This article was originally published, with photography by Melanie Pullen and page layout by W.T. Nelson, in Arthur No. 10/May 2004 (available from the Arthur Store)…
Glitter and Gleam
The two sisters who are CocoRosie have made an astonishing, haunting debut album. Trinie Dalton finds out how they did it.
CocoRosie’s debut La Maison de Mon Rêve capitalizes on its sexy feminine allure to seduce the listener into a dream state, one that’s half bliss, half nightmare. CocoRosie’s two singers and sole band members, Bianca and Sierra Casady, could be compared to sirens if their wailing was deeper instead of high-pitched and tweaky like Billie Holiday’s on 45rpm. Listening to La Maison gives you an opiated sense of well-being; here are two beautiful young ladies singing sweet harmonies together, their lyrics about Skittles and diamond rings and other things being disturbed by an undertow of discontent. CocoRosie songs put old folk tunes into new perspective; take the sardonic lyrics that critique Christianity in their cover of “Jesus Loves Me”: “Jesus loves me/but not my wife/not my nigger friends/or their nigger lives/but Jesus loves me/that’s for sure/‘cause the Bible tells me so.” The last song on the album, “Lyla,” is about a child prostitute sold into slavery who “ate McDonalds all day/ and never had a chance to play.” Toys, penny whistles, Casios, and thrift store drum machines keep the beats: they’re reminders of sinister deeds. The magic of childhood is built up then trashed like a sandcastle.
The acts of reminiscing, relishing and examining childhood were a natural place to start for two sisters who hadn’t seen each other in years. Bianca was living in the U.S. while Sierra studied music in Paris. Once Bianca decided to move to France, they found their interests finally overlapping, as Bianca had just begun to write songs…
Q: Sierra studied gospel and opera. Did you study music too?
A: Not at all. I didn’t even start singing really until over a year ago. I used to read poetry out a lot but there was something unsatisfying about it. Then I wrote a small series of songs that weren’t very typical, they didn’t have choruses or anything, and I did a show where I sang them a capella. I felt really good singing. That was right before I went to Paris. I had never sung in front of an audience.
Q:Was it scary when you first started performing?
A: Yes, it was. It was scary but it was a wonderful high simultaneously. I got sort of addicted to it. It was way more intense. I think that my writing is more accessible through music, or more enjoyable. Sierra has been singing most of her life. She always sang. In junior high she was in a choir, she got really into choral music, had a special teacher who encouraged her. Immediately her teachers saw that she had an operatic soprano voice and pushed her into that. She just went for it. So she spent the last five years in music school. She did really well, got many accolades, won awards…she was told that she should go for it. But it takes 100%. Not just of your time, but you can’t want anything else. It’s a thing that’s so hard to succeed in, that you can’t even lie to yourself, you have to want it all, and she didn’t. It was creatively stifling. They didn’t encourage her to compose, or try other types of music. It’s as if that’s your only job in life.