Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady of CocoRosie get their alter egos on this Thursday at the Rio.
To understand the performance art–driven, strange musical juxtapositions of CocoRosie, a band frequently accused by critics of being pretentious or too bizarre for its own good, it’s important to understand the two women behind the group.
As young children, sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady lived a bohemian existence with their mother, rarely staying in one town for more than a year and focusing more of their attention on weird art projects—at their mother’s insistence—than on schoolwork.
It’s no wonder, then, that when they grew up and formed a band in the early 2000s, it was not simply so they could play songs. Music was a means to expose the hidden details of their souls to anyone within earshot, including themselves.
“We present the raw footage of our unconscious. The stories reveal themselves to us in the moment, as startlingly new for us as it is for the audience,” Bianca says.
They got labeled early on as “freak folk,” but really their aim has always been to mix styles and instruments that don’t normally go together—hip hop with opera, toy instruments with a full rock band, violins with beat boxing.
Their lyrics tell stories that are rich in detail and full of vivid characters, yet, much like a dream or a surrealist painting, always missing critical pieces of information. Still, they leave a strong impression on the listener.
“I think our sense of storytelling is quite fragmented and abstract. We love to discover and develop characters more than anything. Sometimes they have two left feet and that is the most specific thing about them we know,” Bianca says.
The sisters sometimes dress in drag, complete with fake mustaches, or in botched hip-hop garb with a dash of renaissance flair. Their shows include bits of theater and performance art, often as abstract as their lyrics.
“There is no intention (to what we do) other than shocking ourselves, seeing a new face in the mirror, dreaming of something you never imagined before, finding out you were a swan in a past life, discovering you don’t know how to love,” Bianca says.
CocoRosie didn’t start out this way. Their first album, La Maison de Mon Rêve (2004), was recorded in Sierra’s apartment with only the Casady Sisters performing, using mostly toy instruments. When they played live, it was just the two of them.
“In the ‘early days’ I was filled with horror and jittery nerves. My voice felt alien and it was a very painful thing to sing. Now it’s hard to pull me off when it’s all over,” Bianca says.
For their second album, Noah’s Ark (2005), they expanded to include other players like Devendra Banhart, Antony Hegarty and Spleen.
It was their third album, The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillhorse (2007), that made CocoRosie an indie household names. Upbeat and danceable, the sound was full and layered. The live shows expanded to include a full band and more theatrical performance art.
Critical reception for the album was all over the map. Some gave it high marks, while others, like Pitchfork, slammed it, giving it a 2.3 out of 10. Wrote author Marc Hogan, “The more self-impressed CocoRosie sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady get about transcending genres, the less patience they have for mere mortal concerns like, um, songs.”
On their fourth and most recent album, Grey Oceans (2010), CocoRosie, in stark contrast to the fun sound of the previous album, play some of their quietest and most introspective songs to date.
“It’s funny how things turn out and how they seem,” says Bianca. “Death was all about the making of our third album, and there was so much joy in making the fourth.”
As CocoRosie evolves, the main creative driving force will continue to be the two sisters. More than anything, their different personalities help bring out juxtapositions in their art that gives them a sound unique in the indie landscape.
“A lot of the contradiction is the actual innate differences between Sierra and I. She loves to match and I don’t. It’s always a seesaw, a tug of war,” Bianca says.
Thursday, June 7 at 8pm
Tickets $20 adv/$23 door. Available at Streetlight and www.ticketweb.com.