Bianca Casady is rapping in an orange jumpsuit, performing the song "Lost Girls": “Witches confused by their own magic / Witches displeased by their own perfume / Shame-locked women / Shaman women fuming with shame." Despite the heavy subjects they tackle, the elusive sisters behind CocoRosie are light on their feet, dancing across the stage. I'm watching CocoRosie’s set at the Houston music festival Day for Night, and behind them, beatboxer Tez, with a giant golden tooth round his neck, sets the rhythm, while Brooklyn artist Takuya Nakamura sounds a trumpet. Sierra Casady, the other half of her sister Bianca's freak folk outfit CocoRosie, sings operatically in a cap emblazoned with the word PRIDE and a hot pink skirt that expands as she spins. Still weating her black and orange performance garb, Bianca finds me in the media trailer behind the stage.
“Where are you living these days?” I ask as we wait outside the interview room.
“Nowhere, really,” she says with a half-smirk. The Casadys have a nomadic history. Bianca (“Coco”) and Sierra (“Rosie”) spent ten years estranged after a childhood sprawled across the United States, one sister raised by their artist mother, the other brought up by their shamanist, peyote-smoking father. Fate brought them together in Paris in 2003, where Bianca was writing poetry and Sierra was studying opera singing. Once the sisters reunited, they formed a band and began piecing together forgotten bits of their family history. The story lies in fragments throughout CocoRosie's six records. Since then, the Casadys have relocated from a Williamsburg loft to the French barn where they wrote their most recent album Heartache City. Like CocoRosie’s previous work, Heartache City blends ancient mythical tropes with commentary on contemporary injustices, like violence against women, exploring distrust towards men.
We caught up with Bianca about her upcoming solo album as Bianca Casady & the C.i.A. before the release of Oscar Hocks, an artistic examination of racial stereotypes, and Casady's mission to reclaim witchcraft through music.
Noisey: I loved CocoRosie’s last album Heartache City. What were your biggest goals with it?
Bianca Casady: We had some simple goals: restricting ourselves in terms of production and working mostly just the two of us, without a lot of technology or collaborations. Then, it ended up being a very poetic and personal record, just as a result of stripping it back.
In what ways did you find it more poetic and personal than what you've done before?
Family is always a dominant theme in our music. “Tim and Tina” is just the story of our parents, never having looked at their relationship in a loving way before. We told the story of the small moments that were loving. Poetically, the simplicity of the music and the production allowed space for the poetry to shine and be more complex than in any of the previous records.
I know you had an unusual family and upbringing. How does that affect CocoRosie now?
As adults, we’re still pretty unusual. Our values definitely aren’t in line with the mainstream. We don’t really watch television. We have very minimal interest in the internet, and that already sets us apart from relating to what’s going on in the mainstream. Creativity is up there for us in what’s important. We were raised as outsiders, and we identified with that and carried that into who we are as adults. All the characters that we are interested in are outsiders.
Do you write most of CocoRosie’s lyrics?
I do. I’m constantly writing. My sister has a special relationship with writing. It’s not frequent. When it happens, it’s very distinct. It’s not something she toils over. She’ll write it usually in recording, so it’s kind of improvised. A lot of the time, it’s the hooks of the songs, like “forget me not.” The hook is very important. It has more of the message of the song than the verses.
The video for "Lost Girls" was incredibly powerful. What was on your mind when you made it?
We were interested in showing the female experience, not particularly in a very dangerous place, but showing that the female experience is a dangerous place to be. It’s something that I think we get so used to because as we grow up, we create a certain skin, knowing how to avoid situations, and it just becomes part of our identity. A lot of men don’t necessarily understand that’s just part of our growing up. This isn’t the worst. The “lost girls” are just basically all the girls who have to constantly be in a defensive position.
Feminist themes come up a lot in your more recent music.
It’s always been there. In the last couple of records, the language has gotten more clear because we’ve recognized a need to identify ourselves with that language. We've realized that it has so much negativity associated with it. We have the desire to break that down and figure out what is at the core of it. But still, when I look back to our first records, it has always been apparent in our work and in our expressions. It’s just a basic human subject, so I’m trying to get rid of this idea that it’s this marginal thing or this weird thing. I’ve felt a big shift in the last couple years.
What sort of shift?
I’ve felt more respected by people. I’m not being as infantilized. I’m being taken more seriously. I feel like that’s a result of women being seen as more human.
Did you feel infantilized before?
Definitely. We’re in our mid 30s, and I feel like we’re just getting treated like adults now. It was like we were little children playing in the bathtub. There’s this whole kind of mythology around us that’s so much about us being little girls. Then, on top of being sisters, there’s this projected weirdness and this underlying perversity. I always wondered, if we were brothers making music, how would we have been received?
I’ve also noticed how natural themes in your lyrics often intertwine with the feminist topics. Is ecofeminism something you identify with?
When we did some work with a group of artists and called ourselves the Future Feminists, that was a strong theme. We were exploring the idea that the oppression and abuse toward the female body is similar to how the Earth has been treated and sold and exploited and disregarded. “Tears for Animals” talks about that too, bringing up “poisoning the water” and killing girl children as the same kind of action.
Another aspect is going pre-sky-God religion, pre-Christian, and re-engaging with more pagan values, and also reclaiming the witch—trying to discard the negativity that’s been put around it and finding that it’s just females who have a good knowledge of how to use plants and are working in harmony with nature.
What would a feminist spirituality look like, then?
First, there’s all this deconstruction that needs to happen of religions that have shaped our consciousness with the idea that God, the creator, is a male being. I believe that already sets up an imbalanced perception and puts men spiritually higher than women. That’s a bad start.
Also, it seems basic that if we stop thinking about a paradise or God elsewhere and we commit ourselves to having been created from the Earth, we would start being more beholden to the Earth and taking better care of it—not excluding the whole cosmos or anything, but looking at a spirituality that is centered more with the Earth. Christianity and a lot of religions propose that we’re aliens in a way, that we’re not from the Earth.
Creativity is the most instrumental thing for spirituality in our own practice. We were raised by our mother to believe that creativity can work as a way to connect with the most profound part of yourself and also something outside yourself. It’s not really so important what that something is.
What is the gender-bending in your costumes trying to get across?
While performing, we have tried to present ourselves as glamorously as possible, and that sense of glamor is totally personal. There were many years when I was perceiving myself kind of as male and finding myself most attractive that way. Every time there’s a little bit of acting involved, it brings up this perception of male identity. I’m not as interested in portraying females.
To be honest, the last couples of years, through feminism, I tried to embrace a more female identity because I felt like that was the more invisible thing that needed to be explored, but that’s not my go-to place. I started to think that this is not the empowered feminine dressing male. This is a result of the invisible female. I’m trying to take shape and find visibility, and so I’m going into the male body. I’ve been very suspicious of this for a little while. But as I’m suspicious and observing, I still allow myself to do whatever I feel like doing. There’s still a sense of observation and deconstruction, but I don’t necessarily censor myself.
We definitely deal with costumes a lot before we tour and go on stage, but we can’t always explain how it lines up with what’s happening in the music. We disagree about it a lot. There’s a lot of fighting on this subject. I’m a bit more motivated in the costume department, trying to force my sister to wear certain things. There’s often some really bad taste involved.
On your part or hers?
On my part.
Back to Heartache City. It also seemed like racial injustice was a big topic.
That’s another theme that has always really apparent in our work and has often been misunderstood, starting with our song “Jesus Loves Me” on our first record. We find, as artists, it’s important to continue certain dialogues and use creative freedom to bend language and not always be politically correct in order to process what’s happening in society. But outside the frame of art, it can get restricted and challenging: Which language are we allowed to use to have these conversations? As a writer, I’ve always wanted to just say it all, from every perspective, including the racist perspective, just to put it on the table. A lot of it’s with an aim to deconstruct, to take the power away, and sometimes we have these barriers that actually give more power to certain things so that we feel like we aren’t allowed to touch them or talk about them.
Was “Big and Black” sparked by recent incidents of racial profiling in this country?
It started a few years ago. I look at things linguistically a lot, and I just noticed that we put the word “big” before “black” a lot to describe certain things. It could be a jacket or a dog. It’s just not as common to say “the big, white dog” or “the big, white car.” I started to catch myself every time I would say “the big black whatever,” and I’m linking that to the way we automatically describe certain people as perpetrators. These are unconscious trends that happen. They could seem meaningless, but I think they really inform the way we perceive each other. And then, I was in Europe so much that I was just catching bits and pieces of shootings of young people who weren’t necessarily armed and who were attacked as if they were very villainous, very big and threatening, and so that made its way into the song.
You mentioned in a New Yorker profile that you were making art to explore “black-male sexual stereotypes.” Is that an ongoing project?
Yeah, that is. It’s related to what I just remarked about. I did this art show a few years ago called “Daisy Chain” of mostly drawings of black male figures, and I replaced the phalluses with flowers. I found myself kind of disarming them and feminizing them and maiming them in a way. I feel like I’m working out some kind of American baggage.
While your lyrics address these modern-day issues, they’re loaded with old fairy tale tropes. How did you get interested in employing those?
Poetically, I’ve gotten a little caught up in an antiquated kind of language, especially over the last few years, and also we spend more and more time in rural areas, where things around us that we’re describing are kind of timeless: animals and plants. But also, we have a tendency to juxtapose things a lot, so I suppose fairy tales and old language are colors and we kind of cross things that are newer with things that are more dated. Aesthetically, we like that mix and matching.
How will your now project Bianca Casady & the C.i.A. and the upcoming album be different from CocoRosie?
It’s very anti-pop. The more I work alone, the more I regard CocoRosie as really pop, even if it’s not mainstream. It’s dealing with pop music, even if it’s subverting it. My music’s very anti-pop in every way—tonally, the structures are really unpredictable, there’s no resolution. It’s really not people-pleasing.
I’m missing a lot of the beauty and the lightness that my sister brings to CocoRosie. That’s not there. I’m finding this punk side of myself. It was always there, but I kind of forgot about it. I’m even performing songs I wrote when I was 12 years old and I was more of a punk. I also started exploring rock, which is really not CocoRosie, like electric guitar and drums. I sing pretty differently, and harmonizing with myself, I get to experience what my sense of harmony really is. I’m so used to everything being me in contrast to my sister. That’s so much of what CocoRosie is about, that difference. So, working alone, I don’t have to constantly confront that difference. I’m getting to know myself musically.
Will you still be making music together?
Definitely. We have a lot of projects in mind. This last record was so effortless that it’s encouraging us to keep letting the music out, so already, on the road trip to this festival, we’ve been playing fragments of things.
What’s your vision for the next record?
I can’t really put my finger on it. Sierra’s thinking of “quinceañera music.”