue, which led to talking about other issues, and I decided to make a "real" newspaper. So GAG will be a tabloid-style paper about politics with a feminist focus, mostly through the voices and visions of artists.
Switching gears into dream psychology here. Your music evokes dream energy. What's the last dream you've had? Do you have imagery or archetypes that recur there? On the bus, I'm often woken by the rough road, which I think allows me to check in with my dreams throughout the night, and remember much more. I fly all the time in dreams. Sometimes badly, sometimes like a rocket, feeling the wind on my face. This is the best part of sleep and one of the best parts of life.
Have you been reincarnated? Have you lived previous lives? I don't know—as none of us do, I suppose—if I've had other lifetimes or not, but I regularly feel a kinship with the image of a cross-eyed Chinese man [laughs]. And I have a thing for Chinese music too—it feels deep and out of the blue at the same time.
In your song "After the Afterlife," the words are, "Moth wings crumble by a day-lit fire, ash of dead wood pile /Higher, pyre for false gods, blazing mires." Moths and flame are interesting. They're attracted to the light, but if they get too close, they ignite. Attraction to something you can be damaged by. Is that what we're getting at here? These lyrics are pretty abstract, and poetic-emotional. We call it essence writing. It doesn't make logical sense, but that doesn't imply that it's meaningless at all. The song is about death and ritual and madness and afterlife and after that.
In the video, who's the person in the white animal/yeti suit? Abominable-yeti person. Abominable is a hard word to say. The underwater shots are so good. The whole thing was basically a free-for-all. We just picked up the animal suit on the way to the airport [laughs]. We wanted to have a wild adventure time and capture it on video, and we pretty much did.
Tell me a band I need to listen to. Who's doing it for you right now? I can't hardly think of the last thing we listened to. I try to keep it quiet most of the time. But I have to say I am loving Moondog. It's enough to satiate me for a long time.
CocoRosie did music for a production of Peter Pan with avant director Robert Wilson and the Berliner Ensemble. How was that? Is Wilson really avant? Was everyone in tights? Tights are avant. It was amazing and challenging and all new. Robert Wilson is legendary. That was the greatest treat. He's wild in his ways, I'm telling you. Theater is something I want to do more and more of. We did the music for the piece. It's pretty much a full-on musical with lots of songs. We had to write songs for the actors to sing. It was all new.
Now to the toys. For CocoRosie, you incorporate toys and sound-making gizmo things into your live show. What toys are you going with lately? You know, lots of my best noisemaking toys have actually been stolen offstage. I let this natural and gradual decline of my toy collection lead me where it is now, which is, no toys at this time. More and more flutes [laughs].
Y'all have a beatboxer. Have you always had beatboxing? Are y'all fans of the Fat Boys? Who are some of your favorite beatboxers? Yes, the beatboxer who we've worked with for many years is named Tez. He's featured quite extensively on the new record. Beatboxing is something that hasn't changed about CocoRosie in our 10 years, from the first record onward. I don't know who the Fat Boys are. Not really a fan of beatboxing as a solo art form—I don't like the showoff aspect as much as I love how it can be so mechanical and organic in a band.