Orla Gartland is self described as “music maker, ass shaker”. Following her return producing music with ‘I Go Crazy’, Peanut Mixtape’s Dale Glenister sat down to talk music with her.
“I think I’ve been there before” Orla recalls as we sit in a pub in the bottom end of Newcastle city centre, waiting on our dinner. We’re talking about the venues across Newcastle and how the scene is changing. She doesn’t there are many small venues with as much character as Think Tank, the place she’ll play tonight supporting longtime friends Hudson Taylor.
She’s not wrong, there aren’t many places with an eight foot portrait of Charles Manson on the ceiling. As we get settled in to our table she asks me about uni and I explain how I initially dropped out, she agrees that “going with your gut” is important. A lot of her friends back at home in Ireland go to university because it’s free rather than because they want to and she was careful not to fall into that trap.
Having a strong fanbase from the beginning gave her the push to leave Ireland for London she says, “I had this audience on Youtube, it wasn’t massive but they were fiercely loyal from the beginning and when I finished school the question all of their lips was when was I going to bring our music that they could buy or stream.
So I made a couple of EPs that I’m still proud of in a way but also realise that I had an audience asking me to music that wasn’t necessarily ready to put out. I wasn’t doing it for me in other words. I was learning a lot because I didn’t go to uni and study songwriting or anything. I wasn’t there yet but my first EP taught me a lot about songwriting and producing. But the main thing is that I don’t think I was ready so the past couple of years and has been me learning so I am ready for the next time, which is now.”
2018 marks Orla’s first release in three years. The reason it took three years is that she was building up both a repertoire and a team. In the break she found a manager, a new sound and a new lease of life for her music.
‘I Go Crazy’ is the departure from her old sound, “I think I got better at guitar so I became more confident in that, it was always my instrument but when I started playing in a band I think the first few years I was happy to fade into the background and do not a lot. Whereas when I got a bit better I wanted to be playing a bit more so it became more natural featuring writing another little bit of delivering the production but the transition felt very natural.”
The single is about when she told a boy she loved him and he said nothing back, “and now I get to relive it every night on stage” she laughs. There’s something cathartic in reliving moments like that she’s quick to add.
“I think even sad lyrics are quite fun to sing because it’s a bit of solidarity even if it’s your own gig and people singing back at you. There’s a Kodaline song that I forget the name of and the lyric is ‘if you love me why did you leave me’ and that’s so sad but for some reason every time I’ve been in a room with them singing that song with hundreds of people sing it back it’s very cathartic. The process behind all these peoples pain coming together is very powerful no matter what side of it you’re on.”
‘I Go Crazy’ was a turning point for her writing though. Orla’s earlier music was more guarded, the lyrics were deliberating vague but she’s learned to care less, seeing that she loves “knowing what it’s about” in other people’s music and therefore opening up in her own.
The people around her better heed warning too, it’s a silver lining to be sad or angry about situations now that she knows she can get a song out of it. She hopes maybe the occasional older writer will stop saying she needs some “real struggle” to start writing sad songs, “I resent that idea. I believe inspiration can come from anywhere you can write a sad song when you’re happy and vice versa.”
She’s now moving toward guitar driven, quirky indie sounds. “In the past couple of years I’ve been massively inspired by bands like HAIM who are very guitar driven.” she adds that “guitar hasn’t gone out of fashion but I think it’s faded into the background of pop for a long time. And I think bands like HAIM really brought out love of it back out in me again.”
With the new music has come a new image, she tells me she has a “long, ever evolving list of artists, writers, producers and filmmakers” that she wants to work with. Demi Whiffin has designed Orla’s two single covers since her return, adding to the quirky, DIY vibes of Orla’s new music.
“Her style has a lot of mixed media, loads of crayons and a lot of collage, lots of big thick paint too. She’s working very physically and scanning the whole thing in, she doesn’t work digitally at all and I love her style for that because that’s kind of rare.” Orla explains through a mouthful of the lentil cottage pie that’s just arrived at the table. From Demi’s artwork came the music video. Guy Larsen, the director, ran with the mixed media and decided to use the scrappy paper, stop motion idea.
They agreed on an “unhinged” look for the video rather than a pretty pop music video including one particular scene where Orla’a face is stitched with Steven Bridges’ beard. “It’s so lovely to build a team of people that I trust because you get to let them have their artistic vision and run with it. I’m not an artist or photographer or filmmaker so I don’t want to bossy, I can have seeds of ideas but I don’t have to be running around telling people what I want.”
The topic of conversation then shifts to where Orla made her name: YouTube. Youtube are planning changes to musician’s channels as Youtube Music is beginning to take shape. We both wonder what the changes will hold for viewers, “it’ll be interesting to see if that takes off.” she muses. “I don’t see it changing anything in the short-term, hopefully it’ll be easier to see all your videos under one roof. The idea of putting your Vevo and your own channel and all your other videos under one roof makes a lot of sense.”
I mention that none of the people in YouTube Music’s Class of 2019 are musicians from the platform and we both agree that it’s a deliberate move “to give YouTube Music a slicker look.” There’s a stigma around being on the platform after varying controversies and stereotypes of the users. She explains that herself and Dodie (Clark) have had to work to distance themselves from the tag.
“You can play pop songs and covers, which is what’s expected of you, and play the game but that’s never been me” Orla says, adding that “there’s nothing wrong with that” she’s just never had an interest in it. Now at writing sessions people think they know what to expect when they hear she’s from YouTube.
Being on YouTube isn’t all bad though, Orla’s had a lot of opportunities because of the platform. Meeting friends like Dodie, to then going on tour with her and recently appearing on Tom Rosenthal’s Z-Sides. The creative process is made easier with friends she though she used to think differently when she first moved to London, “I thought that if I did my own thing all the time it would make me so much better. I spent 100% of my time on that. The reality of that is that I ended up over thinking my entire project and not releasing anything for 3 years.” She’s laughing as she says the last bit. There’s a lot she’s learned from being a musician “from folding t-shirts, to spreadsheets.” One person a few weeks ago even asked her if she’d worked in retail before because she folded her t-shirts so well. She never has, she’s just been doing it on tour for five years now.
I ask why she’s taken so long to return to streaming and Orla tells me there’s steps for songs she puts on the internet “for different spaces on the Internet there’s different levels of commitment.” she explains, for YouTube it’s easy if something’s bad it can come down but for Spotify it’s so permanent that you have to be careful. Her patreon is always step 1 though. “The demo club is my first port of call because it sort of closed wall that’s a very very safe space for me to put ideas, I trust that the people give me honest feedback it’s a really nice first step for ideas in there. If something in there feels really good it’ll probably get to YouTube.”
“For me the committal value of one person buying a ticket to see me at a gig is worth thousands of views. That’s such a small unit in my head. It ranks low on the what means most to me scale. Say you have 100 new viewers on a video, how many of those are going to click on your social links? Probably already only 10%. Of those 10% how many are then going to buy a ticket if they see you are playing a show near them. How many will spend their hard earned cash on you? Maybe one, maybe two. Even then that’s quite generous. Of the amount of commitment that someone can give you, standing in a room to see your show is probably the biggest, more so than buying your album.”
Speaking about commitment we discuss how it’s hard to make money out of music these days and the “crisis point” that we’ve reached as an industry. She says “watching the Coldplay documentary it feels like a completely different time, that whole thing where they got one NME article and it all blew up from there. That just doesn’t happen any more.” She’s right, it’s hard to get people to pay for anything, so there’s no money to be made aside from merch and touring.
Creating sustainable careers as she puts it, is difficult when no one wants to pay for art. “I see it all the time my friend asked me to put them on the guestlist, and I struggled to ask them to pay for tickets. Its £10 to support your friend. At the same time I’m guilty of it too, no one wants to pay for their art. It’s really bad but once you get one thing for free you want everything for free. Like I don’t put £50 aside for albums, maybe there would’ve been a time when that was normal.”
She mentions how she’s heard and seen bands burning their music to disks and handing them out like flyers after shows and how people are so keen to be picked up that they loose sight of creating a sustainable career out of their art. It’s a hard truth that no one really knows what to do.
I ask her what song she wishes she’d written to lighten the mood, and after a little deliberation she decides, “I was going to say ‘Dead Boys’ (because we were talking about Sam Fender earlier). But I think that song has to come from a guy, it would not be as effective coming from a woman.” and settles on Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’, though she reckons there’s also loads of Kate Bush songs she also wishes she’d written. I nod along and she asks if I’m disappointed in the answer since I don’t say much. I’m not, it’s just the first answer I’ve heard to that isn’t about fame or money, rather about just liking the song. People often choose a massive song with the theory that they’d get mega famous or rich from it.
She’s surprised by that: “I think that’s the interesting thing is the people are so quick to choose songs not from our era because they know they will live on whereas we don’t know which of our songs are going to do that. I just love the idea and drinking in case of you isn’t that lovely? I think it’s just that blue album that hold a special part of my heart. I think I just chose it because it’s so classic it’s not even a song that would necessarily hit home now.”
Later on in the evening she plays a mash up on Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time after Time’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’. It sounds incredible. After the set she’s back to folding t-shirts at the merch stall like a pro, just another day on tour.