CocoRosie is Bianca and Sierra Casady and any collaborators who get caught in nearby clouds. They have released a special tour-only EP this summer and Bianca speaks now about Moondog, meditation and getting misquoted in the worst possible place. This interview by Ayse Arf.
There’s a pretty intense mythology built up around you guys. It seems like people speak of you as though you travel on glitter and dragonfly wings. I was wondering if that affects your daily life at all.
Bianca Casady (vocals/percussion): Not really. I find it more with journalists who are like in a romantic dream before we get talking—not so much just regular people. And sometimes I don’t like the sort of girlishness that’s also attached to our magical world. It kind of irks me sometimes that people are twisting it, and it’s not sexualizing but feminizing it in a way—to like make it more understandable to them.
Making it cutesy?
Bianca Casady: Cute or just that type of romance.
Who would be your ideal collaborators—alive or dead—in any kind of artistic field?
Bianca Casady: Do you know a guy named Moondog? Moondog maybe. There’s a band called Aventura. There’s an Algerian band—we haven’t been able to confirm that it’s Algerian. They’re called Kamikaz and they’re like a rap group from the early ’90s. We don’t know if they still exist. We’re kind of on the search for them, and really really love them. Somebody we met in Paris when we lived in the North African district gave us a tape that was like a taped tape of a taped tape kind of tape—with nothing written on it or anything—and just told us the name. I don’t know anyone else who’s ever heard of them. Moondog is like a magical dude. I think he was even homeless—really experimental, a lot of homemade instruments. I think like Philip Glass and people like that he probably merged with a little bit, but he is a weird folk singer, and when people who’ve never heard him hear him they think he’s Brazilian or something. It’s like not American-sounding rhythms or anything. He lived in New York a lot of the time. He dressed really peculiarly with like horns and stuff. He had a totally otherworldly fashion, but it was all handmade and really weird in the context of the city. I’m sure you’ll find a lot on him really easily. .
I was really intrigued by the title of one of your shows. I was wondering what you consider to be ‘Cosmic Willingness.’
Bianca Casady: It refers a lot to the creative process and the idea that true creativity is all automatism, which is just a fancy word for doing anything automatic. Stream of consciousness writing is the most accessible way to look at that, but I take that and apply it to all creative process. So cosmic willingness is like the willingness to be available for that type of automatic creativity. It doesn’t have to include the idea that it’s coming from outside of you, but it partially agrees with the idea of being a vessel for something that’s coming from beyond you.
Do you think someone could change the way they are to become more cosmically willing?
Bianca Casady: Definitely. They definitely could change that. It’s similar to meditation, actually—how for some people it’s automatic and they know how to meditate and for other people it takes a lot of practice. It’s no different from meditation, actually, but instead of just emptying your mind or allowing it to just run on automatic and detach from it and watch it—instead of just watching it, you document it. So it manifests into some art form that is lasting. It materializes that side of your own mind. So yes, I think you can just practice.
So art then becomes sort of like a scrapbook of your meditative journeys.
Bianca Casady: Definitely. That’s the cosmic aspect of it. I think it’s really about trying to experience the soul. Trying to bring like soul life up to the same level as our material life, or above. Whereas a lot of people are just existing with the material life—it takes sort of precedence over everything else.
When you started recording La Maison, I know your sister was studying opera, but you didn’t seem to really have any ambitions to get into music. Was there any hesitation when Touch and Go was pursuing you?
Bianca Casady: Not at first because I don’t see into the future very well and I was really in the moment. So we just jumped on that rollercoaster. I did hit a point where a significant amount of time had passed and I realized this was the longest I had ever worked on one project, and it definitely freaked me out for a long time. I thought it was really dangerous. It was like if you settle in the suburbs when you’re used to nomadic life, it’s really scary. It can shake your whole constitution. But I kind of matured through that anxiety and started to spread out within this project instead of letting it be a box for me because it’s music.
What do you mean by spreading out?
Bianca Casady: Continuing my personal identity exploration and, you know—that corresponds to the writing in our music and the vocals in the music and allowing those characters to live out on stage as well instead of being segregated. That was sort of my first instinct, you know—it’s just kind of like keep everything segregated, but it’s just definitions. They can really fuck you up. Or you can disempower them just by choice. You get that a lot as a musician with people asking you to define your music and it’s not remotely inspiring. None of the definition process is inspiring for artists, I don’t think.
So why do you think there’s such an instinct to do it?
Bianca Casady: That’s a good question. People think it’s going to be, like, juicier somehow. I don’t see how it’s any juicier—just talking about media and trying to make it interesting. I think definitions are really not interesting, so I ask the same question. It’s kind of condescending for me to say that it’s because people want to understand and they’re so narrow-minded that they really need definitions to prop themselves up.
There are so many definitions of you guys and so many adjectives that people use to try to describe you. It’s just kind of entertaining.
Bianca Casady: I think the ‘freak’ thing is really surprising. Maybe I’m wrong but has there ever been a movement in painting that was defined by the words ‘freak’ or ‘weird’? Or ‘dance’? What if there was a type of modern dance that was like ‘Freak Modern’? I mean, you can’t get freakier than modern dance. It’s not going to be ‘Almost Freak.’ When did music become so conservative? Is it because there’s a commercial industry attached to it? I don’t know. I think maybe that’s it.
I think once it got to the point where it needed to be mass-marketed, people became afraid of really strongly expressive things. When you listen to old blues recordings and things like that, that’s pretty freaky, too.
Bianca Casady: It’s weird because we talk about the music industry the same way we talk about the government—like it has absolutely nothing to do with us; like it doesn’t represent us—but that’s weird because if we’re musicians or we’re a part of the music world, unlike maybe the fact that we’re really not related to the government . . . So it’s weird to talk about it like it’s something that is just the way it is and we can’t do anything about it. I get kind of annoyed with that—people thinking that you can’t be taken seriously unless you’re commercially successful with music.
I feel like that’s just because of the size of the thing. You might as well be talking about another planet when you’re talking about your label versus like Miley Cyrus’ label.
Bianca Casady: Yeah, but what about the fact that it’s really falling apart? As an artist I’ve looked at it as a big window is really opening up. Instead of thinking that our career is over or something I’m looking at completely the opposite—it’s going to be turned on its head. I mean that’s what the Internet has been doing to lots of industries. Like to TV. TV isn’t the same anymore because you don’t have to get your information on TV. I feel like every media-related industry is experiencing the same kind of upheaval right now because they all tried to either ignore the Internet as long as possible or were at a loss for what to do with it, and now they’re suffering because they have to change instead of confronting the change openly when it first started. I just think if we talk about the record industry like some kind of a monster, the fact that the monster is suffering could only benefit people, you know?
Well, lead the way.
Bianca Casady: I don’t actually believe in most of the stuff I’m saying. It’s just stuff I’m curious about. It’s all up for discussion I think. I think that live music can absolutely never die. I feel like that’s where we gotta focus, even if it’s not what we’re always up for. It feels like this timeless activity—the fact that people are paying and going to watch live music happen,I don’t know, I think it’s pretty amazing. So far, the advancement of technology hasn’t been able to take that away. The only way is the sort of, you know, synthetic music—but that’s the next discussion I guess. Like not ever having manual rhythm and not having natural voice. That’s one way, perhaps, that it could get away from actually being live. But I think it’s gotten so extreme that acoustic music and natural percussion is just going to come back really out of necessity.
That’s why people love live music—because it is a religious bodily experience.
Bianca Casady: Yep.
Wikipedia claims that you were—and I’m quoting here—‘known to attend controversially ‘ironic,’ white-held, ‘Kill Whitey’ parties in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.’
Bianca Casady: Did you say ‘white hell?’ Oh, ‘white-held,’ I get it. I thought it was ‘white hell.’ I thought that was pretty cool. So what do you want to know? It’s so stupid. I barely want to give it any intellectual airplay. The irony just keeps on going and going and going, because like, the motive for the article that generated enough talk to get it on Wikipedia is really twisted and coming from what I see as a sort of defect in a liberal arts education that particularly attacks white kids. I feel like some white people that haven’t come to terms with some white guilt and discomfort around race subjects started little militant armies to go out and try to find racism in situations that are actually really challenging racism. It’s like the fliers, the name, they were all like offensive and kind of perpetuating racism but in a very ‘on the table’ kind of way, which for me is what really needs to happen in order to really deal with racism and a lot of other things. So there are a lot of people that are so afraid—so afraid of their own racism that they want to steer clear of it. Those parties for me were actually more of a gay party—a gay party that was really ethnically diverse and, I don’t know, it just made some people uncomfortable. They didn’t feel like they could participate because they were scared that it would make them racist or something because it was really challenging these concepts of being politically correct, which doesn’t really force people to look deeper into the issues. All the people that started it are actually really close friends of mine. It wasn’t like I was just really some outsider to that scene, actually. It’s like my very close community in New York, of people that are all doing such radical stuff. It spawned like a big, ongoing thing. You can find a lot of talk about how I’m a racist. I got a lot of flak for being misquoted in The Washington Post. That’s all I got flak for. People like around the country who saw the blurb in The Washington Post and don’t actually know. They’ve never been to the club. They don’t live in New York. They don’t actually know the people that threw the party. They have no background on this queer and very colorful community. What I find weird though is just . . . I would expect this type of person with this kind of education to challenge media. I thought that was like old news, like that the newspaper is propaganda and so on. So all the articles that they wrote are just based on a quote in The Washington Post. That’s all it’s based on. These people aren’t lazy. They go out of their way to write this stuff up on their personal feminist blogs. These aren’t like real journalists, so people are going out of their way to perpetuate stuff out of the worst—like known to be one of the worst—propagating newspapers.
What do you have to say in response to all of it in one sentence?
Bianca Casady: ‘I hate you,’ which is what I ended up saying a few times. I got really out of control and wrote back on the blogs. You have to say who you are and I was like, ‘Bianca Casady. I fucking hate you.’ It’s like I went to go and try to say something intelligent and try to explain things to them and I was like, ‘I can’t. I can’t talk to these people.’ There’s something really wrong with these people. So then I just felt like embarrassing myself you know, and publicly stating that I hate them.
Was that the end of it? Did you keep track of the responses?
Bianca Casady: The one or two places I checked, no one ever responded to me. It’s as if it never happened. I wish they would have said something insulting back to me, like, ‘Whoa! She’s really stupid.’ They didn’t give me that satisfaction.
COCOROSIE WITH KATIE STELMANIS ON MON., SEPT. 21, AT THE HENRY FONDA THEATER, 6126 HOLLYWOOD BLVD., HOLLYWOOD. 8PM / $20 / ALL AGES. HENRYFONDATHEATER.COM. VISIT COCOROSIE AT COCOROSIELAND.COM OR ON MSYPACE AT MYSPACE.COM/COCOROSIE.