14.05.2010, Words by Charlie Jones

Cocorosie interview: “Get ready, your part's coming up in three seconds.”

As I’m juddering back on the train from Matt Groening’s ATP, trying to piece together the electoral chaos the country has descended into as the emotional/chemical euphoria slowly drains out of me, a friend cranes his head round from the seat in front. “When you’re writing about *COCOROSIE*” he says, “you should describe them as ‘puerile innocence’”.

My initial reaction is to tell him to fuck off, I’m trying to read the paper, but then I ponder it awhile. He’s right. I cast my mind back to a vapid backroom in Islington’s beautiful Union Chapel five days previous, where Bianca and Sierra Casady, the sisterly components of CocoRosie, are cavorting for the Dummy photographer. Incredibly comfortable in front of the camera (Bianca is a former model), the pair pull all sorts of perfunctorily erotic poses, bending over, slapping arses and periodically stripping down to their underwear in order to change into ever-more bizarre costumes. Yet there is nothing archly sexual or pornographic about it; the impression is more of two children playing, imitating adult games. Puerile, but innocent.

It’s as if they’re in a state of arrested development, and Bianca admits as much when she reveals her favourite book to be Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: “It’s about a kid whose parents die in an accident…you’ll find it in the children’s section (laughs). Young adult. That’s pretty much where we like to cap it off. We don’t bother with too much XXX kind of stuff.” This ingenuous view extends to their song-writing. “[The process is] like kids in the kitchen, you don’t even get rid of the eggshell. You just smash the eggs into the bowl, put some food colouring in and some flowers…”

Sierra: “I think a big inspiration for our method is Pippi Longstocking.”

Bianca: “You know I was just thinking of her when I was talking about eggs!”

Sierra: “I know, I could tell! People are like “who’s your favourite artist? Who are your role models?” (sighs) We don’t have a lot to work with you know? We have Pippi Longstocking, we like Saint Francis, and Punky Brewster, an eighties American TV show about an orphan who wears two different coloured shoes”

The common theme that all were subject to an unusual upbringing either through being abandoned, orphaned, or – in St Francis of Assisi’s case – renouncing his father, and prospered as innocents in an adult world. CocoRosie themselves had an unconventional childhood, frequently moving town with their Steiner schoolteacher mother and spending summers indulging their (now estranged) father’s shamanistic pursuits. Neither finished high school and they were separated for almost a decade when Sierra moved to New York and then Paris to pursue an opera career. It was only after Bianca turned up unannounced on her Montmartre doorstep that the seeds of CocoRosie were sown, and over months recording in a tiny bathroom germinated into their debut album, La Maison de Mon Rêve. Sierra describes the era with a palpable fondness, although she’s equivocal about the New Weird America scene they found themselves a part of upon its release. “I think of [Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and Antony Hegarty as] just a bunch of little chickens on a farm, we’re different types of animals that were born during the same Spring. It’s very sweet. We share a sweet memory of Springtime.”

“With our first record we weren’t aware of the fact we were making a record, which was pretty cool. We broke our headphones so we had one earphone each and we shared vocal tracks so it was like “get ready, your part’s coming up in three seconds!”, so it has this kind of awkward urgency to it. Which also makes you work harder[…]because if she got a perfect take and mine’s bad then I’ve kind of fucked everything up, so it kept us on our toes. I think it’s a good way to work in general.”

“With our first record we weren’t aware of the fact we were making a record, which was pretty cool.”

The new album is…well, mature is such a horrible word. It taints the music with the dull self-satisfaction of people who drink expensive wine. No, the new album is rarefied, with an occasional eerie stillness and gravity partly attributable to the heavy presence of pianist Gael Rakotondrabe (allowed the unusual freedom to collaborate in the compositional process) who smothers the record with a restraint sometimes lacking in CocoRosie’s other records.

Bianca: “It’s not generally our thing [to collaborate with other musicians], but we were playing music with Gael for at least three years live so it was pretty natural to continue creating together in the studio. We play after every show, jamming late into the night and finding a lot of ecstasy with him. It’s like a family bond[…The piano] adds a nice saliva to all of our chewing (laughs).”

Sierra: “All of our chewing trying to get at[…]different weird mysteries and unravel lost moments from our past lives. It kind of opened up for us a really dynamic platform on which to work on melody and vocals.”

Bianca: “The piano is kind of like a dance floor for our thoughts you know? A very woody foundation so that we can really focus on the poetry. [Lyrically] I think there’s a lot of twilight. Death and twilight. People have pointed that out. It seems to be everywhere in the record, tombstones and quite a bit of cloudy imagery. Pretty basic Gothic romance stuff.”

Sierra: “We spent a lot of time in twilight for the making of the record, and gathered a couple of different series of photographs in the twilight hours. We surrounded ourselves with those photographs during the musical process.”

“We spent a lot of time in twilight for the making of the record, and gathered a couple of different series of photographs in the twilight hours.”

Bianca: “We don’t watch TV, we don’t even watch movies really so we’re just waiting for that special hour, when the owl crosses the horizon. Do we go without sleep? No, we’re big sleepers. We just have to plan. And set a lot of alarm clocks. To catch all the dawns and dusks.”

Not all of the album is shot through with the austerity of twilight; the hyperactive ‘Hopskotch’ begins with a jolly ragtime refrain before evolving into ethereal drum n’ bass.

Bianca: “It’s just our innate tendency to do some funny matchmaking. It’s a basic common starting point for us, for a lot of our music and just our style in general; (points to Sierra’s fluffily urban pyjamas) this is called Baby Doll Gangster; it could be ‘Hopskotch’, you know what I mean? You take that awkward tension and try to polish it until something new suddenly bursts out of it.”

“We’re always playing games with each other” she continues, “I think our favourite game of all time is to blindfold each other and walk through a big city – there’s a similar kind of behaviour going on in the studio. You could end up with your fingers in the horse’s mouth in Central Park or something.”

Or, indeed, inside a chapel. Considering the religious imagery in many CocoRosie songs, is faith a source of inspiration to them?

Bianca: “No. It’s not inspiring. We’re trying to clean out the gutters of our subconscious, and you find a lot of religious crap. I think we can all relate to being supplicated with images of male spirituality, beards and blood…the good stuff! I guess we’re like a lot of people, so tired of the old pictures you know? The old Michelangelo’s and stuff like that.”

Instead they find inspiration in nature, such as the weird horned manatee that is practically the only feature of their official website.

Bianca: “We’ve been thinking about whales as sort of guides, being the most prehistoric living creatures. There’s something very alien and angelic about them as well, we call them alien angels. When we started our record we were really in that zone, thinking about how to cultivate the music of alien angels. Not sonically, but trying to understand basically what they’re saying.”

“We’ve been thinking about whales as sort of guides, being the most prehistoric living creatures.”

It’s this kind of new age expressivity that turns some critics off the band. Pitchfork in particular have often been scathing about the duo’s work, dubbing sophomore effort Noah’s Ark “one of the most annoying records you’re liable to remember”. When combined with their always-reliably-awful artwork you can see why many people might dismiss their work as pretentious dilettante nonsense, even without hearing them. I imagine that’s why the many punters at ATP who described them as a main highlight of the entire festival used ‘surprisingly’ as a prefix. Truth is, they live in their own little world and prefer it there.

Bianca: “We’re not that interested in humanity to be honest[…]we’ve always felt [quite detached from society]. I think we’re just fantasy fanatics, so as soon as things aren’t interrupting our point of view we can just really enjoy ourselves.”

The joyous sight (and sound) of them enjoying themselves without restraint is one of the memories that those of us lucky enough to witness their closing set at ATP will take home with us. Sometimes magical, sometimes maniacal, sometimes passionate, sometimes puerile, but always innocent. Theirs is a world worth watching.

Grey Oceans is out now on Sub Pop.

Cocorosie’s myspace


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