Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady wrote their latest album beneath the shimmering Northern Lights.
The sisters, known collectively as the band CocoRosie, were in Iceland earlier this year to record their fifth studio album, "Tales of a GrassWidow." In a phone conversation, Bianca said they stepped out of the studio one night into the cool air. They wanted to see a meteor shower, but instead saw flashes of color.
"Because of the winter, we were able to see a lot of the Aurora Borealis," she said. "It was really beautiful. We wrote a lot of the songs under the Northern Lights."
The experience prompted a conversation among the sisters as they walked: if a UFO landed and offered to take them away, would they go?
Bianca seemed unsure of how to answer the question in her interview with the Tribune. "I’m not super drawn to the space exploration but it seems like it would be really hard to deny," she said. The experience eventually made it into the song "Far Away," the eighth track on "Tales of a GrassWidow."
CocoRosie — whose sound is difficult to characterize but sometimes gets lumped into the "freak folk" subgenre — has been a polarizing act since debuting with "La maison de mon rêve" in 2004. Even as the sisters attracted an enthusiastic fan base, critics were divided on their dreamy lyrics, eclectic instrumentation what some described as esoteric themes. At times the Casady’s album art and unconventional wardrobe choices even became points of debate in the music press.
But "Tales of a GrassWidow" received a warm response after dropping in May. Though not all critics loved the effort, many described it as comparatively coherent. Music website Pitchfork noted that it’s hard to fathom the album coming from "a band that has inspired so many sour fights, think-pieces, and passionate apologias from prominent musicians."
Bianca said she didn’t set out to make a more accessible record. In fact, she thought the band’s previous album, "Grey Oceans," was going to be the one that appealed to a wide audience. Instead, it was "kind of swept under the rug," she recalled.
As a result, when she and Sierra set out to make "Tales of GrassWidow" they took an entirely different approach. Instead of laboring over the album, as they did before, the sisters decided to lay down tracks in a breakneck, 10-day recording session at the studio in Iceland. Bianca said they went to the studio with ideas and "character creations" they had worked on in other projects including a play. From there, the sisters and their team began experimenting, layering sounds onto the record.
"The music happened pretty fast," Bianca said of the process. "We don’t ever rehearse anything. We kind of record segment by segment. From beginning to end we end up somewhere different from where we were expecting."
Bianca said the rapid recording process was Sierra’s idea, and given the response the album has received it apparently worked. She added that Iceland in particular left a lasting impression on her.
"It’s a very special culture that completely believes in supernatural beings," she explained. "Elves, fairies. It’s not a joke or a silly matter there. I see it as a kind of poetic relationship with nature and the elements."
What resulted from CocoRosie’s time recording in Iceland is, among other things, an explicitly political work. Bianca said topics in the songs range from people considered "untouchables" to women’s rights. In particular, she expressed alarm with the practice of child marriage in various parts of the world and mentioned reading an article about a 5-year-old girl’s marriage ceremony. Those concerns gave rise to "Child Bride," the third track on "Tales of a GrassWidow."
The sisters like to stay busy, and Bianca said their lifestyle is to always have a full plate of work. That includes visual art, theater, and currently the magazine Girls Against God, which on a Facebook page is described as "a boldly feminist exploration and multi-generational endeavor."
"We’re targeting God as the symbolic embodiment of patriarchy," Bianca said of the magazine. "It’s not really about spirituality."
Still, the band isn’t trying to impose ideas on people, and Bianca said she’s drawn to music for its "open endedness." Bianca also has been impressed with the band’s fans recently and said that they bring their own perspectives to the music. Listeners, she added, are free to engage with her music how they will.
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.