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Getting back on the horse

Singer- songwriter Rosie Carney told David Hennessy about her new album, when Lisa Hannigan asked her if she wanted some backing vocals and why she’ll keep covering Radiohead albums until she hears from the band.

Rosie Carney has survived an entire pandemic in between the release of her 2019 debut Bare and the recent release of her sophomore album, i wanna feel happy.

But surviving is nothing new to Rosie. She has been open about her struggles with depression and an eating disorder with things getting so bad that she had to drop out of school shortly before sitting her Leaving Cert.

Bare was acclaimed as one of the albums of 2019 by The Irish Times and saw her compared to Joni Mitchell.

NPR described Carney as capturing ‘the weary grace of a survivor who’s located the source of her strength”.

The Times described Rosie as ‘intensely intimate and vulnerable’ and having ‘shades of Simon & Garfunkel and Phoebe Bridgers’, while industry bible MOJO said: ‘Cultdom, at the very least, beckons’. 

i wanna feel happy further explores Carney’s personal mental health struggles.

In review of i wanna feel happy, The Irish Times said:Simply put, Rosie Carney just keeps getting better and better’.

Rosie considered other names for the album before deciding i wanna feel happy summed it up best.

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Rosie told The Irish World: “The theme of the album is basically me trying to find happiness within the noise and pressures of life really.

“I went through a few different titles, but nothing was really clicking.

“These are really personal songs.”

The current single tidal wave deals with abandonment issues and outgrowing people.

Rosie has been pleased to see the tracks and album going down so well.

“There’s always a last minute panic before I put anything out.

“I’m like, ‘Oh God, everyone’s gonna hate this’.

“So it’s really rewarding to see.

“I’ve got really lovely dedicated fans and it’s the biggest reward and reminds me of why I do it.”

tidal wave follows break the ground and dad as the earlier singles from the album.

Rosie describes dad as a song about pining for simpler times.

“I’m just trying to navigate my way through the noise of this world as an adult.”

Navigating the world has not always been easy for Rosie.

Born in Hampshire to Irish parents, her family moved to Donegal when she was ten.

She has been very open about her own story and told of how she was bullied in school. The bullying was so bad, it left her depressed and with anxious and suicidal thoughts.

At the age of fourteen, she was sexually assaulted for the first time. Her mental state only deteriorated from there.

Rosie remembers being told the family was moving to Ireland.

“I was so excited.

“I will never forget the moment when my parents sat me and my two other sisters down and they were like, ‘Look, we’re going to move to Ireland’.

“I was so excited.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be living in a fairy tale. I can’t wait’.

“But then when we got there, it was a bit of a shock to be honest.

“I quickly realized it wasn’t all fairy tales and that ‘I’m the little English kid claiming to be Irish’, which didn’t go down very well.

“I went to a really tiny school, there were 80 students in my school and so it was quite a hostile environment for me and my sister.

“But I got through it.”

Something that was always therapeutic to Rosie was music.

“When I first started writing music as a kid, it was about catharsis.

“It helps me process things.

“It helps me find perspective.

“I started making music when I moved to Ireland and I was getting bullied and I was going through other stuff.

“It wasn’t until I was going through my first experience of turmoil that I actually turned to the guitar and started writing these little songs.

“And then I listened to Fearless by Taylor Swift and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can do this. This helps me come back to myself’.

“It really processed the things that happened to me and that’s how it started.

“It all comes from pain unfortunately.”

Rosie Carney wrote her debut album’s opening track What You’ve Been Looking For when she was just 14.

When she was 15, she found herself performing in St. James’ Church at the Other Voices festival in Dingle. She would then land a record deal with Polydor.

“I was offered my first record deal when I was 15, I’m 25 now.

“Now when I think back to how my life was, it’s just wild to me.

“I remember there was bidding wars over me with labels and it was just crazy.

“The thing I find the craziest about all of it was throughout all of that, I was a child.

“I was so quickly swept up and thrown into this machine.

“I’m shocked that that all happened.”

But Rosie was unexpectedly dropped from the label a couple of years later.

Although she felt lost when this happened, she now feels it was a good thing as co-writing sessions had gotten her into a bad routine of trying to engineer a ‘hit’ or ‘trying to create the perfect track’ every time she sat down at the piano.


Put simply, she wasn’t writing music for the right reasons.

“At the time, it was soul shattering because…I was very unwell at the time anyway.

“I just dropped out of school a week before my Leaving Cert.

“I was dealing with anorexia and depression.

“It was a really hard time.

“And then I ended up getting dropped and my manager also walked away from me at the same time.

“So I was just like, ‘It really can’t get any worse than this, can it?’

“But it was a blessing in disguise.

“I’m so lucky to have such an incredible family. My mum and dad were able to really help me put things into perspective.

“And I still get therapy because of all of that sh*t that I went through.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t gone through that.

“It took me to write 100 songs of the music I don’t like to now be able to write the music that I do like and that is authentic to me.”

Struggling with an eating disorder, Rosie dropped from seven stone to five stone in a matter of months. Worse still, she couldn’t tell anyone of what she was going through.

Rosie was 17 when she was sexually assaulted again.

She began to self-harm and wanted to kill herself. She walked to a cliff one day ready to jump.

But deciding she couldn’t do that to her family, it was then that she finally opened up about it all.

“I had to hit rock bottom to realize that I needed to stop, ‘I need to just stop and be still and just learn to breathe again, learn to eat again, learn to just be myself again and write music for me’, because I was just a cog in a machine.

“I wasn’t a child, I wasn’t an artist.

“I was just someone that needed a brand and someone that needed to write a hit for the radio.

“It was a wild time.

“I had an episode and I ended up in hospital.

“It was almost like having to learn how to walk again.

“And I know that sounds dramatic.

“But when you go through so much trauma at such a young age, it just really does set you back.”

Rosie has received countless messages from people saying her music helps them with their anxiety or when they are going through difficult things.

“I get people reaching out to me quite often.

“I’ll never forget when I shared my story and I got hundreds of messages from people opening up to me and saying, ‘You’ve given me the courage to talk about what I’ve been through’ and all that kind of stuff so it’s definitely been a benefit to others.

“My fans know that my music is about my struggles.

“And they tell me it helps them listening to it.

“I got a message yesterday from someone just saying how my music has helped her get through a depression, sometimes it can be a lot.

“I’m really sensitive and I do need to protect myself because I’m not a therapist.

“But I think it does benefit those who know my story and know how honest and open I’ve been with who I am and my struggle.”

It was at the 2017 edition of Sounds from a Safe Harbour festival, the bi-annual Cork festival curated by The National’s Bryce and Aaron Dessner, former Cork Opera House CEO Mary Hickson, Cillian Murphy and Enda Walsh, that Rosie first met one of her idols Lisa Hannigan. It was after Hannigan’s headline show when she admits to feeling imposter syndrome only to be stunned by Hannigan saying she was a fan and would even like to collaborate.

Hannigan would provide backing vocals on Thousand, a song about Carney’s grandmother’s battle with dementia. It would feature on Bare.

“It is still crazy to me.

“She was headlining it that year along with Bon Iver and The National and I was invited down to also perform at it.

“I got really bad impostor syndrome because it was me amongst most of my heroes.

“It was insane.

“I remember I went to see Lisa’s gig in the Opera House and we were all staying in the same hotel and I was just hanging out in the lobby after the gig.

“And then all of a sudden, Lisa walks in. She has such a magnetic presence.

“I was just like, ‘Oh, sh*t, there’s Lisa Hannigan’.

“We locked eyes for a second and I looked at the ground because I was like, ‘Oh f**k’,” she laughs.

“And then she came over to me and she was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m such a fan of your music. Let me know if you ever need backing vocals’.

“And I was just screaming internally like, ‘Oh my God. I don’t know what to say’.

“It was insane, and I held her to that.

“I sent her a message. I was like, ‘Hey, I have this song if you want to listen to it and maybe even hum on it, that would be amazing.

“And she listened and she loved it and she wanted to sing on it. It was insane.

“I still pinch myself over that.”

Rosie once played Taylor Swift covers in Donegal pubs. Now she is receiving gushing messages from the very woman’s producer.

“Again, with the imposter syndrome.

“I had Aaron Dessner who produced Folklore and Evermore- He messaged me and was just like, ‘Your music’s so beautiful. Lisa (Hannigan) speaks so highly of you, which again, made me like, ‘This is a joke, I’m being punked’.

“And that exchange happened just as Folklore was coming out.

“So I was having palpitations.

“It’s just incredible.

“I haven’t worked with Aaron Dessner yet.

“Hopefully one day.”

So how has Rosie coped with lockdown?

The surprising answer is Radiohead. They may not often be thought of as a band who can lift spirits but Carney took to covering the entirety of Radiohead’s seminal album The Bends as almost a therapeutic project.

It ended up winning critical acclaim across UK and US media including The Guardian, Uncut, Stereogum, NME, The Forty Five, The Line of Best Fit, SPIN and more.

“I just kind of went home and I decided to do the Radiohead project.

“It took the pressure off writing my own music, but it also itched that part of my brain that wanted to keep creating.

“And I learned a lot from that.

“I definitely wouldn’t have the album I have now if I hadn’t done the Radiohead project.”

When she returned to releasing her own stuff again Rosie took to Facebook to apologise to those who had began following her thinking she was a Radiohead tribute act.

We’re sure this was tongue-in-cheek, but were there some people who thought that? “Oh yeah, I mean there were some fans that thought I’d written The Bends, which I thought was hilarious.

“But yeah, I’ve got fans daily reaching out to me saying, ‘When are you going to cover OK Computer?’

“It’s funny because I did an interview yesterday and the guy asked me if I’ve heard from Radiohead after doing The Bends.

“I said, ‘No, I haven’t heard from them. But I’m gonna keep covering the albums until I do’.

“Some people hate me covering Radiohead.

“I get my fair share of haters, which apparently is good. At least I’m making someone feel something, you know?

“I’m a sensitive soul but I’m grounded enough to understand that not everyone has to like the music I make.

“But I do occasionally get the odd hater, I just send them love and hope that they get through whatever they’re going through.”

How would Rosie react if she ran into Thom Yorke in some hotel lobby and he offered to do some backing vocals for her? “I think that would be the end of me,” she laughs.

The cover of the album shows Rosie climbing on a horse. The Irish World thought this was a metaphor for getting back to music. It may be that also but Rosie is also just a horse fanatic.

“I grew up with horses when I was a kid.

“I have an old thoroughbred in Donegal and when I went back for lockdown, I was able to bond with him all over again.

“I was really depressed, I was going through such a hard time.

“And I just went out with him every day and he very much, literally and metaphorically, carried me through that year.

“And so that’s why the album cover’s me climbing on a horse.

“My horse Digger carried me through that and helped me find happiness and kind of gave me the courage to start minding myself and writing music again.”

Are horses good for mental health? “They definitely keep you humble.

“One tried to kill me. I had a really bad accident last year.

“But, you know, I love them.”

Was the accident bad? Did you break anything? “Yeah, I did. I broke my pride. I broke a couple of ribs and I sprained my neck.

“He just took off with me and slammed me into a gate.

“It was bad but I got back on.

“The ribs have healed. I’ve got a crack in my back that I can’t seem to get rid of.

“But it hasn’t stopped me.

“It’s just a gamble with being around horses. You forget that they are tough animals that could kill you in a heartbeat if they wanted to.

“But I love them.”

I wanna feel happy is out now.

The single tidal wave is out now.

For more information, click here.

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