Rosie Carney Talks Life After "Bare," And The Death of Her Rat Matilda

The singer sat down with Popdust before her show at Mominette Bistro

When 22-year-old Rosie Carney released her album Bare in January, BBC referred to the singers haunting debut as "quietly powerful," and compared Carney's aching voice to Joni Mitchell. But the Irish singer-songwriter didn't take time off to rest on her laurels and is already back in the studio.

"It's funny cause everyone is saying to me, 'so you released your first album how does it feel?' The truth is I'm already over it," Carney told Popdust. An industry veteran in her own right, Carney was signed to London-based Polydor records when she was just 15-years-old. "When I was signed there was a lot of pressure to come up with commercial music," Carney said, "I was told that I was signed for my voice and not for my lyrics." Polydor dropped her a year later. "I couldn't write anymore. I didn't know who I was writing for or what I was writing for."

Carney became depressed and struggled to rekindle her inspiration. She became ill and was physically unable to attend school. She dropped out when she was 16. As she recovered physically and emotionally, she forced herself to practice writing and loving her art for what it was, and tailored each work to her interests, rather than to the approval of others. "Kids can be so mean," she said. "I lost all my friends when I got signed. You couldn't give me enough money to go back to school and experience that again." By the time Carney was signed again to Color Study, she had learned how to tap into her creativity in a different way. "I tend to not go back and listen to my work and dip into my past, cause I learned you wouldn't wanna do that generally. I'm just trying to move forward." Carney spoke more on her life after Bare, and how she handles the stress of being back in the spotlight.

So what happened after Polydor dropped you? How did you find your way back to yourself?

I already wasn't very well when I got signed, and being dropped was literally my worst fear. So everything I did in the studio was born out of this fear. I was constantly thinking of what everyone else would want to listen to when I should have just been listening to myself. Then when my worst fear was realized I just completely lost sight of who I was writing for, especially since they told me I was signed for my voice and not my lyrics. So I had to learn how to write and create for myself.

In that year before you were signed again, how did you hone in on your sound?

I just really gave myself the creative space to experiment and figure out what was better for me. My early sound was never something I was really happy with, and being dropped I feel gave me the space I needed to figure out what I wanted to say.

I imagine being a 15-year-old signed musician caused a lot of backlash with your friends at the time.

I lost my friends. Being a teenager is such a hard time, and I became incredibly ill so I ended up dropping out of school anyway just because I physically couldn't go. I was also just away all the time writing and working.

Do you feel fans connect more to your lyrics now?

It's still crazy for me to think that I even have fans, but yes. They really do. A lot of them I connected with when I shared my story, and I just got so many messages about connecting and relating to my music. I feel a very nice sense of unity with them.

But you said that you don't go back and listen to Bare, I'm curious why that is?

I'd never be embarrassed by my work, but Bare was written about very specific experiences, and I just feel like I'm so past that now. I'll always be proud of it, but I don't want to necessarily dwell on it or relive it. I've already got five demos for my second album, I'm working on a demo with Thomas Bartlett tomorrow. I'm just really eager to get back in the studio.

When you were signed a second time did you feel like you had a better head on your shoulders?

I did. I produce my own music now, and I know now exactly what I want down to the smallest texture. I was given so much more control than I was the first go round.

When you go back to Ireland what inspires new material?

The moon. I always end up writing something about the moon. Trees. My god – did I really just say trees? *laughs* but the landscape of my hometown is just so beautiful.

Why the moon?

Well, some people feel that when there is a full moon they go crazy, and I've always just felt myself being pulled by the energy of the moon. It's just so lonely up in the sky.

Now that you're older and wiser, how have you changed the way you manage stress and expectations?

I just am honest with myself when I'm having a bad mental health day. Today I was actually feeling quite anxious.

New York will do that to you.

Seriously, it's so loud! I'm constantly on edge. So I pinpointed it in my head, marked it, and recognize that it'll pass and I'm not going to go crazy. Having pets around also helps.

I have four dogs at home, along with a chicken, a pig, and a horse. I can actually feel myself struggling a bit on this tour cause I haven't been around any animals. My beautiful dog Hemingway has pulled me out of so many dark times.

What makes him your dog?

We've always had 3 dogs, but I asked for one for my birthday that was just mine. So I went to the pet rescue center that was actually in the process of shutting down and this litter had just been delivered, and Hemingway has these big golden eyes. There is an old Irish superstition that golden eyes signify when a creature is possessed by the devil, which is ridiculous.

Is he possessed by the devil?

Absolutely not, but my other dog Murphy did kill my pet rat.

You had a pet rat?

We had two. Mine was named Matilda, and Murphy snuck upstairs and bit right into him and presented him to me. He's a Jack Russell Terrier so it's in his nature, but I was pissed. I couldn't exactly be like "fuck you!" though could I?

Be sure to catch Rosie Carney on her European tour. Tickets can be purchased here.

Mackenzie Cummings-Grady is a creative writer who resides in the Brooklyn area. Mackenzie's work has previously appeared in The Boston Globe, Billboard, and Metropolis Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @mjcummingsgrady.

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Don't Tell Rosie Carney What to Do

After spending years cutting her teeth churning out music for Polydor Records' song factory, the London/Donegal-based singer strikes out on her own with Bare, her first full-length album.

Rosie Carney, an Anglo-Irish songwriter active in the industry since the age of 14, has just released a new album, entitled Bare.

Born in Hampshire, England to Irish parents, she moved with them to the family's ancestral home in Donegal, Ireland when she was 10 years old. Shortly after, she started venturing into songwriting. Her debut album is available on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, and Amazon. Carney talked to Popdust by phone from Dublin.

What sort of effect did the move from England to Ireland have on you?

The change in landscape and scenery really inspired me. It kind of kickstarted everything.

What do you recall of your first ventures into songwriting? What were they like?

[laughs] I'm sure you can imagine a 12-year-old trying to write these little songs…But I had a hard time at school when I moved there [from England], and I found that this was a main source of inspiration: all my songs were about being strong and not giving up.

So you had a difficult time adjusting to the move?

Yes. The village we moved to is about 800 people and rural. And especially because we were English - even if I identify with and am very proud of my Irish heritage. My sisters and I were known as the English [insert derogatory term, presumably of Irish origin]. But it's changed - kind of.

How many sisters do you have?

I have two, Poppy and Jasmine. We're all flowers. Jasmine is very musical - she plays the flute and piano. So she and I did a lot of jamming when I first started playing.

I find that behind a youthful interest in music is often the influence of an older sibling, or an uncle - someone who brings you into that world. Was that your experience?

Not really, actually. I did grow up with amazing music around me, though. My mom and dad played a lot of different music for us. But when we moved to Ireland, every other person was a poet or a musician. Seeing them perform at the pubs, them coming to our house to jam, that's really what exposed me to music.

Who are your main influences as a musician?

You probably get this a lot, but I really really look up to Justin Vernon [also known as Bon Iver]. He's incredible. His first album really inspired me. Hmmm, who else...Joni Mitchell, of course. James Taylor. Oh, oddly enough, [French composer] Claude Debussy. I find his piano music very inspiring. And a modern artist I really look up to is H.E.R.

You say you identify strongly as Irish. Do you feel like your heritage informed your decision to become a musician?

Yeah, sure, definitely. My granddad, for instance, writes poems, and my Dublin-born grandmother, Rose, she would always sing me these Irish lullabies when I was a young girl.

My grandfather was forced from his home in Donegal and moved to London with my grandmother. And in the driveway of the plot of land where my dad built our house in Donegal sits the ruins of his old house! We've been able to move him back here, sixty years after he moved to London. A lot of his songs and poems were laments about having to move away from "the beautiful green country." That has definitely inspired my songwriting.

Why did he have to move away in the first place?

There was no work in Donegal. So he had to move to London.

That's such an Irish story: having to emigrate, either to London or Liverpool or The States…

Yeah, it's incredibly sad. But so many beautiful songs and poems have come [from that experience].

Do you see yourself as being a part of a continuum of a certain kind of traditional Irish music?

No, not really. I'm not a traditionalist. And I would better describe myself as Anglo-Irish.

You started playing music roughly at age 10. How long was it before you realized you had something, and you could make a go of it?

I remember when I wrote my first real song at age 14, "What You've Been Looking For." I finished it, called my mum and dad and played it for them. They said, "This is really good," and I thought to myself, "I could really do this." I was never interested in anything else ever again.

Did you take lessons?

I got a couple of lessons from a family friend, but other than that I'm very much self-taught. I don't like being told what to do - I prefer to discover it myself. I'm very stubborn.

You've said that personal trauma inspired Bare.

The album was inspired by a series of events that happened over the space of the last six years, from when I was signed up to Polydor to when I was recently dropped. A couple of years ago, I came out about my experiences with mental health, having been signed to the label at such a young age and thrown into the deep end of such a harsh system, and dropping out of school because of depression and anorexia - things I still battle with daily.

So what label are you on now?

I'm on a boutique label called Akira, based in London.

So you go to London often?

Well, I moved there a few years ago, but now kind of divide my time between London and Donegal. But I plan on moving back full-time in September.

You've mentioned that, when you were starting out, you received a lot of pressure to co-write songs. What was that experience like?

Well, you're always trying to fish for that hit. When I was signed there was a lot of pressure to write mainstream radio music. I spent every day in the studio co-writing songs. I mean, it was an invaluable experience! I worked with, among others, Brendan Benson, Crispin Hunt, pretty significant people in the songwriting industry. But my own process is a lot more personal, so it was very difficult to be thrown in as a 16-year-old girl, a child, into this process. And it was almost always with older men: in the six years I was with Polydor I did one songwriting session with another woman.

So all the music on Bare is written by you?

It's all me. I wrote about 150 of my own songs while with Polydor and I didn't use a single one with them.

Ah! So they didn't retain the rights to them after dropping you?

No, they gave me the rights back to my own music.

What function, in an ideal situation, does songwriting serve for you?

It's a catharsis, therapeutic. All my songs come from a very honest place. They're things I have to let out; I don't have a choice.

Polydor must have been difficult, then, being shoehorned into those commercial songwriting categories.

Completely. It's hard to go into the studio with a guy you've never met and produce a personal-sounding hit.

What was the subject matter, by-and-large, of the songs you were told to write at Polydor?

Um, sort of "misunderstood teenager growing up," very cliche.

So they basically saw you as being a certain kind of person, and then told you to write songs about that person.

Yep, pretty much. But that's the system. When you're an A&R guy or a producer working in such a harsh industry you put all empathy to one side. I was a brand.

What do you prefer, playing live or recording?

I used to get really, painfully nervous playing live, but recently I've grown to love it and look forward to it. I really enjoy songwriting as well, but at times it can be very uncomfortable and draining, because of the personal nature of the songs.

What about being in studio?

Well, bringing a song to life can be a long process, but it's amazing when it works.

One of the tracks on Bare, entitled "Thousand," features Lisa Hannigan on backing vocals. Tell me about her.

She's quite an iconic figure in Irish music. She's done a lot of backing vocals for, and toured with, Damien Rice. I really look up to her.

We met for the first time recently at the Sounds From A Safe Harbor music festival in Cork. I saw her in a hotel lobby nearby and, star-struck, quickly pretended not to see her. But instead, she came up to me and told me she liked my music! I was dying inside, trying to keep cool. Then she said, "If you ever need backing vocals please let me know."

And you shot a video with her as well!

Yeah, she sang "Thousand" with me live at a Dublin venue and afterward we shot that video together.

Rosie Carney • Thousand - Acoustic [feat. Lisa Hannigan]

Do you consider Bare a concept album?

Not really. It's all in the title: me being honest, singing about life-changing experiences.

Any plans to tour?

Yes, the tour starts tomorrow: I'm opening for Benjamin Francis Leftwich through Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and then a load of cities in the U.K…. so many…some of them unnecessary [laughs]…I didn't say that!

And then all over Europe and the States. In fact, I'm doing a gig in New York [at Rough Trade in Brooklyn with Langhorne Slim]. Then back to Europe with the Milk Carton Kids.

Have you toured the States before?

Yes, last year I did a massive tour with Henry Jamison. It was…amazing. We drove from the east to the west coast, and Canada We went to a place called Humboldt - so beautiful. I really just want to live there.

Just grow weed and write songs.

[laughs] Yes!

So are you planning your next album?

Yep. I'm very much ready for the next one after so much time spent with Bare. I've already written five new songs and I'm eager to get into the studio. I'm excited because I feel like my sound is evolving and changing, moving away from folk slightly. There's still the guitar, obviously, but I'm using my voice as an instrument more and making beats and things.

Do you have any idea when that might be released?

I mean, it could be the end of the year, next year…the sooner the better!


Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. Go to for more of his work.

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