Nights In

Orla gartland – interview

Orla Gartland is an 18-year-old acoustic folk singer-songwriter from Dublin. Her musical career is blossoming and emanating from her posting original and covers of songs on YouTube.

Over the last five years, her YouTube account has attracted a staggering nine million views to date.

The young musician is embarking on a UK tour in February which will bring her from Bristol to Birmingham and many places in between.

She will then return to Ireland and play Belfast’s Oh Yeah Centre, Dublin’s Academy 2 and Cyprus Avenue, Cork on February 21—23.

When did you first get interested in music?

I became interested in music at a very young age – all kinds of music. I played violin, fiddle, and trad and Irish stuff from the age of about five years old. I am the first of three kids and my parents are not necessarily that musical. I mean, they listen to it. They were not players or singers themselves so they were quiet keen to get us involved. They got me into lessons and the guitar at about 12 years old and it went from there. And, I guess, genre-wise, it developed from very young.

And when you were 13, you posted your first song on YouTube. There are very positive aspects with regards to such social media sites, for aspiring musicians like yourself. There are also many negative aspects too. Have you had any bad experiences, for example negative or nasty comments?

Yeah, definitely. Especially with YouTube as the nature is anonymous so it can give people a gateway to leave abusive and negative stuff if they choose to. You have to be thick-skinned enough and assure yourself that people would never say such things to you in person. I have never played a gig, even as a support act, and had someone come up to me after and say things like that what really bad or comment on the fact that, for example, I have ginger hair.

Generally, I think sites like YouTube are great tools as long as it is honest, there is a lot to being said for being very genuine online and people pick up on that instead of having that “I’m going to conquer the world attitude”. I take music very seriously, but as a person I don't take myself too seriously and I am doing it, music, full time and I will still post jokes on my Facebook page and on my music page.

It is so much more genuine when you manage your own sites as opposed to paying social media professionals to update your status. That is why I like Twitter so much it reminds you that celebrities are real people and they like to have a laugh too. It breaks down the barrier between viewer and musician.

You cite as your musical influences as some very strong females, for example Regina Spektor, who is very political in her music, Imogen Heap and Laura Marling. Generally speaking across all aspects of it, the music industry is very male dominated.

Do you feel it very important as a young woman coming on the scene that your voice and opinions be heard?

Yeah, it definitely is very male dominated, as is YouTube, and it is very important to have your voice heard.

I don’t know if you know it, but there is a song called ‘Royals’ by a New Zealand artist called Lorde: She is a pop princess type coming through the cracks and she was doing an interview and she was saying her music was very ambient and atmospheric and she gets compared to and asked a lot about Lana Del Rey.

In one interview I saw, she was asked about [Lana Del Rey], and she said that yeah she was great but a lot of her lyrics are very needy and about being not being able to live or breathe without a man. Which is fine, if that is your thing and you can relate to that, but if you want to take a more feminist stance instead of a clingy, needy vibe. She was saying she wasn't into that kind of thing, it was a really interesting interview. I thought it was really cool. It depends on the character who is singing the song what stance is being taken.

I know you have some gigs coming up in Ireland and the UK early next year so what will you be up to until then and for the remainder of the year?

I will be doing a few support gigs coming up soon and I am just writing for the next release really. My first EP, Roots, is not due out until next month and I want the second one done before the tour is done so I can whack it out after.

I put it off for so long because I was doing the Leaving Cert and now I want be really proactive about it so I will be mainly writing until then. I am only in Ireland for two more weeks where I am chilling out and catching my breath a little bit, do some writing, catch up with some friends and musicians.

I haven’t got a massive set up at home: just a few mics and I will do a bit at home, working on some ideas and choruses. Then I go back to the UK with my writings and ideas and then I’m back home in December for Christmas.

I’m going through the horrific process of trying to find somewhere to live in London but I will not be moving over properly until January. I will be back and forth, but music-wise London is definitely the place to be at some stage of your career – it is so competitive which also pushes you on as an artist. it’s horrible being so unsettled and living out of a bag gets so old so quickly, but I have a few mates over there that hopefully will let me kit on their sofa until I get settled!

What inspires your writing and what is the message you want to put out there?

Yeah, I am a big believer in writing about what you understand and know. There is an autobiographical side to my writing, without a doubt and over the last few weeks I have been solidifying what I want to be about and I am still developing as a person. I’ve never wanted to go down the moody teenage girl break-up song route, which is fine but it is just not very me. I try to take a more lighthearted stance than “woe is me” I just got broken up with. There are some happy- go -lucky songs on the EP and there are also some that are a little bit more melancholy as I don’t want them all to be really, really chirpy or all really dad either. I want a contrast, I guess.

How would you describe or define your musical style and sound?

I would say pop, kind of Leftfield sort of guitar-based pop. I always write on acoustic guitar and I find I am developing as I go along. I played a lot of support tours in the UK over the summer and I found myself bringing an electric guitar around with me and I really like that sound.

I still have to figure out what I want to do in terms of a bigger, live sound so I will be venturing out with electric guitar more, not heavy metal distortion but a cleaner, fingerpicking sound. There are all these really cool European bands coming through with really great female vocalists and clean electric guitar, like Daughter, for example, I really like their sound and style. I would say mine is guitar based pop tunes.

I see you also play the ukulele which is having an explosive revival as an instrument, and it is such a happy-sounding instrument and always makes me want to go on holidays when I hear it!

Why is that do you think it is so popular? Do you think it is down to YouTube?

Yeah, the ukulele is everywhere, everyone is playing it, and it’s incredible! My obsession started about a year-and-a-half ago and I bought a really good one. Every song is happy on the ukulele, which is not really a bad thing but if you try and play a chilled out or a sad song it is almost like the instrument is taking the piss out of the song!

Everyone is going around carrying plastic ukuleles at that event I just came from in the RDS just now, and every music shop in Dublin has them in the window. It is such an easy instrument to teach yourself especially if you play guitar. I think it is down to YouTube as a lot of people are posting up covers with the ukulele. As far as I am aware, I haven’t checked in a while, but my most popular video in terms of views is a cover of a song called ‘Hey Ya’, which wasn't new at the time of posting, it wasn't a relevant song that people would have been searching for when I put it up, it is just because I did it on ukulele. It got over one million views there is something about YouTube and the ukulele, people love it!

What are you listening to at the moment and who in particular would you like to work with?

I am listening to a lot of Kodaline – they are doing the O2 next year which is an amazing accomplishment.

It a weird one really, as speaking to many bands from the UK, they say they maybe will do 10 or 15 dates in the UK and when doing Irish dates on a tour find that sales are not so great, Dublin tends not to sell that well. There is a great music scene in Dublin, without a doubt, but there is just not as big of a small gig-going culture as there is in, for example, London.

A band like Kodaline, for example, the reason I think they are selling so many tickets in Dublin is that Irish people seem to love when a band does well internationally and then, when they come home they get a huge welcome.

Kodaline are in the States now and selling loads of tickets in the UK and we are like, fair play to those lads from Swords. I think that is the key to winning over Irish people, is to do well elsewhere and then come back a few months later.

I also am listening to Lorde, which is also the name of a really strange band that won Eurovision a few years ago!

I am still listening to the new Regina [Spektor] album, even though it's not that new. In terms of working with, I have to go back to Regina, and I really want to meet her, and sit down and have tea with her, she seems really cool, just a genuine legend.

Imogen Heap is also pretty cool. I listen to a lot of her stuff and would also love to work with her someday. She goes into studio for months and creates these really unique sounds and almost goes demented in the process and emerges a few months later with really beautiful albums.

As well as the many gigs in the UK next year, will you be hitting the festival circuit?

Yeah, I hope so. We got some offers this year, which is really nice and anything I did over the summer I took it as it came because I have not really released anything yet. If I was to go and see someone at a festival that has not yet released any music, I would wonder what songs am I going to hear and I didn't want to be a letdown so I just wrote for the whole summer really. I did a couple. I did Indiependence down in Cork, which was really nice and I did a few in the UK also. Festivals and the festival circuit is definitely something I am keen on.

Orla Gartland plays the Oh Yeah Music Centre, Belfast on February 21, 2014, the Academy in Dublin 2 on February 22 and Cork’s Cyprus Avenue on February 23. Tickets for all dates are available here.

Roots by Orla Gartland is out now.