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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Orla Gartland

Orla Gartland is a brilliant artist and she very kindly spoke to me in between working on her debut album. She gives an insightful look into the less glamorous aspects of touring, how she first started making music and her songwriting process especially when making her recent EP, 'Freckle Season'. 




How are you?
Good.

How are you finding lockdown?
I'm finding it OK. I was meant to be on tour in the middle of all this. I think I would have finished it around [three] weeks ago. I was meant to be on tour with this guy called Cavetown and that was meant to be across Europe. I was excited about it but it was also going to be a lot of work, because it wasn't a headline tour where you get your own crew. It was going to be me and my band mate and bassist, this guy called Pete, basically driving around Europe after Cavetown's tour bus. Like, he would have had a sleeper bus so we would have just been doing these 8 hour drives to chase their tour bus. I imagine the shows were going to be really rewarding but the actual day to day was going to be quite manic. I mean there's no world where I'm glad it didn't happen, but I think that it was going to be such a big mental feat that there's probably a small part of me that is slightly relieved but also sad. I think, for everyone, it feels like borrowed time. It doesn't really feel like I was meant to have this much time. On the whole, I feel like one of the luckier ones. Last year was much busier, touring-wise, for me. On the whole, I don't think my life has changed as much as other people's.

How did you start making music?
I started...making music of any kind? I'd played the violin for a couple of years. I played the fiddle back home in Ireland but I wasn't making anything. I wasn't writing anything. It was just my first thing that I played. It's very inclusive the way you learn Irish traditional music. It's not really like learning...It's not the way you learn violin in a classical sense with grades and stuff. It's very informal in how it's taught and it's crazy kind of music where you learn basically around 30 Irish traditional songs. You pick an instrument if you're a kid in Ireland that wants to learn Irish traditional songs like guitar or, in my case, fiddle or bodhran (which is like a little drum). You basically learn these songs in an easy way and then you go back and you learn them, if you keep going for years and years, you go back over the same songs and learn them over different difficulties. It's a really interesting kind of music. The whole emphasis is on being able to jam and join into a group very quickly. It's about being able to play guitar for one week where you're actually able to join in with this big jam, basically. Rather than learning scales for years and years and it being very theory-driven, it's just very inclusive and it's pretty cool.

It sounds really cool.
Yeah, it was crazy. I don't think I appreciated it at the time. I was just grumpy and resentful to my parents for making me learn this instrument. Now I look back and I'm like, 'Wow, what a interesting introduction into music. I'm sort of glad now, even though I don't have much theory behind me and there's a lot of times where I'm writing or playing in someone's band, and there's like musical jargon that goes over my head, because I don't have the formal training that other people have, but then there's other times that I'm really grateful for that very informal way of getting into it. And then I started playing guitar a couple of years later, which is kind of what I wanted to play from the beginning. And then started writing songs a couple of years later, at 13 or 14. Really bad ones, at first. Really, really bad (laughs).

What was it like releasing your latest EP, 'Freckle Season'?
It was really good. It was definitely the most wholesome musical experience I've had. I've never really been prouder of anything. I had such a hand in, not just writing the songs but also, for the first time, producing them. Which is something I've kind of built up over the last couple of years. I didn't want to necessarily be someone who comes in and writes the songs, does their vocal part and leaves the producer to it, which is how a lot of music is made, really. I just became really passionate in the years leading up to the EP about sound worlds and wanting to build them myself, rather than have them built for me. I think I was doubly proud of it because it wasn't just songs that I'd written. It was me actually recording the guitars, me actually building the drums, so it felt like a very undiluted version of me.

What is your favourite song from the 'Freckle Season' EP?
There's a track on there which is Track 4 and it's called 'oh GOD'. That's probably my favourite one.

Your song 'Did It To Myself' was featured in the 'Normal People' soundtrack. What was that like?
Really cool. It's actually so nice to be associated with something that I actually watched and really enjoyed. Often, you get requests for using your music and it's an ad for a company you don't really want to endorse or there's a lot of times where you can get matched with things you don't like. I actually think I would have watched and enjoyed and absolutely loved the whole series regardless of whether my song was in it so to hear my song in it was just really cool. I think it really blew up, especially in the States. The whole series did really well. It was so nice. The effect of having it in the series was very tangible. I'd never had a sync before. I'd never had my song on anything. I had no gauge of whether I would actually see anything like whether I would see any new people come on board, but it's been very tangible. I don't use Shazam but there's been days where it gets like 2,000 Shazams just from being in the series, which is crazy considering the amount of other music in there. It's just in a short scene so it's been really nice to watch it actually translate and to new people.

Who are your musical influences?
There's a couple. I do like a lot of bands but I do think that my long-standing influences do just tend to be women. Maybe because I am one and I look at them and I can relate to them more so I think I have a lot of indie bands that I love but I think the people that I always go back to are Regina Spektor and Imogen Heap, I love, and St. Vincent and Joni Mitchell. Pretty good four, I think.

Yeah! Are you recording new music at the moment?
Yeah, I'm demo-ing, I'm writing an album at the moment. Just demo-ing because obviously I can't actually get into a studio for the foreseeable. Who knows when that might happen. I'm still writing it so it's actually not the end of the world at all. So I've got maybe 5 or 6 that feel really good a few other songs so that's kind of what the next few weeks will look like for me, and would look like regardless of lockdown- just putting a little more shape on it and working on the nuts and bolts of not just a refined set of songs like an EP is, but also I want to have intro tracks and transition tracks. I want it to be a whole body of work which is such an interesting project because I've never done that before. That's kind of the plan over the next couple of weeks. When I assume this lockdown's lifted, [I'll] start to turn them from demos into the real thing.

What is the story behind your previous single, 'Heavy'?
So I sat myself a challenge last May where I was trying to write something every day, because I had spent the months before on tour. I mean, you can write on tour but you can't really. You can come up with scraps of things but you have no time to sit on your days off especially when you're so exhausted and especially when you're in cool places, I'd been touring in America, you're in places you've never been before so, as much as you tell yourself you'll write on your days off, when you're in a city that you've never been in before, you also want to see that. So I had all this stuff built up and I'd been through a break-up before all the touring began, that I hadn't really processed. I'd just been running around for months, where I was distracted by all the tours. Then when the touring finally stopped, I was actually at home for a few weeks. In May, I was like, 'I'm going to try and write something every day and not be too precious about it, not overthink anything. Just write whatever comes out, record it. The next day, whatever comes out, record it'. Most of the EP actually came from that month. Most of them came from ideas that were just really scrappy voice memos that were all written down that May-at some point in the second week, sort of late at night, when all the sad stuff comes out for some reason. Most of the EP, the tracklisting is pretty much bang on in the order it was written because I wanted it to chart all the different emotions I went through in break-ups, starting from really angry to just sad (which is 'Heavy') to denial to quite settled with it. It came under that week in May. It was just about feeling kind of nostalgic about the person and missing all the details about them that you can come to miss after your anger fades.

What's next for you?
Working on this album, really. I think, in another universe, I'd love to tour this EP a little bit more at festival season but that's all for the forseeable so I guess I'll work on this album for the time being, put a bit more shape on it, hope to end the lockdown (whenever that is) with and album ready to record. And then after that, a lot of backlogged tours will probably come one after another. In the short term, finishing this album and, in the long term, hopefully getting to gig when that's possible again.



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