Ga naar de hoofdcontent
Interview: Bianca Casady

Interview: Bianca Casady

after What's Your Heaven and Future Feminism

Bianca Casady is one of the two sisters that form CocoRosie. Together with associate artist ANOHNI, Johanna Constantine and Kembra Pfahler they initiated Future Feminism. The sisters will be performing What’s your Heaven together, and each of them will also be performing during the Future Feminism Program. Bianca will present the reading J'offre Mes Yeux Pour Qu’un Aveugle Voie…

By Evelien Lindeboom

You and your sister started making music together in 2003. Sierra (Rosie) is a trained opera singer and you (Coco) write most of the lyrics and make the beats... Your distinctive voices and qualities merge together into a very whimsical and unique sound. Can you tell me a bit more about how you work together and who does what in the process of making a song?
‘We go through different phases. Right now, when we work on a new song, we first try to feel into a topic or story that we want to explore, and we start singing. Even if we don’t have all the words yet, we get into a rhythm and capture the tempo. We used to do it the other way around, so that technology was the starting point. Now we prefer to first get the rhythm and tempo from our bodies. The lyrics come in before any of the musical, melodic elements. Sierra is the one that plays most of the keyboard parts and so far, I’ve done most of the beat production, but recently I’ve been teaching my sister how to make beats. So, at the moment she is the engineer. We always have a lot of fun; we find things out as we go. We are in our forties, but when we make music, we feel like teenagers.’

Your songs are often about your unusual childhood, that was characterized by moving around a lot with your artist mother, and joining your father in unorthodox ceremonies taken from the Native American peyote church. There are many associations and feelings triggered in which children’s voices and experiences are very present. At the same time, you don’t wish to be compared to children…
‘I think it’s because we are sisters that we get extra infantilized. It can be too much and feel a bit perverted. We started making music in our twenties and are now in our early forties. We are not children. At the same time, yes, there are many childlike elements to our music. I started out using children’s toys as instruments and recently brought them back, and the way I use my vocal styling can be classified as childlike as well. And we do sing a lot about our childhood. Even when it’s not about our own experiences, sometimes our songs can be from the perspective of a five-year-old. There is freedom to a child’s voice: it tells the truth without having to be self-conscious or self-censoring.’

Besides writing lyrics for CocoRosie you also write poetry and theatre. What’s your inspiration? Is there a big difference in the writing processes, or do they flow over into each other?
‘My poetry is not about past experiences, as is often the case with CocoRosie, it’s more present tense and internal. Through poetry, but also through photography and theatre, I have lately been exploring the figure of the scarecrow. What appeals to me are its form and limitations. When I write from the perspective inside the scarecrow, looking out, I am always outdoors, in the passage of seasons. At the same time I become a creature that doesn’t understand life and death. Death is an important topic to me and in recent years became more central. Our mother died six years ago and that experience made a big impression. We had an idyllic, unique experience, being very close to her when she died. It turned me towards death in a reverent way: seeing the magnitude of things. I started reading death poems by Zen poets during the writing of my recent book of poems. They show a different mindset in which death is a significant event – not to avoid, not tragic, but part of nature and ultimately the major event in one’s life, something to prepare for and even look forward to in a way.

At times we will use my poetry as a starting point for a song. I can’t write poems about anything political. I’ve tried but it doesn’t work. Whereas songs can be. What’s my heaven for example, is based on one of my poems about the scarecrow. It was then transformed into a story about an A.I. being of sorts, the scarecrow turned into a robot, saying: ‘there is nowhere for me to go’. Finally, the robot became a sort of dehumanized human: a person unable to have any kind of death or afterlife, that was still longing for those human and spiritual qualities. Maybe what I am expressing is a spiritual crisis in humanity, because of our tendency towards transhumanism. I want to comment on our urge to “improve” the human body with technology, causing us to lose touch with our spirituality and nature.'

Do you often want to make political statements with your songs?  
‘Historically CocoRosie has stirred up a degree of controversy, and we have accepted that as part of our contribution. It’s also in line with our idea of the artist’s role: not to repeat popular views but to offer new perspectives, and to constantly critique society through the freedom and ambiguity that is allowed in art. It offers the possibility to reflect a more distorted picture of society, so that it can be looked at more objectively. This is also why we are often attracted to taboos; to explore them, and to walk these fine lines. An example: We made a video for the song God has a voice she speaks through me. It has a lot of references to traditional Islamic women’s dress codes: some women are in full black hijabs. I myself wear half a hijab, but without wearing a shirt. Back in 2013 I also made a magazine called ‘Girls Against God’, on the same topic. It’s important to me to put women and women’s rights before culture, so it’s problematic to have to be politically correct about something like valuing all religions, when that goes against valuing men and women equally… I received a lot of criticism for criticizing religion back then, and ever since I have been pushing up against what is considered to be politically incorrect. I find this notion of political correctness inherently problematic. I feel the need to challenge censorship. But in the last few years society has less and less room for different perspectives, so I’ve felt suffocated. I struggle to maintain my voice, both as an artist and as a feminist, in this climate that doesn’t allow for a lot of nuance and discussion and debate.’

There is a lot of discussion and differences of opinion within feminism. Women’s rights are clearly very important to you. How would you describe your view on feminism?
‘As stated in the first tenet of Future Feminism; ‘The subjugation of women and the earth is one and the same.' In general, our feminism is strongly earth-centered with an unceasing reverence for nature. We see the body as sacred. We are currently interested in a vision of re-wilding as a broader concept both for the planet and for female beings. We were raised with a particular moral compass regarding cosmetic surgery and the transfiguration of the natural body which we have carried forward into our adult lives and in turn, our political perspectives. When we see for example how some women believe testosterone will make a women’s body stronger and therefor better, that’s worrying. It also appears to us that many middle class Western families would nowadays prefer to have a diagnosed trans child than simply a ‘dyke’ or a ‘faggot’. We believe that radical self-acceptance is true feminism and that much of the problem which needs to be addressed is society’s rejection and oppression of female bodies.

Regarding our view on surgery, it is not a dogmatic stance that rejects modern innovation, it’s the ethics of how we use these modern innovations and ultimately who is profiting and being harmed by them. Women and girls are being stripped of their wilderness. This view does not make us trans exclusionary radical feminists. This terminology, “TERFS” is being used to silence women who have a dissenting view on current identity politics. The dissenting voice and a kaleidoscope of multifarious perspectives in a healthy, uncensored discourse is in our opinion essential to reaching the most enlightened and humanly compassionate ideas and goals. Silencing, censoring and disenfranchising women with differing points of view is blatant misogyny and we see it as part of the milieu of the modern witch hunt.’

As CocoRosie you have often expressed a different gender through experimenting with make-up and costumes. How does this fit into your view of embracing nature and naturalness?
‘Indeed, we wear wigs and a lot of makeup in the pursuit of finding and expressing our true inner selves. Trans identity has been a part of CocoRosie and especially my personal artistic expression. I often embody a male persona in performances, I wear “men’s clothing”, paint a realistic moustache and bind my breasts. I have myself fantasized about having top surgery because I felt discontent with having breasts and uncomfortable in my feminine form. I struggled with it, didn’t feel attractive in my body. As I’ve given this subject a lot of thought, it forced me to look at my own issues with my body as well, my own lack of self-acceptance. I moved through it and I’ve started to embrace my feminine body almost as a backlash to the massive trend to discard the female body especially as a queer woman. I am not saying everyone should do the same, but my personal experience is what is partially forming my view.

We have been practicing the acceptance of our natural female forms at a time when the female body is particularly subject to new forms of violence. Currently the mutilation of the female body is not only a popular trend but is becoming a norm, we believe propelled by the pharmaceutical industry as well as other forces and emerging ideologies. It also makes me concerned about the misguidance of young woman who don’t like their bodies, or who feel unsafe In their body, feeling a sense of dysmorphia, to which society responds by saying: this is something we can fix externally with medical intervention, rather than examining how society is aggravating these negative feelings women and girls are feeling towards themselves. We propose that the normalization and push towards artificially altered, and even trans-humanist bodies is rooted in patriarchy, homophobia and the dominance of man over nature.’

What makes this so important to you now?
‘The censorship and sexualization of the female body has been a passionate topic for us for many years and lately is taking on more paradoxically absurd forms. For example, photographs of nipples of cisgender women are censored on social media, but the same images posted by self-identifying non-binary or trans people are not censored. We see this as regressive rather than progressive. We used to ride our bikes around New York topless in the mid 2000’s outraged and personally conflicted by the unequal treatment of women’s and men’s bodies. I’ve been wanting to show my breasts on stage, because I feel so disturbed by this ridiculous censorship of the female bodies. If I’d call myself nonbinary I could show my body, but if I call myself a woman, I can’t! What does that mean? Why is it still women being silenced and censored? I find this all very hypocritical and ideologically crooked. I haven’t heard many people talk about this issue. I am curious to know what trans women think about this.’

During the Future Feminist Program, you are presenting a reading and media presentation called J'offre Mes Yeux Pour Qu’un Aveugle Voie… What can you say about this?
‘The title comes from something I found when, during the pandemic, I decided I needed some art therapy. I made collages in my studio, trying not to think about anything, just cutting and taping images. But it had the opposite effect. I came across material about the second world war that also reflected many issues of our time. It pushed me more into thinking and feeling about politics, so I started putting together a book. The image and quote J'offre Mes Yeux Pour Qu’un Aveugle Voie… (I offer my eyes for a blind person to see) came from one of those magazines. It may have referred to medical stuff, but I don’t even know. It just served for interesting metaphors. I started juxtaposing headlines with images. Put an image and title and you are saying something, it’s that easy. This will be a presentation about my political concerns, without necessarily making it explicit. I want to make a provocation for people to think about these things in a more critical way. It’s a completely new work. What I can say is that I will use the character of an AI or robot. It’s not poetry, but it will be poetic.’