There are few journeys within Irish music in the last ten years as varied and exciting as Cassia O’Reilly’s, which saw her pursue a solo career, firstly as Bonzai, before reinventing herself as Cosha in 2018.
Originally from Roundwood in Wicklow, the artist and producer has sang backing vocals for NAO, fronted Mura Masa’s live show, written for Charli XCX and even provided vocals for Chic’s comeback album, ‘It’s About Time’.
You’d think with such an amazing list of credits to her name Cosha would be a household name in Ireland by now but amazingly, she isn’t, although she’s hoping the release of her debut album, ‘Mount Pleasant’ will change all that when it comes out later this year.
Lapdance From Asia
No Kink In The Wire
At the age of 17, Cosha moved to London, spending one year on a new course in BIMM. The choice to leave Ireland was more by necessity than design, though.
“I knew I wanted to do music. I looked in Ireland first but I didn’t really find what I was looking for and then I went to a seminar in Dublin and somebody mentioned BIMM. I looked into that and saw that they were in London and thought, ‘okay I guess that’s where I’m gonna go.’”
Like many people, Cosha has some misgivings about the idea of teaching people to write songs and would recommend such courses for creating industry connections rather than honing your craft.
“I was on a new course, so we were kind of like the Guinea Pigs,” says Cosha. “It was good for connections, but I didn’t really learn much. They were testing things out and it didn’t feel like the curriculum was solid.”
Word of Cosha’s skills soon spread around London and doors began to open, beginning with a stint 20 feet from stardom as a back-up singer for NAO. It wasn’t long before others cottoned on to her smooth vocals.
“That kind of led to me doing the show with Mura Masa where I was fronting the show basically and just through meeting people when we were on tour and then the two of us started making music together and that kind of started this very long journey.”
Providing backup for NAO stoked the fires within Cosha to make it to the front of the stage and when Mura Masa came calling, she grabbed the chance with both hands.
“I gave it everything when I was doing that. I loved it I didn’t feel under pressure at all – when I was doing the BV stuff for NAO, I was gagging to be in the front.”
When speaking of the Mura Masa live experience: “I was quite happy to be out the front, I loved it and I loved being able to see the crowd and go down into the pit and dance with everyone…I loved it,”
“We had some great shows. The first time we did Reading it was fucking nuts, we got one of the biggest crowds, the biggest at that tent, they weren’t expecting it – it was filmed, so I can look back at that one. I just remember having so much fun with the crowd. They were up for everything.”
“This album feels like the first full-length project I've done that I feel like every song feels like me... and I love all the songs.”
During this time of creative progression, Cosha was trading under the name of Bonzai; a moniker the artist had devised as a developmental tool to allow her to explore her creativity. “I was really into that style, but I always knew that I hadn’t gotten to where I wanted to be (creatively).
“Last year when I came home for Paddy’s Day, we were in Temple Bar and we found these old magazines and I saw an old interview I had done…I read it back and it was quite bizarre because that was how I felt.”
Reading that interview reinforced for Cosha that she was staying true to herself. Matters came to a head following a disagreement with her now ex-label Columbia over the song Feel Alright.
“I had signed to Columbia and they signed me, I think, based on the stuff I had done with Alex (Mura Masa). They were trying to get me to do that kind of stuff and there was one song – I think it was Feel Alright – that was the last Bonzai song. When we did that, they had kind of pushed me – they wanted me to go further and I didn’t actually, so I’m pretty proud of myself for not.”
With her working relationship with Columbia nearing an end, Cosha decided it was also time to part ways with the moniker Bonzai and start the next chapter of creative output. “Sometimes you just know something is over and it’s just time to change.”
With the name change came the inevitable mispronunciation, with some people saying Co-sha and some people saying Cosh-a. “Hopefully as time goes on…” says Cosha, referring to people mispronouncing her name, “but my whole life people have been mispronouncing my name so it doesn’t really bother me any more.” For clarity, Cosha is pronounced Cosh-a, as in ‘under the cosh’ with an a at the end – Cosh-a, like Sash-a.
Covid-19 has affected the roll-out of Cosha’s debut album, ‘Mount Pleasant’, but this unsettling period has also provided her with the opportunity to refocus herself as an artist and wash away any residue from her Columbia days which surrounded the planning process. This including replacing originally planned lead single She Don’t Care with No Kink in The Wire.
“The reason we had She Don’t Care first was because that was the one the label wanted. Then, I left Columbia but that was still with me: ‘well, they wanted She Don’t Care’ but as time went on I said, ‘hold on, this isn’t about what they want, this should be what I want to do.’”
Cosha describes ‘Mount Pleasant’ as being “a culmination of what I’ve been looking for.”
“This album feels like the first full-length project I’ve done that I feel like every song feels like me and what I’ve been trying to do and I love all the songs.”
‘Mount Pleasant’ represents safe harbour for Cosha. “Mount Pleasant is the area I grew up in Dublin so it felt like the homecoming of me.. I also like that it’s a place because I want it to feel like a place that people can go when they need comfort or companionship.”
Cosha produced most of ‘Mount Pleasant’ herself but brought in several well-known producers including Mura Massa and Ex-Vampire Weekend man, Rostam. Emile Haynie (Lana Del Ray) worked the tracks Bad Luck and Tighter, the latter of which was completed with the help of Mura Masa.
Despite being a proud Irish woman, Cosha feels disengaged from the Irish music scene and regrets not engaging more with it during her time as Bonzai.
“I think I could’ve been putting more time and energy into Dublin and Ireland and I didn’t with Bonzai. I always came home when I could but with this (album) I definitely want to put more (effort) into doing stuff in Ireland.”
One of the goals she set herself is getting to the point where she can step out of herself enough to successfully produce other people.
“When I produce it ends up being fully what I like. It’s a whole other skill to try and take into account someone else’s style and sound and I don’t think I’m there as a producer yet – that’s a goal. I’ve written some songs for other people, which I love. I want to do more than of that. I think producing songs for other people will be the next step.”
Having written songs for the likes of Charli XCX in the past, Cosha says, “that was fun. I would like to do more of that; get my pop chops up.”
For now, however, she is laser-focused on her own work. “I’m already working on the second album. I’ve got a song with Ariel Rechtshaid. (HAIM, Adele Vampire Weekend), I have a song with him and a song with Shy. I think the second album is going to be a bit more upbeat, but we’ll see what happens – I’m just working, making music.”
Cosha is at a place in her career and her life in general where she is no longer willing to settle into uncomfortable situations and working relationships for the sake of it.
“I don’t wanna do anything that I don’t wanna do with my whole heart. I’ve already done a project where I made some concessions and I just don’t really wanna do that again.”
“I don't wanna do anything that I don't wanna do with my whole heart. I've already done a project where I made some concessions and I just don't really wanna do that again.”
Like many artists, Cosha uses songwriting as a form of therapy. “If I’m sad, I’ll try and write a happy song or a sexy song. I’m not at the stage yet where I want to write sad songs.”
Cosha notes that song-writing is a vulnerable experience, which is both scary and liberating. “You have to remove any wall of criticism or insecurity which is really a skill. I’m still trying to master that.”
Cosha believes that the consumption of experiences is important for song writers and artists in general. “I think it helps to feed your imagination. You don’t have to go off to Thailand and do loads of crazy shit to do that. It could be anything – just going for a walk or reading or watching something,”
“You’re telling stories and even if you’re making stuff up it’s based on something you’ve seen or imagined. I think it’s good to feed your imagination in that way to be kind to yourself and take things in as much as you can.”
One of the ways that Cosha feeds her mind’s eye is history. “I love museums. One of the first things I’ll do when I go to a new country is go to a gallery or a museum. I think it’s really good for the soul to go and see art and take some quiet time to slowly walk around a nice space filled with art.”
Having left Ireland at such a young age and gone through the highs and lows of the major label system, Cosha is well placed to advise young Irish artists thinking about making the trip to London or signing a deal.
“I think it depends on the kind of artist you are. If you are signing to a major label with pop intention you have to give yourself over to these people who are going to decide what you do, but you need to know that that’s what you want to do,” she says.
“But if you are an artist, and you want to do what it is you want to do, you have to know yourself before you do anything because they will try to mould you, and if you aren’t sure of what it is that makes you ‘you’ and you’re not sure of your decisions then it might get difficult.
“You really need to know exactly what it is that you want and who you are. It’s taken me 5 years to discover that.”
Sage advice from somebody who has experienced the good and bad sides of the industry. But what about Cosha’s pathway now? “The model for me is I want to make good music, anything after that is a plus,” she says. “What I’m really trying to do is not be any genre at all, and not be of any time because then it’s timeless and that’s my favourite music.
Let’s hope ‘Mount Pleasant’ is the first step towards Cosha finding her own lane this summer.