CocoRosie's Strange Sisterly Journey To Creating Grey Oceans
Sub Pop Records
Sisters Bianca and Sierra Cassady collide in the celestial, moody musical collective known as CocoRosie, which stops in Houston tonight at the newly revamped Fitzgerald's. A combination of pop, blues, electronica, hip-hop, and even straight-up classical opera, CocoRosie creates an eerie yet inviting landscape that illuminates your aural senses with the strums and twinkles of another world.
Although the Cassadys' sisterly bond is apparent in their music, their story is far from typical. Moving to a different location in the United States practically every year, both sisters absorbed various cultural pockets. Encouraged by their mother, an artist and singer of both Syrian and Native American ancestry, the girls uncovered various talents at a young age, and even spent summers with their father who took them on trips to Indian reservations.
In later years, Bianca and Sierra followed separate paths of artistic discovery. Sierra pursued the world of classical music, moving to Paris to study opera at the Conservatorie de Paris. Bianca absorbed the arts and engulfed herself in writing in New York City. Finding the need to travel, Bianca set out to explore Europe only to find herself in Paris, again meeting with her estranged sister.
The girls immediately re-fused their bond and began to make music together, heavy on piano, guitar and harp with haunting vocals.
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Both sisters weave their voices to the jangle of various children's toys, percussion beats, electronic blips, folk melodies and field recordings. Released earlier this year, CocoRosie's latest album Grey Oceans takes their eclectic mix to another level, mostly stemming from experimentation and improvising in the studio.
New band member and pianist Gael Rakontondrabe served as another source of musical input and creativity on the record. On the eve of their New York City concert, Bianca Cassady took time out to answer some questions for Rocks Off.
Rocks Off: What is different and unique about your new record compared to your past work? As far as the experimental side, I know that you've collected a lot of children's toys and percussion instruments. How was it improvising and finding those different layers that made the songs complete?
Bianca Cassady: We kind of went all over the place with him within the piano and explored a lot of Eastern-inspired scales as well, getting into some Arabic music. A lot of Improvisation, many different studio sessions over two years, and a lot of sifting through and re-stitching things together in a sort of collagey sort of way.
We stripped things back down a lot by the end. In the production, things went through many stages and transformations. In the places where we did use toys, they're really cut up and sunk into the rhythms and became almost electronic. They really changed each place they went.
You really can't tell what's what and we could hardly tell by the end what was what by flipping things around and working from tape and working digitally. We really went all over the place for this record.
RO: One of the interesting tracks on the record is "Undertaker." This voice on the song is another part of the texture, along with these long lines that are paired with it. This track shows off particular points that are attractive in your music because it's steeped in a certain ethereal, transcendental mood. That seems to come not just from your background but from a certain spiritual sense as well.
BC: Well, the voice that you hear in the beginning and at the end of the song is a Cherokee folk song that my mother made a recording of. Just kind of rummaging through old things, we found the tape and created the rest of the song around it, not really knowing much about its origin or having any dialogue with her about it.
There was a poem that I had already written that was used, which happens often... when we're flipping through my journals sometimes we'll take snippets of my poems or complete poems and in this song that was one of those cases where the poem wasn't adapted. We used it as is.
The song had many journeys, though. We were recording in a barn [in the] south of France, it was one of the only songs we recorded outside the studio, along with the some of the only vocals recorded outside of the studio as well. You can hear the outside space.
We allow a certain amount of space in our music and that's really important to us. It's important to us in music and in art that we appreciate basically having a lot of space for the imagination. When we're creating music, we're working in a very interesting way, kind of turning off the forward brain and sinking a lot into the subconscious, trying to bridge the gap between dream life and waking life.
We need that automatic process of creating music and that's pretty much essential. We don't start out with a plan or anything, we just have a kernel of an idea or just one little tiny place to start. We never try to control the outcome of any song, it's really just a discovery process.
RO: Two other songs that are interesting on the album are "Trinity's Crying" and "R.I.P. Burn Face." There's this kind of comfortable anxeity with "Trinity" while the other track has this foreboding narrative to it.
BC: Those are two of my favorites! "Trinity's Crying" is really hard to talk about. Even the title I don't understand, to be honest. It's so much about essence. It's not really based on ideas. There's kind of a post-apocalyptic destruction of the Earth, almost post-human.
All the elemental beings are sneaking out of the trees and there's this sort of tranquility that's taken over the Earth. That song in particular is kind of pagan or pre-human, but there is a futuristic quality to it as well. I think that happens in several places on our record, a sort of circle of time happening before and after human beings.
"R.I.P. Burned Face" went through so many transformations. It's kind of inspired by some gruesome stories we heard of women in some Islamic environments, some ways they were outcasted if they were pregnant out of wedlock or they would have acid thrown in their face and have to continue their lives that way.
I was making some drawings and collages over the past few years and creating poetic stories to go with the drawings. It's sort of a song or a poem of forgiveness of a girl who had a burned face, kind of haunting the family but in a way giving some forgiveness to her father.
The music had so many different developments. We used an antique doll piano that we had fallen in love with and ended up using it in a lot of our songs and provided a very gentile and sort of narrative quality throughout the music.
RO: Due to the improvisatory nature of your music, what is it like performing these songs live? How do you incorporate all the noises and loops from the record on this tour?
BC: It's been pretty amazing to get inside the songs in a really different way. It's a completely different process because there are some electronic rhythms and things in the writing and a lot of layered structure, reproducing that completely live. We're not using any backing tracks and even the percussion is live. We have quite an eclectic percussionist.
We've discovered a lot in the songs, and also more comes out. When we created the record, we didn't have the live show in mind, which I think some people try to consider that, what are they capable of reproducing. We kind of threw all that out the window and approach each song from scratch.
Only a few of [the songs] actually sound like the album live, and the rest have really found their own personality.