Being an eccentric, out-and-proud feminist might be par for the course for women pop stars in 2016 (see: Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Grimes), but it definitely wasn’t the norm when CocoRosie started making music in 2003. Back then, Kelly Clarkson’s “Miss Independent” was the closest thing pop had to a feminist anthem, and Beyoncé was still riding high on being “Crazy in Love” with then-boyfriend Jay Z. Feminism wasn’t exactly the stuff of earth-shattering VMA performances, like it is now in our post-Lemonade era. Rather, it was a dirty-word-cum-PR-nightmare for any pop diva who dared utter the term.
Yet even early on, CocoRosie, composed of sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady, embraced the controversial ideology. In fact, they’ve never pandered to the populist vote with their music, which is an experimental blend of freak-folk, indie pop, rap, and electronica. For their 2004 debut album, La maison de mon rêve, the duo penned a flurry of songs that played with androgyny and femininity, diving into themes such as child prostitution and the oppressive misogyny and racism found within organized religion.
But at first, people didn’t get it.
“We left a lot more room for misinterpretation in the beginning,” Bianca, the younger of the pair, says. “We always ran the risk of being taken literally, which happened constantly. We found that our voice needed to be more pointed.”
So the duo swapped the nuanced and metaphorical for the straightforward, starting with their 2008 single “God Has a Voice, She Speaks Through Me.” Bianca figured overtly feminizing the Judeo-Christian God would do the trick, only to find that the message was lost on listeners yet again.
“I thought we were super heavy-handed,” Bianca adds. “We had to start being so blatant about being feminist.”
In recent years, the listening public has started to catch up with the duo’s pro-women messages, as has pop culture as a whole. Bianca is excited by the change in mindsets, and she is certainly enjoying the results. Male journalists treat the band “completely differently” now, dropping their previous infantilizing and condescending demeanor toward the duo and instead treating them like actual adults.
“We used to be called weird and childish,” Bianca says, adding that they also heard “some perverted things about us being sisters.”
It was the sisterhood aspect, together with the duo’s longtime penchant for using toy instruments and singing about mystical subjects like fairies and witches, that prompted such unimaginative interpretations of the group as juvenile and childish. The pair’s bizarre, lilting accents belie their Midwest upbringing and are either playful or immature, depending on your point of view.
As children, Bianca and Sierra were shuttled around the country and swapped between their divorced parents — both of whom were bona fide eccentrics. Their father, a farmer in Iowa, was obsessed with shamanism and Native American culture. Their mother, an artist, took a fascination with witchcraft and mythology, valued creativity over education, and instilled in her daughters the value of self-sufficiency. Bianca was particularly fascinated with youthful agency, and developed an obsession with independent children and orphans early on. She wrote her first story — a lengthy tale about a runaway boy trying to navigate the world — at age 9. By 12, both sisters were making their own clothing and prided themselves on looking different from their classmates. They ended up dropping out of high school, and Sierra left shortly thereafter to study opera in Paris.
Though their childhood remains their greatest inspiration, both sisters are constantly reinterpreting those memories. “We’re always re-examining it. Because we work together, it allows us to fill in the blanks where the other forgot,” Bianca says. “We also have a totally different memory of our childhood.”
Expect their forthcoming seventh record to contain the results of these ongoing re-examinations. The pair have ditched the spacious but sparse feel of 2015’s Heartache City for a tropical focus inspired by the World War II-era close harmony singing group The Andrews Sisters. Just don’t expect to hear that exact sound on the finished product. Bianca says they’re already moving away from those inspirations. At this stage in the process, Bianca drafts her lyrics using several typewriters — and yes, she has several machines, including a red and black manual Royal from the 1930s and a mid-century Keller and Knappich model called the Princess 100.
For Bianca, typewriters are not only “a basic tool” in the songwriting process, they’re a portable home.
“We’re not so dependent on our environment,” Bianca says, emphasizing the fact that most of their lives have been spent on the road. “But I’m really dependent on typewriters.”
The only downside to traveling with her favorite portable homes?
“They’re really heavy.”
CocoRosie plays with Sorne at 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30, at the Regency Ballroom. $27.50-$30; theregencyballroom.com.