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CocoRosie - Sisters In Arms

Author: Craig Spann
Monday, 25 February 2008
CocoRosie create some of the most interesting, arresting and evocative music on the planet today. No genre is left out of their writing, and their live show is of another world. After a (short) whirlwind tour of Australia back in 2006, the sisters return for what is set to be one of the best shows Sydney will see this year. 3D's Craig Spann chatted to one-half of the duo, Sierra Casady.

If there’s one thing CocoRosie’s Sierra Casady isn’t short on, it’s ideas. Even just a brief listen to the music she crafts with sibling Bianca leaves the inescapable impression of a vivid imagination at work. Hip hop, folk, pop, found sound, operatic melodrama – it’s all there in CocoRosie’s bent electronic cocktail. And never before has that imagination been realised quite so well as on the duo’s third album The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn.

More than simply a collection of songs, each track on the album sits like a chapter in a broader, deeply personal narrative. It really is a record that must be taken as a whole before the meticulous blending of such diverse sounds starts to add up. Talking from Paris, Sierra explains that using music to give form to a seemingly endless well of ideas has been CocoRosie’s motivation from the start.

“At the beginning we had a lot of ideas, maybe too many ideas,” Sierra explains. “Those ideas weren’t necessarily about music, they were stories about our lives we wanted to document. The music feels a bit like photographs…or films for the blind.” It’s an approach that certainly appears to connect with a rapidly growing number of people around the globe.

Since the release of their 2004 debut album La Maison De Mon Rêve, CocoRosie have been swept up in a wave of attention. 2005’s follow-up Noah’s Ark only further cemented the sisters’ place among like-minded peers – and fellow experimenters – Devendra Banhart, Antony & The Johnsons and Joanna Newsom.

It’s been a rise that Sierra says has not only taken her and Bianca by surprise, but has brought with it no shortage of challenges.

“At the beginning we weren’t thinking about making a record and we definitely weren’t thinking about a career in music,” she says. “It is hard though…it can be quite overwhelming.”

Sierra is reluctant though to ascribe the move away from the USA to their adopted home in Paris as a way to escape that attention and pressure. “I just think we’re into the pretty things, the simple, romantic things in life,” she explains.

Even so, Sierra makes it clear that movement and transition is a pivotal part of the CocoRosie rationale. She says that while the creative motivation behind CocoRosie has never really shifted, the music they make, and the way they make it, is always moving in new directions. “We are looking for that [change].

“That’s the most important thing for us, change, and we try to respect whatever happens naturally.”

So, when it came to making the latest album CocoRosie went on what Sierra now describes as “an adventure”. For more than a month, she and Bianca made a small farmhouse in the south of France their home. There, in complete isolation, they went about both writing and recording the record in its entirety. Rather than being claustrophobic, Sierra says working in such a solitary way opened their imagination and helped focus the vision for the album.

“It was isolated and extremely lonely,” she says. “But we were looking for the tranquillity and we were very entranced by the nature there.”

Taking such an intensive approach is evidence of the unusually close personal and creative bonds that exists between the two sisters – bonds that don’t appreciate external influence. “We don’t work apart,” she says. “Our music is really about what happens together.

“It is definitely, intensely distracting if other people like producers are around when we write.”

Once recorded, the album was finished in Reykjavík, Iceland with help from producer Valgeir Sigurdssðn, who’s worked with the likes of Björk and Bonny Prince Billy.

“Spending that time on the farm and then going to a very contrasting place to mix it was an interesting way to do the it,” she says. “That was a little different for us.”

It’s an approach she says informs the overall feel of the album.

“Some of the tracks we left very naked and I think that was because of doing it that way…making it (the album) in two very different places,” she says.

When The Adventures Of… was eventually released mid-last year, it divided opinion, falling squarely into the love it or hate it camp. Yet as a work of sheer inventiveness, it was an album that could not be ignored. What’s more, tour after tour earned CocoRosie a reputation as a truly remarkable live act. But now, more than six months down the track, Sierra says she’s keen to move on.

While she says there are not enough new songs to warrant a fourth record just yet, the pair never stops writing new music and reshaping old ideas.

“We have a bunch of songs that could’ve made it onto that record and didn’t,” she says. “There is also a lot of music we’ve written since finishing that record.”

And some of that new material may well get an airing on CocoRosie’s upcoming Australian tour. This will be the first time the band has made it to Australia since their brief but much-hyped run of shows alongside Antony & The Johnsons in 2006. Still, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Sierra says exactly what the shows will sound like remains up in the air with a final tour line-up yet to be locked in.

“It [the live show] is always changing,” Sierra says. “I think we are going to bring over a pianist and we like to work a lot with beat boxers at the moment. There’s been a lot of transition lately, so I think we’ll just jump on a plane and see what happens.”

Besides, CocoRosie is the last band you’d expect to simply try and reproduce their records on stage. Rather, Sierra says performing is another opportunity to explore songs that are in a constant state of evolution.

“We only replicate songs live if it really comes naturally,” she adds. “Most of the time though we don’t give a fuck.”

WHO: CocoRosie
WHAT: Play The Factory / The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn through Rogue/Inertia
WHEN: Sunday 9 March / out now