CocoRosie Expand on the Art and Aesthetic of ‘Put the Shine On’
Bianca and Sierra Casady are at the vanguard of music, a definitive example of the most wildly original art experiments in sound. As CocoRosie, they record an exhilarating hodgepodge that juxtaposes traditional instruments like piano and harp with an array of found sounds, particularly toys, which give their songs a distinctly Alice In Wonderland quality. This is amplified by two voices that go leaps and bounds beyond most singers in terms of bold artistic license. Sierra draws inspiration primarily from operatic traditions, while Bianca channels a bohemian strain of hip-hop into something that defies categorization. Add to the mix a prominent doo-wop influence, freak folk proclivities, and a general fluid shuttling between styles from different eras, mirrored in an aesthetic that enhances the already vivid musical insticts, and adds an entire new dimension.
CocoRosie has just released their seventh album, “Put the Shine On,” which finds the sisters as thrillingly eccentric as ever, displaying all of their trademark traits, and rendering it bigger, broader, and bolder than ever before, with darts in unanticipated directions. Their lyrics capture the essence of childhood wonder and teenage angst, and extend the spirit to cryptic, transcendent narratives. Both Bianca and Sierra have been active in various theatrical productions, and recently recorded a performance with the Kronos Quartet, scheduled to make its way on to a record. The multidisciplinary ambitions seem to have added new depth and vigor to an already peerless artistic vision.
Bianca Casady spoke with Entertainment Voice to unravel some of the mystique behind the enigma that is CocoRosie. She shed light on stories and inspirations that made their way into the band’s general aesthetic and specific new songs, giving an inner look into the marvelous new recording.
One immediately striking feature of CocoRosie’s sound is the utterly unique singing. Your idiosyncratic voice tones, inflections, and manners of pronunciation don’t quite sound like anything else. How did you dream up the personas that you adopt for your vocals? What are some forces that shaped your sound?
I wouldn’t say we dreamed them up, but we rather stumbled upon them along the way, through our different records and our live shows, it’s kind of morphed. It’s just like any artistic phase that has its particular colors, like if you keep working on something for many years, I think there’s an organic unfolding. It’s a constant type of discovery.
I feel like, not so much artists but, we ask ourselves, “Who is singing this song?” Like in the song “High Road,” the opening track, it’s very much like a gang of young girls. It’s the sound of grizzled young girls, so they’re these kinds of young girls. Sometimes Sierra is a really old lady who sounds like she smoked a lot of cigarettes, you know?
The artwork for your new album, “Put the Shine On” depicts you both peculiarly adorned and equipped, with a mustache, a top hat, an umbrella, and a landline telephone. What is this image meant to convey, and what’s its relation to the album’s title?
There isn’t really a concept. We’re not really concept-driven. I think it’s just the way that we really like to time travel, in general, and I think in this record, there’s a lot of time travel, so there’s something about these objects and the mix of really modern and really old that are simultaneously happening. I feel like that’s happening sonically, and with the genres of music on the record, I think that’s happening. There are all these eras colliding in one moment.
Your single “Smash My Head” is a particularly wild sonic adventure, mutating into all sorts of forms, and taking unanticipated turns until its triumphant climax. What did you seek to express in this song, musically and lyrically?
It kind of goes all over this place. There’s this sort of childhood, kind of violent, teen angst in the beginning, and somehow, we ended up getting into this subject of death, but from a very transcendental, uplifted point of view. It talks about flying, and kind of the moment of death. It becomes more of an extension.
Britney Spears surprisingly makes her way into the lyrics of two songs on your new album. On “Did Me Wrong” you sing, ““More than CIA, he feared Britney Spears,” and on “Lamb and the Wolf,” you sing, “No more Mrs. Nice Guy, they’re tryin’ to Britney Spears me.” Why Britney Spears? Explain your fascination with her.
(Laughs) Actually, it’s a phrase our brother coined, and it’s a state of mind that she, sort of, symbolizes, and it’s a state of mind that she symbolizes. It’s sort of touching on society turning against you or kind of fuzzing in on you to a certain breaking point.
Your music achieves much of its otherworldly quality from its unconventional instrumentation, with your songs incorporating toys and various found sounds. What was the most peculiar sound that made its way into the new album?
Well, there’s a lot of frogs. You won’t notice, but like in “Lamb and the Wolf,” right before the second verse, there’s a huge frog noise, and it bleeds straight into my vocals, so we sampled them and used them percussively. And we also did that with typewriter, quite a bit, not just in the obvious places, but “Smash My Head” is a lot of an electric typewriter set up. So we used a lot of found sounds, but then cut them up electronically. It’s something that we really enjoyed with this record.
“Did Me Wrong” adds a new spin to your sound, with a Latin tinge, and unconventional drumming that seems to mess with the listener’s perception of time. How did you end up taking this route with the song’s percussion?
I know there’s rhythms that kind of go against each other, or the time signatures don’t match. A lot of the tracks started with drums and different types of drum machines, and making a kind of mess, finding certain grooves and then organizing them. This one turned out, for me, a bit more wild because the chaos just had something special about it that we kept. It’s kind of hard to explain, but this whole effort, for me, was very drum-centered, and that’s where a lot of the songs started.
Another new single, “Lamb and the Wolf,” hints at new musical directions, with its cheerleader chant and drumline making for an atypically bright, buoyant sound. What led you to venture in this direction, and what feeling did you want to convey through the sound?
For me, that’s something really ‘70s. It’s not so much about the intention. We start experimenting, and then we start to see something surfacing, so it started to have this imagination of young girls in the jungle, like gangs in the jungle, doing Karate and stuff, but somehow, it even had this ‘70s Blaxploitation film element, so (laughs) we worked with these kind of images.
You mention a lamb not only in “Lamb and the Wolf,” but also in “Aloha Friday,” when you sing, “Held the lamb in my hand, beheld its eyes,” Explain the significance of lambs in the new album.
We started performing our record on our brother’s ranch in Hawaii. I was there also. I spend quite a bit of time there, writing. I was very fascinated by the basic things going on in the ranch, like the sort of life and death that you experience when you have a lot of animals, and you get in a rural area. There was an episode when we saw an injured lamb, and my brother had to kill the lamb because it was so injured. So this was a literal story that we experienced. It was a snapshot of our family experience during that time.
There is a theatrical quality to your music, which is no surprise, as you have written, directed, and performed in theatrical works, and recently composed scores for four full-length features. How have your music and your work in other mediums influenced one another?
I’m not sure exactly how, but I know that it’s been a really rich experience making music for theater. The first time we did it, in 2014 I guess, was our first time composing for other people to sing our music, so that was a huge shift. All the actors were singing our music, and especially with these idiosyncratic voices, it was sometimes challenging to translate our song style, but it lends itself quite well to theater is what we discovered. And we also had large ensembles, much bigger than our own band, so we just gained a lot of experience composing. I think it just pushed us in general to come out more and more as artists, to push the role.
“Put the Shine On” is available March 13 on Apple Music.