The story of how Sierra and Bianca Casady formed CocoRosie is on its way toward legend. Two American sisters, half-Cherokee, and not close during their nomadic childhood, are reunited as adults in Paris and, just for fun, record the ground-breaking and eerily beautiful La Maison de mon Reve in their bathtub. The CD finds its way into the hands of powers that be at Touch and Go and suddenly they have a record deal. Sierra abandons her Parisian opera studies and they move to Brooklyn where they mingle with the likes of Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) and Devendra Banhart. Much touring ensues with positive reviews and comparisons to everyone from Billie Holliday to Portishead.
With their second CD due early next month, Junkmedia spoke with Sierra about the changes that have taken place in their lives in the past 18 months.
Brooklyn seems like the red-hot center of a lot of interesting new music with you, Devendra, Antony, TV on the Radio, etc. What's it like to be in the middle of that?
There's two sides that we see to this subject. One is we just kind of hide away and do our own thing and don't feel necessarily connected to a scene. And then on the other hand there is something special, some kind of collective consciousness that seems to be uprising right now. I think there are several artists in New York that do feel really connected and for us that's Antony, and a few other artists like Diane Cluck. She's a really special folk musician. It's kind of a small little family circle, but there is something. I can't explain it.
Given that you never intended your first album to be heard by anyone other than friends, were you nervous about writing the second album, knowing it would be heard or wondering how it would be received?
We were nervous. I think we were nervous about the fact that being aware of ourselves in a different light might affect our music. I think we were really lucky because we were able to tap into a similar reservoir that really we've only found in pure isolation. But we were very diligent about trying to not let the world influence us or expectations of the world to enter into our creative space. We really worked hard on it and were able to render again this very strange kind of eerie glamour that comes from our aloneness together.
We did it on the road and we did it really anywhere. We were like snails. We brought our little quiet house with us on our backs and we would hide away into a hotel bathroom or pull over when we were on tour on the side of the road and wander out into a field for a couple of hours and find very little quiet moments where we could forget about everything. I think that the songs that we chose for this album came from a very quiet place. We feel really good about what's happened and we learned a lot.
I know the record hasn't been released yet, but what's the feedback you're getting so far?
I think with the first album there was something more extreme about it. People either loved it or hated it. I think this album's a little different. I think people are a little less sure whether they love it or hate it. We've gotten a lot of positive response but I think that's what struck me the most. People don't have a sureness like they did with the first album.
And you think that's a good thing?
I don't know. I can't tell at this point.
It must be hard to see the forest for the trees. So, the songwriting method sounds like it was both similar and different on this one in that you tried to recreate the aloneness of being in Paris and being isolated, but yet you had to do that in the midst of touring and being around other people.
Yeah, that's exactly right. We definitely found with the second album that there is a style to our recording method and to our creative way of producing music that comes from us naturally. That even rides the lines of us aesthetically being drawn to lo-fi equipment and very kind of limited environments, but at the same time there were so many similarities. Yes we were traveling and letting our lives change and letting the new phase of our life enter into our music and we did experiment with being in a lot different places. We even experimented in studios, random weird studios along our travels.
For all that, though the CD just flows. It doesn't sound like it was recorded in a bunch of different places. It sounds like a very cohesive whole.
That's cool. That's the response that I've gotten actually and that's been pleasantly surprising. We were worried that maybe the album just is like all over the place, you know? When we listen to these songs each one reminds us of such a far off place from the next song. I think with this album it's more like a story, a journey where each song has its own chapter, where the first album is more one piece, at least for us. But I've been happy to see that people who've listened to the new album do feel like it's a connective body.
What was it like to go from the world of opera to the world of Indie rock?
I think I might be kind of a weird person. I spend a lot of time alone. Even in my opera studies I spent a lot of time alone and practicing and relating to myself creatively, and I do the same now. I'm still definitely the same person who has the same habits, does the same things, but it's funny. I keep giving you these two sides of the story to every question you ask. (laughs)
That's ok. I like it.
I don't know why, maybe it's just my mood this morning. But of course it's so different. It's almost the opposite of worlds. My schedule and my studies were about discipline and regimen. The world of opera is really a masochistic world of very narrow-minded thinkers. It's about restraining and structuring and I don't know. It's a psychotic world. And severely romantic.
I carry a lot of those things that I learned and practiced into my work now, but in my own dreamy way. At this point, I'm free, I'm just like a bird let out of my cage and can take that creative energy and let it come together completely on it's own, completely naturally. Where before it was about trying to find that creative expression through the most severe of structures that could possibly exist on this earth, other than classical ballet.
Sometimes it's easier to feel free if you are restrained. Do you know what I mean? If there's no restraints - it's too much, there are too many choices.
Absolutely. Before this period in my life I think that's the way I felt. I really felt I needed that structure. And that's what's worked for me until Bianca arrived in Paris. In that moment in my life when she walked through the door, something changed. I can't explain it, but I feel like I'm finally myself. I'd wondered prior to that moment kind of who I was. That was the only way I felt I could express myself as an artist, through that kind of discipline.
You have a lot of visuals in your show. I saw you in D.C. with Bright Eyes and Tilly and the Wall. The stage was mostly dark and the focus was on the film images that you were projecting. Do you do that for every show?
We try to. I think that for us it gives a dimension to our expression that means a lot to us. For us music is really about creating an environment, a world, a living moment.
So do you want the focus to be on the music and the experience and less on you?
I don't know. We don't quite think of it that way, but I would agree to that. I would say yeah, we don't want it to be solely about us, we want it to be balanced with the experience, definitely.
I've read conflicting accounts of your childhoods. Some say you and Bianca have the same parents, others say that you have the same father but different mothers. Some say you grew up together, others apart? What's the real story?
People seem to get it all jumbled. We have the same parents. They were separated by the time I was about five.
So Bianca was three?
Uh huh. They were kind of two totally different worlds. We spent a lot of time with my father in the summer, traveling around to reservations, scooting around the desert. With my mom it was a completely different environment. I left the house around fourteen. I didn't exactly hit the streets or anything but I was kicked out. My dad sent me away to school. That was the last time I connected with my sister much. I didn't really keep contact well. We didn't really have a relationship.
Was it a boarding school?
Yeah. And I kept switching schools every year because I got kicked out. I guess they thought I was troublesome.
Were you feeling misunderstood or going through teenage rebellion?
I definitely felt misunderstood. I don't know if it was teenage rebellion. I think I was really, really in my own world. I think that offended people. I was kind of out of touch. I was very independent, very private. Adults didn't relate to me.
How were you able to keep that nurtured? It sounds like they were trying to break that down. How were able to hang on to that creativity and that sense of self?
Ever since I was young, it sounds a little cheesy, but I had a very strong inner voice. I spoke to myself in a very calm and strong way. And any kind of turbulence in my outer world would only make that voice stronger. It only kind of egged it on. I didn't mind the turbulence or the moving around or the separating from family or anything.
There are a lot of references to Christianity in your songs but you also had the experience of Native American traditions with your father. What are your spiritual beliefs?
Oh, that's kind of an intense question, right? Well, spiritual. You started referring to some religious stuff and now you're asking about spirituality. For me those are two very different things and at times I think they mean the opposite.
Spirituality has been at the forefront of my consciousness since I was very little yet I've never been a religious person whatsoever. My mother was never religious and I definitely grew up with a huge God consciousness, but had nothing to do with religion in any conventional sense. I think as we've become adults, we've never found any kind of kinship with religion. In our music, the stories we tell, they are not autobiographical stories. The religious references a lot of people think of as irony. We don't exactly prefer to use that word, but our songs most of the time are about people that we've seen and had much compassion for. They're the raw tales of love and pain and the world maybe in its twisted forms.
Christianity comes up a lot for us just because the world is so dominated by the west. For Bianca, she's a strong writer. She's studied linguistics and sociology. She talks about how much language is affected by the Western culture and how much Christianity is in our culture and affects all of us even if we aren't Christians.
How do you want people to listen to your music? Do you want them to listen closely and put on their headphones and think? What do you want people to get from your music?
I think for us, it's been nice to imagine people having their own private experiences with the music. We like the idea of people being able to hear the music and not know anything about us or where the music comes from and just have their own very personal experience.
There are no rules or ideas that we have for our audience listening to the music. I think it does have a life of its own. I've heard some people talk about music that way. I think it does have its own course or its own destiny.
By Laura Sylvester.
August 29, 2005