Interview: Orla Gartland

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It’s fair to say it’s been a very busy year for Dublin singer-songwriter, Orla Gartland. Having played a tonne of gigs over the last few months, within Ireland and the UK, Orla is set to play her second ever headline show, in London at the end of the month.

Before opening for Bastille, to a massive crowd in the Academy 2, Fortitude Magazine got the chance to catch up with Orla and ask her a few questions.

Orla, I know you’ve been uploading videos to Youtube for a long time now; tell me about the first video you uploaded. What age were you at the time?

I was 13 or 14 I think, and it was a cover of a Nelly Furtado song, which is more than cringe! It was called ‘Broken Strings’; I think it was with James Morrisson. It was THE hit of the time, and I really wanted to be cool and sing something I could hear on the radio. I’ve since taken the video down. It was just so bad; I had braces, I looked like a boy, but it’s all a learning curve. I’ve kind of got better at not deleting old videos now, because it’s kind of nice to see the journey at times, but, with that one I had a weak moment.

Where did you actually get the idea to start uploading videos? You’ve something around 55,000 subscribers now; that must be overwhelming?

It’s absolutely crazy when I think about it. I mean, the thing is, it’s so spread out and that’s the beauty of the internet in a way because it means you can have people listening to your music at a different corner of the world, and that’s something that people previously never had. Like, the traditional way of getting big as such, in music, would be just gigging your way to the top- from a local level to making it bigger, but now, with the internet, I’m not even finished school and I can just stick a video up and get some nice feedback.

I think the really nice thing about Youtube is that it’s a nice testing ground.

For example, if I wanted to put together a release- like an album, or an EP- a great way that I found to get feedback is to just upload all the songs and see which gets a positive reaction, so, it is a fantastic tool. I can’t remember how I got the idea in the first place. I started making videos with a friend, and then I tried it on my own and I didn’t understand that people would ask for more or subscribe. It was a bit bizarre, but yeah it’s been incredible! [You never expected the support to get this big then, no?]

Absolutely not! Sure I didn’t even understand what a subscriber was a few years ago and now I do and it’s terrifying, but lovely!

You released your first single, ‘Devil On My Shoulder’, in June of this year; where did the lyrics for that song come from?

Well, that one was originally a really happy song, believe it or not- really upbeat, had all the melodies and everything in place, but for me it just wasn’t really sitting right, and I was kind of ready to release that song as a single. The actual thing goes “there you are the devil on my shoulder”, but the other one was “you’re always one small step behind me”, and it was really perky and happy. I still can’t believe listening to it now, like I just sat down and was like “this isn’t really sitting with me right”, so I kind of re-wrote all the lyrics. At the moment it’s about- for me anyway- I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid and I always liked that idea of a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other- like the good and bad side, trying to influence your moral decisions. I’ve just always found this whole metaphor really interesting and I was kind of toying with the idea that it would just be the devil and that whole ‘you’re your own worst enemy’ thing. I suppose that was just a place I was in at the time when I wrote it.

[so, would you describe all your songs as autobiographical?]

Yeah definitely. One thing I’d say I do tend to write about, more often than not, is people. I’ve always been fascinated with people and their minds, how they work, and why we do the things we do. So although a lot would be around me, if I’m ever in a situation- any sort of social situation- I always find it’d useful lyric-wise to look at it from someone else’s point of view, or write lyrics as if you’re writing a letter to someone that you’ll never meet. For me, people would definitely be a big factor.

 

Who would your main influences be? If you had to name your top 3 artists, who would they be?

That’s a good one! I really like Regina Spektor. I mean, the word quirky is banged around a lot, and maybe overused, but she is quirky, and she’s pop, and she’s fantastic. I also really like Laura Marling, who did some touring with Mumford & Sons. Probably Mumford & Sons as well actually. I really got swept up in that, kind of, rebirth of folk. When Mumford got big, a lot of artists got big with them and it sparked that love for that whole genre, and I definitely got swept along with that. But of course, I always listen to my friends as well so, although it’s not in the three; Hudson Taylor, Gabrielle Aplin and Lauren Aquilina. [Any guilty pleasures?] Of course, of course! ‘Call Me Maybe’ will always be a classic- It’s a fantastic tune. All the Justin Bieber albums; I’m more than proud to say I’ve purchased those. The thing is, these songs are designed to be catchy. That’s the purpose they fulfil at the end of the day. I don’t know if I’d listen to them like, on my own at night but, on the rare occasions that I do decide to be social, I definitely just want to hear something catchy that you can pick up straight away! They’re fantastic songs and you know them by the second chorus and you’re boppin’ along!

 

You’ve played quite a few gigs this year, both in Ireland and the UK; are there any in particular that stand out for you?

Yes, absolutely! The gig tonight is in Academy 2, and I did an Academy 2 day in June, around the time of the single release. That was my first ever headline show. Before that, I kind of just thought a gig is a gig, but there’s actually a whole different vibe from when you’re supporting someone and when it’s your own name on the ticket. I really didn’t understand it but I was just so overwhelmed. I almost cried that day because, you just feel very loved, and you feel like, it’s crazy that all these people would come for you. There were people there that I knew from primary school, some family, and people I’d never met. It was just so overwhelming, but I never wanted it to end. It was just so fun being up there.

 

You supported Ryan O’Shaughnessy last week; would that have been one of your favourites- one of the biggest as of yet?

Yeah, that was the main Academy. He put on an amazing show, lovely guy, and I was really lucky to be asked to play that show. Yeah I’d say it’s a favourite- it’s up there. The crowd there were really responsive, which is always nice, but the thing with supporting someone is, you kind of feel like you’ve to go out and prove yourself. It’s a lot more of a challenge than something to just enjoy. Depending on the mood I’m in, I like it sometimes. [You’re, in a way, trying to get new fans?] Sort of yeah. Like, people are there to see the headline act, and you’re just someone they’re going to decide on the day whether they like you or not, and that can go either way. But yeah, I did really like it; everyone was really nice.

 

How are you feeling about the Bastille gig later; nervous/excited? Do you still get nervous before you go on stage?

I do, a little bit obviously. I mean, I’m naturally quite stage shy- I’m not a stage school kid or anything. I’m in 6th year now, but back in 4th year, when people were setting out goals for the year, I was like ‘I want to get these nerves out of the way while I can; while I have time’, so I just took any gig I could get. I was playing in front of like, just my mum; ten people; twenty people, just trying to gig it out, and it definitely helped. They’re still there a bit, but nerves are good. I think the Bastille gig will be nice. I’ve met the lads before in England, and they’re really nice, but it will be an older crowd as well. It’s an over 18s gig, I’m used to playing the over 14s, so hopefully they won’t hate me! [Any pre-gig rituals or anything to settle the nerves?] I sort of think I should have. I know nothing about singing, or the technical side of it. I’ve no warm-ups- and that’s awful. I just sing to warm up.

 

You’re in your final year of school now, so obviously the things you can do and the places you can go are quite limited. Do you have any major plans for when you finish school? Any places you’d love to go?

Yeah absolutely! I spent a lot of time this year over in the UK; I was there for pretty much all of the summer. There’s a huge music scene over there for the sort of stuff that I like to play. On one side, everyone in London, for example, wants to be a singer/songwriter, so you’re thrown into the deep end, and you’re a sea of faces. It’s very hard to stand out, but it also means it pushes you a bit more. I don’t think it’s impossible to do in Ireland, but I really did like the scene over there. I think in terms of gigs on a smaller scale- like before you’re playing your 2,000/5,000 people venues- there’s not a lot of venues that do that, so, venue wise, London is fantastic and I’d definitely love to go there after school. That’s the rough plan at the moment anyway.

[Quite a nice thing you did though, was online gigs for people anywhere in the world to watch? That’s a nice way to include fans that are in places that you probably can’t get to at the moment?]

Yeah, that was a cool idea. I’d never heard of it to be honest, and the thing was, it’s not a very widespread idea so people were a bit like ‘I don’t really understand what this is’, but I just think, you can’t get everywhere can you? It’s just something cool that I can put time into, and I did other livestream things; there’s this thing called BlogTv that I really like doing. For me, that would just be like, you can switch it on and people can watch you from your bedroom and you can just chat. It’s like a one-sided skype conversation; my mum always passes and thinks I’m talking to myself and thinks I’m a little bit weird! But yeah, the thing about the online gig is that it would be a bit more formal. You’d have a setlist and you’d go through it. It was definitely an interesting experience- I enjoyed it anyway.

So, what can we expect from you in 2013?

Well, as you said, I’m in 6th year, but I’m hoping not to hault it altogether. I’m hoping to do a few gigs here and there, but the main thing I’m hoping to get out is a new release early next year. I think I should be recording it sometime over Christmas. I’m not exactly sure when; I think I know what songs might be involved though. Yeah, hopefully a new release anyway. I think it’s always good to just keep it going really. Then we’ll do exams, then we’ll do more music!

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