“How long is this going to take?” is never a good start to any interview, but Bianca Casady has her reasons.
Talking from a New York apartment on a Monday afternoon, her sister Sierra making numerous strumming and rattling noises in the background, it was clear that it wasn’t that one half of CocoRosie didn’t want to speak, but she didn’t know how to answer questions about something so personal, so creative and so… unclassified.
I say unclassified as that’s exactly what my own iTunes genre box said when I slipped the sisters’ latest record, ‘The Adventures Of Ghosthorse And Stillborn’, into my computer.
“I don’t feel like we fit into a box, but it’s always curious to see what sort of box others put us in. We’re like a braid of multi-coloured hair. Whatever the style of music, the lyrics will contrast it – that’s what makes it so alive,” a nervous Bianca says in a whisper.
A label may be a mystery, but one thing that is clear is that this latest offering recorded in Reykjavik with Icelandic producer and Bjork collaborator Valgeir Sigurosson is a move in a new direction compared to the CocoRosie that has come before with ‘La Maison du Mon Reve’ and ‘Noah’s Ark’.
It’s simple, its production is a step up from the steely tiles of a shoebox bathroom and the underlying hip-hop influences that were more obscured before now shine through. There’s a maturity, but still with a childlike quality. There’s still the haunting ambience, but it’s richer and more uplifting and it’s more melodic, while still being experimental. It’s the love child of Billie Holiday and Puccini growing up on the dark corners of Brooklyn before riding a horse into a South of France sunset.
It’s hard to believe the Iowa-born sisters, now in their mid-20s, hardly spoke a word to each other for ten years, only coming together again in 2003. Now they are inseparable and spend their time flitting from New York, Paris and their French rural retreat.
“We had seen each other a few times, but we had abstained from speaking to each other. It was less of children being split up and more of us choosing not to connect. When we finally got back together and started making music, we just lost ourselves in the project. Now we get along really well. We stay together most of the time and it can get a little crazy, but we just incorporate that into the music. We handle it together.
I feel at home in the South of France, but we are both comfortable moving around all the time. It brings us inspiration. We stay on a farm surrounded by horses and other animals. It can be really spooky and some of the scenes are reflected in our recordings, creating the haunting parts of the album. There are the owls at night and the old barn. It’s really magical with no one else around. We like to get our high boots on and go walking in the swamps. But it’s juxtaposed with the sound of the street. Ever since our first album, we have been going in a hip hop-direction.” Although cagey about delving into what ‘Ghosthorse And Stillborn’ is about and what it represents, Bianca admits it is more autobiographical than CocoRosie’s last albums. The daughters of a spiritualist father and healer mother have written about family and relationships, with the father figure coming under much scrutiny, especially in ‘Werewolf’.
We are always changing who we are. We still feel like we’re ten and getting younger every day. It doesn’t seem possible that we’re getting older.
“He was the black magic wielder, some say a witch… the bastard that broke up the marriage” – is father the monster? Whatever it may be, the contrasting voices of the sisters works beautifully.
“There is talk about family members and our experiences. A lot of the lyrics are taken from journals, which makes the words very honest. It’s not about what we have been doing, more major experiences, like moments from our childhood. It was an instinctual progression to present these stories, which are more naked that was has been before. They are not shrouded in cobwebs.” Bianca slowly opens up from talking about a childhood where she would burn ants and hunt rabbits with her sister to her new life, playing in Egypt, Morocco and Carnegie Hall.
But not wanting to put the spotlight on themselves and their inner feelings, the sisters have created multi-alter egos. Bianca as artist Red Bone Slim, changing genders and ages repeatedly to fit into wherever she feels comfortable at any one time and Sierra hushed up in the background plucking her harp, revealing nothing but a penchant for opera and trigonometry. “I don’t relate to wanting to share something, but it forces its way out in several of the songs, ‘Werewolf’ in particular. But we are always changing who we are. We still feel like we’re ten and getting younger every day. It doesn’t seem possible that we’re getting older. There’s a song on the album called ‘Bloody Twins’. They are characters we have created, a myth. We are being someone else all of the time. We like the mystery.”
And the age acrobatics makes ‘Ghosthorse And Stillborn’ a varied fantasy, a “world of teenage dream”, jumping from the thumping and intoxication ‘Japan’ to the soft and serene Davendra Banhart cover of ‘Houses’. CocoRosie will be touring from April and working on their individual projects, Bianca with her Red Bone Slim art and record label Voodoo-EROS and Sierra with her metal lullaby band Metallic Falcons.
By Gemma Hampson