- 08 Jan 21
Donegal singer-songwriter Rosie Carney opens up about panic attacks, looking after her mental health over lockdown, and reinterpreting Radiohead’s The Bends on her stunning new album.
Since overcoming early music industry woes with last year’s critically acclaimed Bare, Rosie Carney has quietly emerged as one of the most compelling forces in Irish music. Consistently taking a fearlessly vulnerable position in her songwriting, the Hampshire-born, Donegal-raised singer-songwriter has been refreshingly open about her own mental health struggles – which flared up once again over lockdown. Fittingly, her latest project finds her covering the entirety of one of the most famously anguish-fueled, but devastatingly beautiful albums of the late 20th century: Radiohead’s The Bends.
Just like Lianne La Havas’ powerful reinvention of ‘Weird Fishes’ on her self-titled album this year, Rosie’s interpretation of the album manages to feel just as uniquely personal and intimate as Bare.
“Even though they’re not my songs, it’s just completely me,” she nods. “Some of the songs on this album feel more like my own songs than my own songs, which is really bizarre. They hold a lot of value to me, and really relate to me in a lot of ways. At times it was really emotional for me to record.
“There’s a rawness, and a real timeless honesty in Radiohead’s lyrics,” she continues. “It doesn’t matter who you are, or what stage of your life you’re at – their lyrics are just so special, and so relatable. Some people, like my mum, would hear Radiohead and be like, ‘Turn that shit off – that’s so depressing. What the fuck are you listening to? No wonder you’re depressed!’ But for me, there’s just a real honesty in their music."
As she was reworking the tracks, Rosie also found a newfound freedom to take risks with her sound.
“Doing this album really taught me lessons about my own production, and what I can and can’t do,” she says. “The best thing about this album is that I got to really explore. There were new learning curves for me. For instance, I do ‘Sulk’ with vocoder. I’ve never done a track like that before, but I’ve always wanted to. This album gave me the creative freedom to really explore in that way.”
Although ‘Creep’ was part of her repertoire in her early days of cover gigs, it wasn’t until she suffered a panic attack at a Radiohead gig back in 2015 that her connection with the band truly kicked off.
“We were right at the front of the gig for the support act,” Rosie recalls. “Jonny Greenwood’s band Junun opened, and that was amazing. And then the lights turned off, and Radiohead were about to come on the stage, and I had a full blown panic attack and passed out.
“I was well familiar with panic attacks, but this was the first time I actually blacked out. I think it was a mixture of things – I’d been standing for ages, because we got there super early so we could get to the front. And as soon as I started to panic, and tell myself I was going to pass out, I was completely gone with the fairies.”
“My friend had to carry me and our backpacks, and my shoes were falling off, and he had to lift me up over this six-foot barrier,” she continues. “I was completely blacked out, so I don’t remember any of this. He had to pass me to this bouncer. And I woke up in the first aid room as Radiohead were playing their first few songs. I woke up crying so hard, like: ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ And then we ended up right at the back for the entire gig. And we missed the last few songs, because we had to get the John McGinley bus back to Donegal! It was so depressing, but it was from that concert that I completely became such a big fan.”
As both a fan and a performer, music has played a crucial role on Rosie’s mental health journey.
“I didn’t really have any other way to channel what I was feeling, and get it out of my system,” she says. “From a very young age, I lingered in my feelings, and it made things worse. When I picked up the guitar, and started playing the piano, and singing, it gave me this outlet. Since then, it’s always been this really cathartic experience for me.”
Like many people who found their lives upended by the pandemic, Rosie’s mental health suffered over lockdown. Although usually based in London, in May, Rosie returned to her family home in Donegal – initially planning to stay for five weeks. Seven months on, she’s found a renewed love for her local area.
“The community where I am here is so small,” she explains. “I have a horse over here, and I’ve been doing loads of horse-riding through these old backroads. My appreciation for where I live has come back a thousand fold. Just being out, and able to observe where I live, has been really special. I feel like I’ve reconnected with that, and my surroundings.”
While she was in London, watching the pandemic start to unfold, she admits that she struggled with adjusting to the so-called ‘new normal’.
“I couldn’t keep up with how quickly people seemed to be adapting,” she reflects. “I’m really quite an introverted person, and things like livestreams and video interviews make me so nervous. Even the thought of it makes me sweat. And it seemed like everyone was jumping on livestreams, and doing these gigs, and connecting with their fans. It just derailed me.”
Like many artists, she also felt the pressure to use her newfound spare time productively.
“I have a pole-dancing pole in my room in London, and at the beginning I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to learn dances’,” she says. “So I learned dances. Then I was trying to write, and going through a phase of writing a song everyday. Then I just stopped and I was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing? Fuck this. I’m not going to abide by this pressure that has come on so quickly, to try and create’. I realised I didn’t need to be seen to be creative, just to feel validated. I really had to slow down, and stop everything I was doing – because for me, it’s always a slow and steady kind of thing, when I’m creating my albums. My first album was created over the space of six years, so I need time. I felt like everyone was rushing. It fucked me up, and I couldn’t deal with that pressure.”
“I was about to go in and record an album – and in hindsight, it’s so good that I didn’t,” she continues. “Even though it’s a really cool collection of songs, it isn’t me at the moment. So I really struggled with my sense of identity, and I sunk. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. But coming back home to Ireland really helped with that. My mental health has fluctuated so much this year – it’s been exhausting. But I feel, if I hadn’t had come home, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this Bends cover project. So I’ve definitely come out the other end of it, which is a relief – because shit was real for a second!”
By removing the pressure, Rosie has been inspired to start focusing on her next album – and breaking down her sound to its rawest roots.
“Something I’ve learned this year in my music, and something this album has taught me, is that less is more,” she says. “Keep things simple – that’s what I want to achieve. I don’t really know what the end goal of that will mean, but don’t want to overcomplicate my music. I’ve done that before. I am a folk artist – and I want to keep that element.
“Like the new Taylor Swift album, folklore,” she adds. “There’s nothing wrong with returning to your roots. There’s been such a stigma around folk. As the years have gone, it became quite uncool or something. But at the end of the day, especially in the dynamic of the times that we’re in, folk music is what’s really going to help us and heal us.”
• Rosie Carney's The Bends is out now: