Ahead of the release of their sixth LP Heartache City (out Sept. 18), folk sister duo CocoRosie (Bianca and Sierra Casady) share the “last song written” for the record “Tim and Tina” exclusively via Billboard.
The album, the follow-up to 2013’s Tales of a Grass Widow, was recorded and written at the sister’s farm studio in the south of France, with minimal equipment and a focus on toy and antique instruments. “I was walking around in the South of France, alone, on a burnt out crop field and I started writing my parents story as simply as I could. Just the bare facts,” Bianca Casady told Billboard of the song’s origins. “It came from text that I wrote for a play and it’s sort of about the way our memories end up being formed around these snapshots, like kissing, getting your picture taken, Prom or a roller rink. “Tim and Tina” pieces together stories informed by family photos, and you don’t even know how much of it is true.”
Billboard sat down with Bianca, while her sister Sierra was on the West Coast, to discuss the writing process, hip-hop inspirations, and falling in love with Buenos Aires.
This is your sixth album together, how was the process this time around?
There were a lot of differences. We spent a lot of time apart leading up to the record and so I did a lot of the writing alone, but not songs just poetry. We carved it out quite suddenly, and went to this farm in the south of France that we’ve been going to for a long time. We didn’t get our hand on a four track, but really limited ourselves to four to five tracks. We worked in this very formula kind of way, like you do some beats. And then Sierra would play these simple cords, this sort of quintessential Cocorosie style of composing that we really went away from. We went back to this simple way of laying down melodies and it’s a sort of early hip hop formula kind of way, which Sierra always had that sensibility for some reason.
Has hip-hop always been an influence?
I started getting really into rapping, but I just didn’t see that coming. You can always see a hip hop in our music, but I wouldn’t have expected that that was a direction we were going, I thought it was kind of like where we started. And I’m not listening to rap at all. I found a new kind of passion for performing, I definitely don’t want to call it spoken word, but performing text with rhythm. It’s funny, I organically found my way back to this phenomenon.
And the title “Heartache City,” it’s one of the songs on the record. When did you realize that that was going to be the title and why did you choose that?
Pretty late in the game. We can’t really explain it, which is how a lot of our titles work. Some people would say it’s a sad thing, and it’s funny because often, especially with our titles, we don’t really respect the classic definition of certain words. Sometimes they just have a feeling. For us it’s just like “Reno, Nevada” or something, like maybe your luck runs out, but it’s not the worst place you’ve ever been. We sort of pictured this hotel, this neon sign. I don’t know it has this attitude to us that’s one of those poetic things that don’t really make sense. And then the song ended up having a certain gravity to it in the end.
I know you used vintage toy instruments on the record. Why did you decide to do that?
We’re slaves to these weird impulses. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous it is or how much shit we get about it. We are appropriating things a lot. We got this vision of Sierra, when we were in the studio, of her roller skating in the 70s with a big afro and it just started taking over everything. We have this obsession with small sounds, so I think that’s why we’re attracted to toys, whether it’s a music box or a toy with a speaker there’s this high frequency thing that some how it’s nostalgic and narrative for us.
I feel like a lot of the lyrics give off that nostalgic vibe too. Looking back. It’s pretty intimate.
Yeah it’s tea stained.
And you went to Argentina to finish it?
Yeah we went there to mix the record. We brought a lot of the final and vocal tracks already, but couldn’t really help ourselves, but kind of started writing there as well. And it was interesting to be in a slick studio with all the plug ins. We already got the sound that we wanted in this funky situation, so trying to maintain that was an interesting production goal. We were constantly cranking the rust up on stuff.
Had you been before?
Yes we’ve been working with the same engineer for years. His name is Nicolas Kalwill and he’s from Buenos Aires – he engineered and mixed our fourth record Grey Oceans and then the fifth record. He’s one of the only people that we can be completely ourselves with and do what we need to do in the studio. We work really long hours (laughs), he thinks we’re completely insane. He was recounting a time when we flew him to Paris from Buenos Aires and took him straight to the studio and did a 24-hour session. And we weren’t doing drugs or anything!
And you filmed a video there?
We did for “Lost Girls,” we got all swept up into this world there. We got taken to BBQs and suddenly were playing shows and dealing in cash, and getting completely swept up by the pace of things there. Actually it felt really at home for us, people who were willing to jump into projects, they all work all night, shit was crazy. We did a 10-hour casting to get the right people for the video. We filmed and watched 200 girls crying and laughing and doing all of this crazy stuff to find the right girls for the video. A lot of them were fans, so it was a completely different dynamic. I played this muchacho guy picking up a girl hitch-hiking, that was fun to wear a big moustache (laughs).
You have a tour coming up – how is the production different on this swing?
We never manage to play the record. We are still working with a beat boxer – it feels so good live. We use a drum machine and things on the record that we’re just not going to bring onstage. He’s such a big part of our live show for so many years, so that’s totally unlike the record. And then we have this awesome synth player, and there’s no synth on the record! We are also going to South America – they convinced us to come back! We’re going to all of these countries we’ve never been to, Columbia and Peru. I just love all of Central and South America, and Mexico first actually. We’re going to be there on Day of the Dead, so that’s exciting.
9/17-20 – Oakdale, CA @ Symbiosis Gathering HERE
Tue 9/22 – Solano Beach, CA @ Belly Up Tavern HERE
Wed 9/23 – Los Angeles, CA @ Belasco Theater HERE
Fri 9/25 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall HERE
Sat 9/26 – Kingston, NY @ BSP Kingston HERE
Sun 9/27 – Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall HERE
Wed 9/30 – Mexico City, MEX @ Teatro Blanquita
Fri 10/2 – Lima, Peru @ Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
Sat 10/3 – Bogota, Columbia @ Teatro Ecci
Mon 10/5 – Buenos Aires City, Argentina @ Niceto Club
Wed 10/7 – Montevideo, Uruguay @ La Transtienda
Thu 10/8 – Santiago, Chile @ Teatro Cariola
Fri 10/9 – Cordoba, Argentina @ Paraguay Club