Growing up, Cassia O’Reilly was an aspiring Eddie the Eagle. As a kid – and the definition of an alpine novice – she once found herself at the top of a mountain with skis strapped to her feet. To the horror of her dad, she pelted down a treacherous black slope without a glance back. “I just went straight down, like a rocket – boom!” she laughs. “There was no fear in me.”
Remarkably, she made it to the bottom both exhilarated and completely unscathed. Though getting older has taught the Irish musician to be a little more cautious, especially of potential broken limbs, she still finds herself taking risks in different ways. “I still have that wilder side that still comes out,” she says. “She hasn’t come out in a while. But maybe soon…”
Even now, the process of making music – particularly in those raw, beginning stages – feels akin to weaving down a sheer, jagged slope with nothing but blind faith. “There needs to be no thought or filter,” she says. “You need to try and remove any border or wall of self-doubt or criticism. Just get the idea out – black slope, all the way down. Get it out. And then think about it.” It’s the approach that Cosha has taken in creating her fearless debut album – currently untitled and due out in summer 2021, it’s her first body of work since burning everything down, and starting out fresh.
At the beginning of her artistic career, O’Reilly was freefalling in a different way. Becoming one of the more heavily-hyped new names of four years ago happened more or less by accident – the Wicklow-raised artist had just moved to London aged 18, and was working on music with a then-unknown Mura Masa. The pair concocted ‘Know Me Better’ together, and Mura Masa put it on his breakthrough mixtape ‘Soundtrack to a Death’. She needed to pick a moniker to be credited under, and fast, and without too much consideration, opted for Bonzai.
Originally concocted in a couple of “rushed” minutes, the name stuck around. As Alex Crossan’s debut release gathered steam, Bonzai was soon inundated by her own stack of offers; soon enough, she was singing backing vocals for East London neo-soul artist Nao, co-writing with Charli XCX and MØ, and touring with Australian dance producer Flume. Within a couple of years, she had also inked a shiny record deal with major label Columbia, and was plastered across the radio-waves thanks to a guest spot on Mura Masa’s hyperactivity chiming electro-pop banger ‘What If I Go?’
The pair hit on another infectious gem – but as Bonzai began to strike out alone, she became wary of the pressure to continue replicating those early hits. When we inducted the artist into The NME 100 in 2017, Bonzai was strikingly apprehensive about the future. “It might be a bit of a struggle keeping creative control,” she told NME, expressing concern that her artistic ambitions might not align with a major’s bottomless appetite for solid-gold pop hits.
It’s a prediction that ended up playing out. The immense expectation surrounding O’Reilly’s early releases proved stifling, and the relationship turned into a tug of war – the label pushing to sait the gaping jaws of hype, and O’Reilly pulling back more time to explore different sounds. “That’s so funny that I said that,” she remarks today. “It’s interesting, because that was definitely accurate. I was right.”
Ultimately the artist parted ways with the major and binned off her previous moniker in her final major label release. 2018’s ‘R.I.P Bonzai’ ceremoniously killed off her old persona once and for all, and marking a new creative chapter, O’Reilly settled on a new name: Cosha.
These days, Cosha has found the creative freedom she craved. Now releasing music through the distribution label Believe – and on her own label Ashtown Lane, named after the road she grew up on – she was able to take her time in crafting the forthcoming debut, which features collaborations with Shygirl, Coby Sey, and Rostam. Cosha’s latest single ‘Tighter’ is an early glimpse of the newfound emotional frankness to come. “It’s about tension,” she says of the minimalist soul track, “between me and someone else, that’s just electric. I wanted to linger on that feeling: it just feels very erotic and hot.”
And due in the summer, the release as a whole succeeds in distilling specific feelings – lust, yearning, desire – down to their raw essence: whether that’s the joyful sensuality at the core of Shygirl collaboration ‘Lapdance from Asia’ to the percussive unreleased cut ‘Hot Tub’ – a playfully sexy collision of parping horn stabs and spoken-word interjections: “I’m so wet” Cosha says, tongue-in-cheek, twisting the song’s title into new shapes. Being afforded more time allowed the artist to experiment and, most importantly, have fun.
“This is the first release I’m putting out that I really love,” she concludes. “R.I.P Bonzai’ was my last project with Columbia, and that was pressured,” she admits. “But with this [new release] I love every song, and I’ve never felt like this before. It honestly feels like this is just the start – I’m just scratching the surface.”
Cosha’s new album is due this summer