Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is stop moving, take a deep breath, and in the stillness, unleash what you once thought you’d better keep locked up. “Everybody has that struggle they have to deal with, day to day,” Rosie Carney says. She’s home in Ireland, enjoying some sunshine after a week of rain. “It all comes down to the feeling to me. Although we experience things differently, at the end of the day, everything comes from love and fear. I try and capture those feelings.”
Rosie revels in the artistic and human power of honoring a feeling on her highly anticipated full-length album, Bare. The self-composed 11-song tour-de-force reintroduces a young musician already singled out by NPR, the Irish Times and an international slew of others as one to watch. Often quiet but never meek, Bare is a stunning collection of stripped-down pop that leans on acoustic guitar, keys, and a sparse supporting cast. Rosie’s soprano—conversational yet ethereal—winds through finely sketched, intimate portraits of herself and others to create a musical experience that is somehow both sobering and dreamy—and fiercely confident.
“I know what I want to do with my music,” Rosie says. “I have a stronger sense of self now.”
Rosie’s conclusive “now” is an allusion to her whirlwind of an introduction to music as a business. An appearance on Ireland’s mega-hit festival and TV broadcast Other Voices at 16 years old led to meetings with major labels, then a deal with Universal Music’s Polydor imprint. The machine revved up to make Rosie a star: name-change suggestions, hours upon hours in the studio in search of a hit, touring throughout Europe and the U.S., a withdrawal from school to focus on it all—all while she was still only 16. “As everything started to happen, the most exciting thing for me was realizing that I could happily do what I wanted in life—create—and make a living from it,” she says. “The thought of fame didn’t even really cross my mind.”
The confession reveals an important point: Rosie didn’t dream of her face being plastered on subways. She dreamed of the freedom to focus exclusively on the songs she has always felt compelled to write, whether the machine was humming behind her or not. This distinction, and determination, would soon prove to be essential: at age 18, the machine stopped humming when Rosie was dropped from the major label system before ever releasing a song.
“It’s such a weird feeling to be so young and to feel like you’re losing yourself when you haven’t even really gotten a grip on who you are,” Rosie says. Years later, she would vulnerably share that confusion and other parts of her story: two sexual assaults, depression and an eating disorder fought to control her teenage years. Now 22 years old, she is a veteran in more ways than one.
Music began much more simply for Rosie, away from television cameras and record label c-suites. She began taking piano at 4, then quit lessons because she “didn’t like being told what to do.” Instead of abandoning keys, she taught herself to play them. When her family left England for rural Ireland, Rosie was 10 years old and the cultural shock and isolation of the move pushed her back toward the piano. She began composing original instrumentals after learning classical favorites by ear. At 13, she picked up the guitar. By 14, she was adding lyrics to the melodies she wrote on the little Sigma guitar she shared with one of her sisters.
“I can remember when I wrote my first song, ‘What You’ve Been Looking For,’” Rosie says. “I called my mom and dad and played it for them. They were really proud, and I loved that feeling, so I kept writing.” Rosie’s father turned to a family friend and musician who lived up the road for help. “My dad asked him if he’d record all my songs I’d written, and in return, my dad would help him on his potato field or something like that,” she says, laughing. “He recorded my songs, and that’s kind of what kicked everything off.”
Bare represents a homecoming of sorts for Rosie: a return to those early days of making music for music’s sake. After her aborted major label start, she took her guitar to South by Southwest where she was included on NPR’s Hot 100 list. The buzz caught the ears of London-based indie label Akira Records, who signed her soon after, encouraging a back-to-basics approach.
The record kicks off with that very first song of hers, “What You’ve Been Looking For.” Mesmerizing with simple strings, the song manages to convey both the loneliness of the search and the comfort found in embracing what you are. It’s stupefying to remember that the song came from a 14-year-old as a first attempt at stringing a chorus and verses together.
“Thousand” wields a soft saunter that’s both winsome and haunting. Rosie wrote the song in part for her mother and grandmother, the latter of whom lives with Rosie’s family and has dementia. “My mum gets my grandmother up in the morning, showers her, dresses her, feeds her—everything,” Rosie says. “My nanny does not know who any of us are anymore. She doesn’t even know my mum, which is really sad. It’s been such a struggle, for as long as we’ve lived here in Ireland.” Rosie pauses. “But she’s such a happy person. She’s always smiling. She taught me to love everything.”
Punctuated by tick-tocking guitar picking, “Winter” details an impending season of isolation, while plaintive “Humans” pleads for connection and empathy. Electrified “Orchid” mourns what we cannot give and offers what we can, which may not be enough. Featuring hypnotic guitar and late xylophone, “Zooey” explores both frustration and loyal patience.
The plush title track ensnares listeners immediately as Rosie plucks a probing guitar-led melody. “I wrote it after an argument I had with my at-the-time boyfriend,” she says. “I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, but very much like I’d let myself and him down. I was feeling very isolated.” Stunner “7” picks up the theme of isolation and sits with the feeling, inherently acknowledging that sometimes, resting in an emotion we’d rather not have is what we need to do. “I joked when I wrote that song that I was going to call it, ‘Optimism,’” Rosie says, then laughs. “The end of the song is actually quite positive to me. The build-up is like the transition from loneliness to solitude, to knowing I’m okay being alone.” The crescendo, buoyed by synths and intriguing vocal experimentation, ends with Rosie’s shouts of “I will always be alone.”
Standout “Your Love is Holy” captures the sacredness of love. “I’m not religious, but the only way I can describe the feeling of falling in love with someone is that it is holy to me,” Rosie says. “It’s this precious thing I want to protect and care for.”
Subdued but arresting, the album-closing piano instrumental “Bud(rose)” conjures images of a 10-year-old Rosie sitting in front of the keys alone in her family’s Irish country farmhouse, releasing her feelings through her fingers.
“I hope these songs encourage people to go into themselves,” Rosie says. “I hope they somehow find parts of themselves when listening to them. I definitely found parts of myself when writing them. I hope they experience that—that intimacy with themselves.”