INTERVIEW: Orla Gartland

Debut albums are an artistic statement of vulnerability, self acceptance and growth. They’re a journey of someone’s life right up to that moment, so for any artist there is a genuine pressure in making sure the messaging behind everything is a strong representation of who they are and who they want to be. For Orla Gartland that journey has been one that has stemmed over 10 years of releasing singles and EP’s. With two distinct times in her career where she started putting together her debut record, the timing just didn’t feel right. Well, until now.

Last year while in lockdown the Dublin based singer-songwriter started writing as a form of escapism from everything happening around her. Setting herself a goal of not writing about the global pandemic, she introspectively dived into interpersonal relationships and the moments in her life that had led her up to being 26 years old. From there the foundations of her debut album were laid, and ‘Woman On The Internet’ began to really take shape. 

The eleven track collection feels like a contrast of candid unravellings and witty deflection as she bares her soul to the listener. It’s a vulnerability that feels like it’s pulsating through an eagerness to share her story. There are songs driven by big drums and festival ready melodies, and there are moments of ultra heartbreaking intimacy. There is truly a song for everyone on the album whether you’re sitting in a heartbreak, need a wake up call, battling your personal relationship with the internet, or just trying to navigate the intricacies of life. 

I recently chatted to Orla Gartland about finding the right contrast of vulnerability and wit behind her debut album ‘Woman On The Internet’ and explored the stories and processes behind songs like ‘Things That I’ve Learned’, ‘You’re Not Special Babe’, ‘Over Your Head’, ‘Left Behind’ and ‘Codependency’. Check it out HERE;

THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut album ‘Woman On The Internet’ is an introspective collection of tracks that reflects on the coming-of-age moments of being in your early twenties. When you listen back to the record now in its entirety, do you find yourself stepping back into the shoes and feelings of that person who wrote this record and experienced these things. Or do you look back more so in hindsight and reflect on the growth to where you are at now?

ORLA GARTLAND: I think I’m still in it. I wrote most of those songs last year which feels like a long time ago but also time is not real *laughs*. So yeah, it very much still feels like me. There have been other songs that I’ve released prior to this album where I wrote about a situation that was no longer relevant, and then you kinda feel like you’re singing about someone else completely. But I think these ones still feel pretty true every time I sing them.

TB: The opening track ‘Things That I’ve Learned’ immediately sets the tone for the record by listing some personal truths you’ve learned so far. My favourite lyric, and the advice that hit me the hardest was; “take up all the space, even when you think you don’t deserve it”. What would you say is the best advice or life truth that someone has ever given you that altered the way you look at things?

OG: It sounds like a bad thing but “nobody really cares what you’re doing”. The people that are important to you obviously care, but it’s more in like a “don’t be embarrassed” way. Over the last couple of days I have been filming some lyric videos for the last couple tracks on the album in a very budget, cam-corder, filming myself kind of way. I went to the park and had this big loud yellow suit on and I was filming myself dancing around, and I had to manually switch off the embarrassment in my head as there was quite a few people around. I knew I had to get the footage, but in those moments I try to take solace in the fact that no one really cares. And that goes back to when I used to make YouTube videos of me singing when I was younger and I would get so embarrassed if people in school would find them. With people pleasers like me, it’s so easy to get lost in what other people think, but learning to switch it off as much as possible is very important. 

TB: This song has a very organic vocal delivery that feels like the flow just fell out in a sub-conscious manner. How long did this track actually take to find its feet?

OG: It was actually one of the shorter ones. I wrote it last year in lockdown, and I think it would’ve been easy to write a lot of sad lockdown inspired songs but I was really trying to start with drums with a lot of songs to keep it upbeat and not let it slip with slow repetitive ballads. 

I kinda liked that it was a really weird groove. It works in counts of 5. The best way to explain it is that the Mission Impossible theme song is in counts of 5. It’s kinda like that which is really weird, but I’m really excited to see how it will work live as 5 is a really gross number. I have one other song in counts of 5 on one of my old EP’s and when I played it live people didn’t really know what to do with themselves which was quite fun. 

But because it is a little bit weirder, it was really quick to do. I did it in two stages; I got it as far as I could by myself and then right at the end went to a studio with my band and they brought a lot of life to it. We added real drums towards the end, and that bit feels really important when you listen to it. But yeah, it definitely wasn’t as long as some of the other songs on the album. 

TB: It definitely felt like it just fell out of your mouth. All the lyrics just felt like it was your sub conscious talking and spitting things out.

OG: Yeah, it was definitely word vomit! I had lots of placeholder lyrics that you think you are going to come back to and change later, but I just couldn’t change them. There’s a lyric that goes “never buy the jeans that you’ve never seen”, and at the time I thought it was such a silly lyric that I would come back to but I was like no, it’s fine. It’s really weird but I ended up loving it and I couldn’t better it.

TB: ’You’re Not Special, Babe’ is genuinely one of my favourite songs of the year. And what I love about it is the distinct contrast of acknowledging that you can feel your emotions but that you’re not alone. It has a quick wit to it that plays into the raw vulnerability of the song. Can you explain the creative process behind this track to find that happy medium?

OG: That is honestly such a nice interpretation of it, thank you! I feel like it is very just me as a person as there is a tough love bluntness to me, but I’m also just as vulnerable as anyone else. I think this song jumps between those two modes in a way where you’ve got the chorus which is really upbeat but it’s quite sincere, whereas the verses are blunt and based on tough love. Then you’ve got the bridge which leans into something a lot more vulnerable and deeper. It’s the first time I’ve been able to successfully jump between all of those different modes, and at first I was worried it was going to be disjointed because it is “big and small, big and small”. There is a lot of contrast as it doesn’t stay in one mode and that can be quite whiplashy as a listener, but I think for this one it just works. It definitely feels like all my modes distilled in one song which is quite fun.

TB: I’ve placed this song on my daily playlist after ‘Walking Away’ by Chelsea Cutler which is a self-indulgent break-up song that hits really deeply. And I’ve put this song after it to give myself the wake-up call that I can’t get too in-my-head about this person, and that I’m not the only person who is suffering from unrequited love. Have you heard any other funny anecdotes from people with how they listen to this song?

OG: It’s kinda humbling because when you’re a creative person you kinda wanna believe that all your experiences and thoughts are totally unique. Us quirky and artsy people like to believe that we only have original thoughts, but I think it’s actually a comforting thing knowing we aren’t, but it’s also not at the same time *laughs*. 

There’s a bit on the Spotify Artists app where you can see what playlists people have put the song on and there’s some really good ones as people don’t realise we can see the names of them. Let me find some for you *Scrolls phone*. 

– Songs to feminise the west to 

– Song to cause problems to 

– Escape pop 

– Woman don’t cry 

Not sure what that last one means, but there’s some pretty funny names in there.

TB: ‘Over Your Head’ is a guitar and gritty synth led track with big drums that creates this really anthemic sound. What was sonically inspiring you when it came to the production and vision?

OG: I was really into a lot of The Cranberries when I made it. I was really late coming into a love for them, but I remember feeling really disheartened with Irish music growing up and what it meant and known for internationally which was just U2 and a bunch of dad rock. I was really seeing a lack  of women in Irish music and it took me a while to go looking for them, and then when I did I was hit in the face with Enya, Sinead O’Connor and Dolores from The Cranberries. Going back and seeing how they were received internationally and how well The Cranberries did in the States was really inspiring. I also now hear Dolores in new American artists like Caroline Polachek and MUNA which is so incredible. 

But yeah, this song was definitely a nod to The Cranberries. They have a line in ‘Zombie’ that goes “in your head”, and that was definitely an extra nod to them.

TB: ‘More Like You’ is a song that is all about the dangerous art of comparison in the modern world with social media. After writing this song, do you still find yourself falling into that habit of comparison? Or have you been able to pull yourself when you start circling those thoughts?

OG: The circling of thoughts is such a good way of putting it! I would love to say that I have some newfound wisdom on that after writing and releasing that song, but I don’t. However it is something I think I’ve half made my peace with. It is a dangerous thing as a musician to just be looking at everyone else and not staying in your own lane and path, as I’m sure it would be as a writer and comparing yourself to your peers. 

I definitely flicked a switch particularly with other musicians around me a few years ago where I realised you can only be happy for other people and not get caught up in “why is that not happening to me” and take everything as an insult. I definitely pushed through that urge. But socially it’s still the same. I still look at other people’s gardens and go “it looks a little better over there” even though you really have no idea. We are all seeing curated versions of people’s lives, and the people I envy probably envy me right back or envy someone else, it’s endless. 

TB: What was it about the “Woman On The Internet” phrase from the lyrics that inspired you to call the album after it?

OG: It was kinda an accident that I wrote that one line into two songs. But I really liked this idea of a nameless, faceless, Wizard Of Oz type of person that I turn to when I feel really vulnerable and lost. But it’s not really one person in particular, it could be someone giving very questionable unsolicited advice online. I liked the idea that this person was a little bit seedy, and not necessarily a healthy role model type. But I also like the duality that it’s sort of nodded to my last couple of years and what I’ve been like online. I was going to call the album ‘Things That I’ve learned’ but it felt a little boring and I liked the idea of introducing a character to the narrative. 

TB: ‘Codependency’ hears you realising you’ve fallen into codependency with your partner and acknowledging how toxic that can be. Did you write this track while you were in the relationship and making these realisations, or did you write it later in reflection?

OG: I wrote it later! I think it’s really hard to have perspective on something like that when you’re in it. For me it’s only a couple months out when you can start to look in hindsight and see both of you as characters and form some kind of opinion. When you’re in the middle of it, you’re just in it, and you can’t tell. There are a few songs on the album that could’ve been quite heavy songs but I wanted to keep them quite fun and make light of the situation as it is really dark in the moment.

TB: ‘Left Behind’ is a beautifully raw track that hears you holding onto a relationship at the end while they are moving on. The track is recorded live, and it really highlights the emotion in your vocals and lyrics. What made you decide to record this song live? And did you try to record it in different ways?

OG: We tried to do the piano and vocals separately as from a production perspective it’s a little bit easier as you don’t have to bleed into the mics and boring things like that. Some songs where there isn’t a lot going on cling to the performance as the thing. But we ended up recording it in a free way live, and put a few twinkly bits around it after. It was pretty sick as I got it in one take. But I say that with full surprise as I’m not really piano player so I was really nervous and intimidated by doing it in that way.

TB: You’ve been releasing music since 2011. Over that time have you had any big body’s of work ready where you’ve gone “this could be my debut album”, or has it only been recently where you felt like you had a whole body of work ready to go?

OG: I did try twice to make something longer with different set-ups. A big thing for me was that I wanted to learn and grow as a producer, and a lot of those old recordings were in set-ups with different producers. I got 7 or 8 songs into those different set-ups and you kinda just know when you’re ready and I wasn’t. All I wanted from a debut album was to be proud of it, and whatever it does after being released is a bonus. I knew I hadn’t grown into myself yet when i tried to do albums at 19 and 22, but now I’m ready, and I’m so proud of it. 

TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions based around the album. Are you ready?

OG: I’m ready!

TB: The emoji that best describes my debut album ‘Woman On The Internet’ is…

OG: The woman on the computer is a little predictable, so I would say the crying smiling one.

TB: The song that makes me cry when I hear it back is…

OG: ‘Left Behind’

TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the album was…

OG: ‘Zombie’! That was a really last minute addition. 

TB: The lyric that makes me giggle on this album is…

OG: “Never buy the jeans that you’ve never seen”, it’s so silly!

TB: The song that took the longest to hone it’s sound was…

OG: Hilariously ‘Madison’ which is one of the most simple ones. Like ‘Left Behind’ because it’s so simple it hinges on the right performance, and I re-recorded that song SO much. 

‘Woman On The Internet’ is out now!