Bare, the stunning debut LP from Anglo-Irish artist Rosie Carney, was released at the end of January; it’s the result of years of introspective songwriting, and is a highly impressive first collection of songs. (She’ll be stateside to play Sound Mind: A Mental Health Benefit Concert at Rough Trade on May 13th, but you’d be wise to grab a copy of the record in the meantime to tide yourself over.)
I was able to get caught up with Carney a few weeks ago to talk about her career trajectory thus far, which was set into motion as early as the age of ten after a family move from England to Ireland; inspired by the new landscape, but also by isolation, she turned to music as an outlet. From there, Carney was snapped up and signed to Polydor as a teenager only to find it wasn’t the right fit, but now, in her early twenties, she’s got a much better setup and seems to have fully hit her stride. We’re very excited to see what’s on the horizon for her, but for the moment, internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation to get to know Carney (animal lover, empath, advocate, and hugely talented musician) a bit better:
BYT: So congrats on the record release! It’s been out for a few weeks now; have you had any interesting or unexpected reactions to it, either from peers or from fans?
Rosie Carney: Yeah, I’ve had a few people who I’m a fan of reach out to me to say they liked it, which has been really surreal. Obviously every fan and every listener counts, but when it’s somebody who I admire, it’s really incredible. Of course, I’ve also gotten a few dodgy reviews, so that kind of brings me back down to earth again. [Laughs]
BYT: Well, those things happen, but I know I personally love it! And tell me a little bit about working with Lisa Hannigan! How did that collab come to fruition?
RC: She started following me on Twitter a couple of years ago, and then in 2017 we were both playing at the same festival in Cork, Sounds from a Safe Harbour. I ran into her in the lobby of the hotel where we were all staying, and I saw her and didn’t want to say anything, because I’m quite a shy person, especially around people who I look up to like Lisa Hannigan. She recognized me and came over and started talking to me, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. She said, “Yeah, if you ever need backup vocals, please let me know, I’d love to help you out.” And of course when I was working on “Thousand”, I took her up on the offer and sent her the track. Well, first of all I asked her if she’d be interested in doing something like that, and then I sent her the track. She loved it, and she sent some vocals over. It was really incredible, so surreal.
BYT: What is it like for you to open yourself up to collaborations like that, especially when the material is so personal? Is that difficult?
RC: I haven’t really done it a lot with my songs. When I was signed to Polydor, basically all I ever did was collaborate with people in the studio every day. I’ve gone from doing that to basically being a recluse when it comes to writing my music; having gotten another deal, I kind of went and hid for a couple of years and just wrote all these songs by myself. I’ve become very protective of them, and I didn’t really want anyone to sing on them. But I think because of that song and what it’s about, strong females in my life, I just thought it’d really enhance it if I brought in a strong female that I look up to in the music industry. It’s definitely left me feeling more open to having features on my tracks.
BYT: That’s great! Now, some of the songs on this record are a bit older at this point. Has your relationship to them changed? Maybe they have a deeper or different meaning for you now then when you first wrote them?
RC: So the first song on the album, “What You’ve Been Looking For”, is basically the first song I’d ever written. I wrote that when I was about fourteen, and I was a child back then. The lyrics definitely mean something different to me now, because I went for a long time without singing it; it was the song that got me signed and started everything in my career, and then I shelved it because I wanted to move on from it. And then I decided to put it on the album, and when I sing it now I feel like I’m singing it to that child within me, if you understand what I mean? I sing it for myself, kind of like I’m nurturing myself when I sing it now.
BYT: Totally. Well, and now that we’re on the subject of you as a child, I know you moved to Donegal when you were about ten. Did you live in Ireland at all before that? Like, were you born there and then came back?
RC: No, people usually expect a really Irish accent from me when they first talk to me, but I’ve got a very English accent; I was born and raised in the south of England, in Hampshire. But I’m really proud of my Irish heritage. My grandparents are Irish, my mom and my dad are Irish on both sides, so I kind of decided to identify as Irish, but some people are like, “Wait, no, you’re not Irish; you’ve got an English accent and you were born in England.” I think it’s easier now if I say I’m Anglo-Irish, because it explains itself. But yeah, no, we moved when I was ten.
BYT: What prompted the move back? Was it your parents’ jobs?
RC: No, so when we lived in England my dad had his own landscaping business; he’s always loved the world, and I remember when I was little we’d go out and walk for hours in the forest. I remember he’d dig up the soil and we’d smell it and it’d just smell like earth, really hippie parents. [Laughs] His dream was always to build an eco-friendly house, and I remember there was just a light bulb moment for him when we were in England where he said, “We’re going to move to Ireland and I’m going to build that eco-friendly house.” Where he actually built the house is the plot of land where my granddad (who lives with us) was actually born, and the ruins of his house where he was born are literally on my driveway. So we moved over here, brought my grandparents back home, and my dad built the eco-friendly house.
BYT: That’s incredible! So how was it to be sort of uprooted at the age of ten, then? I feel like (at least in the US) that’s sort of the last year that you can make that kind of a move and it’s not as difficult as if you were, say, eleven, twelve, thirteen…
RC: Well, it’s actually really sad, because out of everyone, I was the most excited. I had friends, but you’re just kind of at that age where you can easily make friends. Also, you kind of get to the age where kids are learning how to be “cool”, so it was easier for me than it was for my sisters, Jasmine and Poppy, who had their own network and had built relationships with friends. Jasmine was thirteen, and Poppy was eleven. So when we moved over, I was so excited, and it was actually really difficult. We moved to a tiny little coastal village called Downings where my primary school only had eighty students in it. Like I was one of two girls in my whole classroom, you know? So the kids…it was definitely very hard for us to adjust. We got quite a hard time, my sisters and I at school. Me especially, because I was so sensitive. (I still am sensitive, you know, you just have to look at me funny and I start crying.) [Laughs] But it was really hard to adjust to, and a series of events started to unfold because of the bullying and the impact of moving over. But also, I turned to music. So when I was ten and I didn’t have friends to play with, I had music.
BYT: Well I’m glad you had something so positive come out of that negative experience. I know the GFA had been in place for a while at that point, but did you find that that was difficult? Being British in that environment?
RC: Oh, yeah. That was the main…that was the number one thing that separated us, was the fact that we were these English “Plastic Paddies”. [Laughs] It was really ignorant, bored kids who…you know, there can be lots of narrow-minded people in such a small community. Everyone kind of follows each other, and it’s such a rural area in Ireland, not a lot of English people at all. A few English people would come over in the summer, but other than that, it’s a very Irish area. It was actually a Gaeltacht area as well, so it’s a place where people speak fluently in Irish. They don’t anymore, but when we moved over it was a very Irish area. So for a family of young English people to move over…yeah, that was definitely…we became targets.
BYT: Ugh, that’s terrible. Really sorry you guys had to go through that. I’m glad that it seems to have gotten much better by now in that regard, though. But it is a shame, to see that things have started kicking off again in Northern Ireland a bit because of all this Brexit business.
RC: I know, it’s very unfortunate.
BYT: Alright, so take me back to when you got the record deal. I know you’ve kind of talked about how that was maybe not the most positive experience, but now you’re in a much better place. Retrospectively, do you have any advice for other people who might be blindly going into the signing process?
RC: As far as my advice, I think the problem with me was that I was very naive. Obviously I was only fifteen when these record labels were having bidding wars over me. It was so crazy, and I wasn’t surrounded by the right people. And I didn’t know what I wanted, either. I wasn’t given the chance to grow at all, you know? I didn’t really have a lot of strength within myself, and I kind of relied on other people to lead me and guide me, as you do when you’re only fifteen years old; you’re still a child, and you still need guidance. My only advice for people of any age, really, is just to try to have a good idea of what you want and what your intentions are, what other people’s intentions are, and just go with your intuition. I’ve found over the years that it’s very important to listen to your gut if something or someone doesn’t feel right, because ninety percent of the time that feeling is right. That’s one thing I lost sight of when I was signed to Polydor. I mean, I’m grateful for the experience, I really am; it’s got me to where I am now, it’s just a shame that it had to happen the way it did. It’s also a blessing, I feel. I try now to keep my circles very small, you know?
BYT: Absolutely. It’s a very bizarre industry; even from an editorial perspective, you do see these people who are quite clearly being taken advantage of, and it’s really a shame. But I’m really glad to hear that you’re in such a good place now with all of it, though, and that you’re really able to be yourself, finally. Now, we won’t pigeonhole you, but your sound is often described as folky. There’s clearly folk music all over the world, but I think the tradition is especially strong in places like the UK and in Ireland. What do you attribute that to? Do you think it’s the landscape? The weather?
RC: For me, personally, and knowing musicians around here, developing relationships with them and creating music together, I definitely think the landscape has a lot to do with the inspiration. It does for me, anyway. I mean, when I moved to Ireland I was absolutely bowled over. I wake up every day and look out my bedroom window, and there’s a snow-capped mountain. For me, personally, especially being brought up with parents who…you know, we were always outside, always playing, always building things…for me, it’s hard not to be inspired by that. The ocean as well. Just being on the coast, you really do develop a relationship with your surroundings; you become very attuned to the earth. I definitely feel like landscape has been my number one source of inspiration.
BYT: And lyrically, I know you say that a lot of these songs flow out of you naturally, which is amazing, and that’s sort of the goal, to have it be this sort of out of body experience, almost. But have you ever written anything and then had a bit of a freak-out about it, in terms of letting other people see such a very personal side of you? Or is it just so clear that this is the message you need to express that the fear, for the most part, isn’t an issue?
RC: So a song like “Awake Me”, for example, was very heavy for me to write. I knew it would be a very personal song when I was writing it, and I knew I could either keep it very secretive, or I could let the world hear it. I just felt within me that it was very important for me to share that song. As uncomfortable as it was to expose myself in that way, I felt it was my duty to share it. And my gut was right; the response I got from that song alone was just incredible. But there have definitely been songs where I’ve thought for a second, “I don’t really want to go into this with people,” but I always feel like there’s a reason why I write these things, there’s a reason why I am starting to make a career in this, and the reason is that I have a message and I have to share it with people.
BYT: And it sounds like your songs have really been helping people, which is so great. That being said, I’ve been very vocal about things like depression and anxiety on social media, because I do think it’s important to open up these conversations which haven’t really been had much in the past. At the same time, and I don’t know if you feel this, but there is a sort of pressure that comes with that, because you do get people reaching out with very personal stories, and it starts to become this question of how to engage.
RC: Definitely. I mean, again, when I shared my story about my struggle with depression and things that happened to me over the years, it was all fine to share it and was very important to me to do so, but I remember the morning I posted it I started to receive hundreds of messages from people opening up to me about personal things that they’d never shared with anyone. As amazing as it was that people were opening up to me, I had to learn quickly that I needed to protect myself from that, because I’m such a sensitive person; I’m like a sponge, and I soak up energy. It can definitely…some of it can be quite triggering to me, and it’s definitely hard. Also, I don’t ever want to be defined by the things that I’ve shared; I don’t ever want to be labeled as a victim or someone who’s suffered. I feel like I’m so much more than that, and I’m definitely trying to move forward in my life in a positive way. I’m always going to be a voice for mental health, and I always find that music is such an incredible platform. If you’re lucky enough to have a voice that you can share with other people, then you should definitely use that. I want to do that, but again, it’s important to protect myself and not allow myself to be defined by it.
BYT: God, empathy is such a blessing and a curse, right? It’s great, but it’s so draining!
RC: [Laughs] Yeah, I was crying yesterday because we have a pet pig, and it was windy outside, and I was just sitting in my room crying and listening to the wind thinking, “He’s going to be so cold!”
BYT: Oh my god, hopefully it wasn’t too bad out there for him! Alright, so we’ve been talking about some heavy things, and some of your music certainly deals with these heavy themes, but shifting gears to upbeat territory, what are some things about yourself, like maybe hobbies that you have, that people might not expect based solely on their perceptions of your music?
RC: The first thing that sprang to my mind when you asked that is that I love animals. If I wasn’t a singer, I’d definitely work with animals. I don’t know if I’d be able to be a vet, because having to do things like put an animal down would be way too much for me. I couldn’t do that. But the well-being of animals is really important to me. I have a jumper as part of my merch that has a picture of a bear on it, and ten percent of the proceeds from that are being donated to the WWF. But I really love animals. I don’t know if that’s a “hobby”, but…
BYT: Maybe you could do a concert for dogs like Laurie Anderson did!
RC: Yes! I think I heard about this! I love that. I want to do that.
BYT: We’re gonna hold you to it! Alright, so the record has only just come out, so obviously you want to give it time to breathe, but what else have you been working on songwriting-wise?
RC: Yeah, I’m ready to go! I’ve been writing a lot, and I’ve been experimenting with production. I’m kind of not playing as much acoustic guitar as the first one. I was a bit worried with this first album, just because we didn’t plan on releasing an album; it was supposed to be an EP, but then when we put all the songs I recorded together, it just felt like a very strong body of work. I was worried that it would pigeonhole me as an acoustic artist, singer-songwriter, which I am, but with my second album, there are definitely some changes in my production. I’m experimenting more with my voice, and even with beats and synths and things, so I’ve been writing away.
BYT: Very exciting! Okay, and lastly, fill in the blank: “I hope 2019 will be the year of ________.”
RC: Change. I hope it’s the year of change. Obviously I want my music career to go well, but all of that aside, the condition of the planet at the moment is not very sustainable. I feel like this year is very important, very vital, and it’s the only chance we have to turn things around, otherwise things are really gonna go tits up. So I hope this year is the year of change for the planet.
Featured photo by Daniel Alexander Harris