Written by Live Nation Staff • Photography by Patricio Colombo • September 11, 2015
Along with her sister Sierra, Bianca Casady has been a member of experimental pop duo CocoRosie for over a decade—but her first onstage experience had nothing to do with music.
"I was 15-years-old in Santa Fe, New Mexico, performing poetry. I got a pretty big rush out of it," she tells me on a humid day outside Brooklyn restaurant Marlow & Sons, sipping a cup of hot tea, wearing a bowler hat and overalls. A few years later, Casady moved to New York City, but found the adjustment to the city's spoken-word scene somewhat tough: "Everyone was more introspective, whereas I had a more extroverted performance style, but I didn't have anywhere else to go, so I just kept going to poetry readings."
An invitation to perform a small show with Devendra Banhart and singer Diane Cluck was her first taste of the music world. "I don't know what he expected me to do—I never considered myself a musician—so I decided to sing a series of poems," Casady says with a slight wistfulness. "I've had more than ten years of experience with music, but I still forget that I'm a musician. I think of myself as an artist; I'm not someone who sings professionally when I'm not recording or performing, so I forget about that element entirely."
CocoRosie's new album Heartache City (out September 18 digitally and October 16 physically) is somewhat of a return to Bianca's spoken-word days; its lyrics tangle and untangle atop folky textures that recall the group's early recordings. Despite her background, Bianca claims that Heartache City's linguistic density proves challenging in a live setting. "I keep telling my sister, 'You don't realize I have to memorize this shit!'" she laughs. "It's a sexy record, but with farm stuff—animals, nature, sexy images in the forest. It's medieval countryside rap."
To wit, Heartache City was conceived in the pastoral setting provided by the Casadys' studio on a farm in the south of France, as well as a studio in Buenos Aires. The album's recording process mirrored the sisters' own lives, which have been spent largely in transience.
"I'm never really in one place, so I don't feel like I live anywhere," Bianca says without a hint of regret, noting that a life spent constantly moving makes for easy adjustment when on tour. "I can make myself at home anywhere really fast. When I'm backstage, I just unpack my stuff and that's where I'm at."
Read on for our conversation on technology, feminism, and the criticism that CocoRosie have faced over the years.
It's been a year since you and your sister's Future Feminists art collective had their first exhibition. How do you reflect on what's taken place culturally since then?
Earlier today, I saw a friend that's been living in L.A., and she says to me, 'You know, the future is female.' That was one of Future Feminists' more provocative statements a year ago—the most controversial, and the hardest for even me to say and understand. I thought she was referring to the work that we'd done, but she didn't even know about it. Everyone in L.A. is wearing "The Future Is Female" t-shirts, and they're selling like crazy.
We were getting a lot of hate letters about that statement, which could easily be misunderstood. When an artist pushes boundaries, they step into a territory that can be misread, and they end up getting a lot of crap. I've experienced that a lot. But a year later, everyone is wearing this shirt like it's an acceptable concept. [The collective] is baffled. It's not like we invented this stuff, but we were pushing against a lot of resistance a year ago, and that must have really dissipated.
A fair amount of criticism towards CocoRosie's early work seemed to infantilize you and your sister's work in a sexist manner.
'Infantilize'—I've been thinking a lot about that. I'm just now feeling—especially when engaging with journalists—like I'm not being infantilized. Over the last few years, we went from being treated like weird baby sisters in a bathtub to being treated like grown-up artists. The concept of weirdness that the world was putting on us always felt like it had to do with being female. We were fetishized as weird sisters, but if we were brothers, would we be considered weird?
We've faced a lot of accusations about racism, and I understand where some of it came from. We're dealing with the topic of race a lot—we're digesting it, putting it out there, and reflecting hypocrisies or taboos. It's not about saying the perfect message. Art isn't supposed to be perfectly in line with what's correct—it's a safe space to de-charge and deconstruct all of this stuff. If you do that, there's a lot of backlash. If you try to simplify it, you can just say 'it's racist,' but I'm saying, 'it's dealing with racism.'
How do you view America's ability to talk about race, compared to Europe's?
It's funny, Europe is so different on the subject. I remember being in France and seeing this [French record store chain] FNAC called 'Black Music.' I thought it was really weird—like, 'What the fuck is 'black music,' how dare they?' But a lot of this music— blues, jazz, rock—comes from black people. The black American experience is such a huge part of mainstream music. Europe just has such a different relationship with race. I've been touring with French guys and getting used to their kind of rebelliousness. They're really always trying to provoke and, especially around Americans, they really want to break those rules. I'm so used to it now that I probably feel like people are kind of uptight here.
How hard is it to financially survive as a musician in 2015, compared to when you started out?
We're working so constantly that we haven't noticed a lot of change, but at the same time, we've pulled out of the city life. I unplugged, basically. It's so rich just to be isolated and observant. I haven't even looked at my finances in the last ten years, which means that I've been doing well enough that I haven't had to think about it, but I haven't slowed down either—and I don't want to, and I'm not looking forward to a time when I have to.
I'm still enjoying touring, and as far the industry goes, the world of live music isn't going anywhere—at least for now. I dunno, though. There's all these holograms of dead people and shit. I think that's gonna take over the industry—live shows starring dead people. I don't understand who's making the money off that.
I don't think anyone is.
Well, then I'm glad it's not taking off.
How often do you use the internet?
I have an on-and-off thing with technology that works for me. I unplug and I'm totally MIA, and I only get have a prepaid phone when I come to New York—otherwise, I don't have a phone. I carve out periods of time when no one's expecting anything of me. It might seem lame, but it's also like going back in time, when you had to plan ahead and write people letters. I like sending letters, and I like not being plugged in.
It's weird, but I can't ever find anything to do on the internet. I recently started a YouTube channel, and so I'm just discovering YouTube again. But I don't even look at it, I just love having my own channel. I've been making videos all these years and I never considered putting them on Youtube, so I'm having a newfound discovery. Sometimes, though, I wish it would all just go away, that someone would just pull the plug, and everyone would be like, 'Shit.' I don't know how any of it works. I try to put stuff on Facebook and then it gets deleted. I can't remember passwords. It's overwhelming.
Do you have anything you require with you on the road?
I always have a good microphone and a good camera. My carry-on is always way too heavy, and there's nothing I can do. I usually put my favorite shirt and whatever I'm wearing on stage in my carry-on too, so I'm always ready for my suitcase to get lost.
Stream Heartache City below.