- 19 Jul 21
Ahead of the release of her debut album Mt. Pleasant, rising R&B sensation Cosha talks about past mistakes, reinventing herself, and finally finding her niche as an artist.
When Irish R&B singer Cosha – born Cassia O’Reilly – first stepped on to the Glastonbury stage in 2016, it was a defining moment in her music career. Then just 20 and performing under her previous moniker Bonzai with friend and writing partner Alex Crossan (aka Mura Masa), she was instantly propelled from unknown waitress to hotly-hyped up-and-comer.
“I remember the two of us going, ‘Oh my god, this is happening’. I was just proud, enjoying it all, and really happy to be a part of it,” she recalls.
Her formative years lived at breakneck speed – moving from Wicklow to London alone at 17, and riding the tidal wave of early success – Cosha was eager to dive in head-first.
Cosha was down to a couple of hundred quid of tips saved from 15-hour cafe shifts and getting worried about money when she landed a job singing for Mura Masa, as well as a publishing deal. The pair wrote ‘Know Me Better’ together, and Mura Masa included the track on his breakthrough mixtape Soundtrack To A Death.
“I didn’t realise that feature on his first mixtape was coming out, and didn’t see it had been released until a week afterwards,” she recalls.
“It’s funny,” she says of the experience watching his rise. “I wasn’t actually thinking about it at that time. We were in it together. We were so close, on tour, and together every day. I wasn’t really looking at the industry side. I was there from the very start, at all the small shows, so I definitely felt it with him.”
Things accelerated quickly and the year after her Glastonbury debut, with Mura Masa’s album gaining momentum, Cosha was soon ceded by the unstoppable juggernaut of the music scene – co-writing with Charli XCX, touring with Flume and signing a major record deal with Columbia.
Now, at 25, she can look back on the whirlwind of that time with 20/20 vision.
“The Bonzai project always felt like an extension of the Mura Masa thing,” she says. “How it even came about was sort of thrust upon me.
Even the name Bonzai, she admits, stuck because “someone took it and ran with it”.
She adds: “That just became something that happened to me, and it all started without me being ready, or in it. At the time, I probably wouldn’t even have known what that looked like, or what my sound was. I was still so young. So I always felt like I was chasing my tail a bit.
“From day one, I was going to be a singer,” she says. But her confidence began to waver as she attempted to make music that was true to her own artistic vision as well as appease the record company.
“I would do the thing that I’d want to do, but they’d have suggestions about how to make it more Radio-1 friendly, which wasn’t what I’d had in mind. We’d have this constant tug of war and end up with something in the middle, that didn’t really speak to what anyone wanted.”
TAKING BACK CONTROL
With a growing sense of unease, she swapped the passenger seat to take the wheel, designing an epic, one-tape send-off to her old persona – RIP Bonzai.
“It all happens very fast, and you just have to try and slow it down for yourself and take it in,” she says. “I was like, ‘I need to take myself off this conveyor belt, because nobody else is going to take care of me here’.
“It eventually caught up to me, and I was just tired. I was already going to stop doing the shows with Alex, because we had done it for a few years. So it just felt like it was time to let go of that old project.”
There’s no doubt Cosha’s been on a steep learning curve – but she has no regrets and she bears no grudges.
“The label were honestly very patient. I wouldn’t have arrived at this point without going through all that, but the pressure was definitely intense, and a weight on me for a long time.
“It had come to the point where it was just work,” she adds. “And I wasn’t happy.’ I needed to take that time that most people take in their early 20s to figure themselves out. And I’m still doing it, it’s not like I’m set for life now,” she laughs. “You work on it all the time.”
The lens of hindsight, she admits, has made her much more considered and reflective. Not least about leaving Ireland in such a hurry as a teenager.
“I haven’t been back since Christmas, 2019,” she says now, from her current work base in LA. “I appreciate Ireland so much more now than when I was growing up,” she admits. “I always thought there wasn’t much to do, but now every time I plan to go back, I can’t wait to be there. Last year was the first year in my whole life that I hadn’t been back. It sucked.”
Of her early exile, she says: “I found something in London that looked pretty interesting, and I was like, ‘okay, that’s it’. I was quite fearless at that age,” she laughs.
“As you get older, you start getting more conservative, and you start to think things through. As an adult, you think about consequences. So I just went over and did it. Got a job, went to school, never looked back.”
BAPTISM OF FIRE
Once ensconced at Tech Music School in London, “good teachers and good people” made for an easy way into the scene, but she did a lot of growing up very quickly.
“Any change is going to be inspiring in some way,” she considers. “It’s difficult, but you’re learning, and that’s always a good thing. I was very much a kid when I moved. It was very intense. In a way, I feel like I’m experiencing my early twenties now, because when I got to London, I was working non-stop.”
In fact, she enrolled in school just two days after landing in the UK, and got a job as a waitress soon after that.
“I got a job in this tiny little café, which I left after a while because the manager was being really sly and keeping my tips,” she recalls. “I also worked in the Soho house for a bit.
“I was working so much – like 12-15 hour shifts, 5 or 6 days a week.”
Eventually, she’d had enough.
“I had saved up so much money because I had no time to spend it, so I went on holiday for three months,” she laughs.
But she wouldn’t trade in that experience.
“I think that everyone should work in service for a bit,” she says. “It’s quite humbling.”
Having spent time working in her Dad’s restaurants since the age of 13, it’s fair to say Cosha has done her time.
CASSIA, TAKE TWO
Fast forward over a decade and the artist formerly known as Bonzai has rebranded as Cosha (a play on her real name Cassia), and is making the music she felt she was always meant to make. And her hard-won confidence is paying off dividends: her debut album Mt. Pleasant is full of gloriously sleek, sexy R&B grooves and Cosha’s glistening, ethereal vocals. Vibrant and warm, it sees her exploring herself in every facet.
“Mt. Pleasant is still my favourite thing I’ve done,” she says proudly. “I love it – but you’re always going to strive for better. You’re learning, every time you do this.
“It was a different way of doing it, altogether. I picked the songs I felt like made sense together, as a feeling, and spent a month or two in the studio with a guy called Brett, who was so patient and amazing.
“We had loads of musicians come in and play stuff over all of the tracks, and then Brett and I would go through everything and figure out what we should place, and where. It was just like a puzzle, but you have to let your intuition guide you. During that process, I learned so much. I felt very sure of myself, and sure of what I wanted this time.”
She continues: “We had people playing bazuki and double bass and piano and drums over ‘No Kink In The Wire’, with musicians freestyling. That’s my favourite thing. There are golden moments that musicians will have when they’ve really lost themselves in something, and I went through just looking for all of those moments.”
Something tells me that Cosha is about to have a bit of a golden moment herself – and I think she can feel it, too.
“I took some time and reconnected to the reason I wanted to make music in the first place, which is for the love of it, how it makes people feel, and how it enhances some of the best and worst moments in your life,” she says.
“I had lost sight of it – but I have it back now.”
Listen to Mt. Pleasant below.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 26 Sep 22
- Live Review
- 23 Sep 22