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After years of fostering a dedicated cult following, Orla Gartland catapulted into indie stardom last year. Her 2018 song, ‘Why Am I Like This?’, became an overnight viral sensation, thanks to its inclusion in the hit Netflix teen series Heartstopper.

Gartland released her debut album Woman On The Internet, in 2021, after a series of EPs over the last 10 years. Though she started with simple, yet sweet acoustic pop songs, the 28-year-old has slowly but surely curated a discography with an endlessly expansive sound. Woman On The Internet is a forceful debut that effortlessly demonstrates her impressive range, spanning drum-heavy, alternative rock-influenced sounds to gentle indie-pop. However, every quality is elevated by her versatile voice, as she floats from  husky belts to smooth falsettos with ease.

Now, after a break from the Internet and public eye, Gartland is back. She’s released a new solo single, ‘Kiss Ur Face Forever’, which has also made it onto the soundtrack for Heartstopper’s second season. Plus, she’s teamed up with indie icons dodie, Greta Isaac and Martin Luke Brown to form FIZZ, a band whose music she described as ‘bottled joy’. 

We caught Garland while she’s on holiday to talk about Heartstopper, FIZZ and her most precious music memories.

Hey Orla! How’s it going?

I’m all good! I’m on a very remote island off the coast of Ireland with my family and it’s straight out of Father Ted, it’s really good. 

We haven’t had new solo stuff from you for a while! What have you been up to?

Gosh, what have I not been up to? I’ve been writing my second album. After the first, I was doing a lot of shows and went on a couple of tours. As of last year, I’ve been working on album two and writing a side-project album with my friends in a band called FIZZ. I was offline and it was a publicly quiet time, but in my own life it was jammers. That’s the weird thing about the internet, that feeling of ‘if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it fall?’ Sometimes the internet feels like that, if you didn’t post online that you were doing everything, were you actually doing it?

The new song, ‘Kiss Ur Face Forever’, is finally out and it’s in Heartstopper season two. How’re you feeling about it?

Great! This year has been so busy, I’ve enjoyed doing all these things with the band, but I’m also really happy to have a little moment for me in the middle of it. I wrote it at the end of last year with Tom, my co-producer for Woman on the Internet, and my housemate, Lauren Aquilina. She’s one of the best songwriters I’ve ever seen – if songwriting was an Olympic sport, she’d be gold. We’ve been best friends for about eleven years and we’d never written a song together until now. That was really special to write with someone I know really well, who I felt very understood by. She made the whole thing so effortless. I’m really excited to have it out and play it live! It’s a real statement of intent – I hope it can act as a reminder that I’m still here and working on music. Hopefully it’ll set a more raucous, raw tone for what might be to come.

It’s been nearly two years since Woman On The Internet, your debut album. How do you feel about it two years later?

Very proud. I’d been playing music for so long before it, and there were a lot of times in the years before that where I could have got started on a debut and it just didn’t feel right. I had quite a lot of false starts. I was several EPs in, and they’re a bit, ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride.’ It was a long time coming by the time it came around. Two years later, having that under my belt, I don’t know if that is true but I definitely feel I’ve been taken more seriously for having a big body of work out in the world. I released it independently and I’m really proud of how it did. Often, with creative people, you can sit with your work for too long and it gets a little stale, but I still listen back to those songs, and I’m like, ‘Ok, still slaps!’

How did it feel to see ‘Why Am I Like This?’, an older song of yours, go viral after being in Heartstopper last year?

There’s a randomness to something like that. With ‘Why Am I Like This?’, I’m still in awe of that whole thing. There’s something so interesting about an old song being plucked out of obscurity and given this new life. My whole life since releasing music, since about 2012, it’s always been a slow machine that I have to drive. It’s never been ‘pop the music out and sit back’. I’ve got my hands on the steering wheel, and I’m like ‘Let’s do this!’ This was the first moment where it was driving away without me. It was really cool – I kind of had nothing to do with it, apart from it being my song. 

Are you a big fan of the show?

Heartstopper is so special. It’s the kind of show I would’ve loved to have when I was a bit younger, feeling a bit ‘other’. I would’ve eaten it up and needed it so much. I’m so glad, particularly for younger people, that it exists. I’m very honoured to be part of the soundtrack again. I couldn’t endorse a show more! I’m glad there was no big spoiler in my scene because I had to skip forward to that bit to see how my song would work in the show. I’m such a fan that I didn’t want any plot spoilers! I’m watching it by myself at the moment, it’s so nourishing to watch whenever you sit down.

Do you have any other older songs you’d like to see get a similar revival?

I love ‘Did It To Myself’, it’s a deep cut that I still feel attached to. If I have a half hour or forty minute set, that one pretty much never makes the cut anymore, which is just what happens when you have this amount of music out. Even though it’s so nice to release albums and feel like a proper musician, the downside is that the more you put out, these other ones fall through the cracks and slip away. There’s a couple on Freckle Season, my EP from 2020. Even though it did its thing in my community, if one of those was to get plucked out of obscurity, I certainly wouldn’t fight it, that would be fun. But also, those things are so rare, I got very very lucky. 

In a really early interview, from when you were fifteen, you said you were nervous but enthusiastic about pursuing music as a career. Did you have any idea you’d get the indie stardom that Heartstopper brought you?

The Internet moves so fast that I find it hard to have perspective. It’s like a train moving so fast and you’re trying to grab onto the sides. As much as I’m in awe of all these things and I feel really excited to have a place in this totally weird industry, I’ve never had any other jobs. I feel lucky to have any place in it. Music being my full time job was always my marker of success – some people are obsessed with playing certain sized venues or a chart position, but I just wanted to live off it. That was my one tickbox. Everything past it is kind of a bonus. 

I also think of 15-year-old me about to move over to London. I want to protect her – I want to wrap her in cotton wool and be like, ‘You’re definitely doing the right thing, but God, it’s not gonna be easy.’ Particularly for creative people, one of the hardest things in life is to know what you actually want to do. How you get there and do it is up to you to design. It’s cute, thinking back and knowing that I wanted to do this then and that I’m still out here. It gives me a warm, sweet, fuzzy feeling.

What’s been your favourite music memory in these past 13 years?

I did my first European tour last year. Some countries were still closed and a lot of people were telling me not to go. Lots of the countries hadn’t opened up yet, so the tickets were on sale but no one was buying them and I was going to lose a lot of money. In the end, I decided to go ahead with it, even if I was playing in a 300 capacity venue and there were 20 people. I thought I owed it to my diehard fans out there who were really excited for me to finally come. It ended up being one of the best tours ever – out of the blue, ticket sales picked up really quickly and the rooms were packed.’ I just felt this rush of happiness and was so glad I went ahead with the tour.

FIZZ is a band composed of other artists you’ve been friends with and admired for such a long time. What’s been your favourite collaboration so far?

I did a song with Cavetown, ‘Robbie’s Song’. In the gap between Woman On The Internet and ‘Kiss Ur Face Forever’, I did a couple of collabs. I hadn’t really done that before, being a guest on other people’s songs. I also did one with half-alive. Maybe I’m biassed because they were quite recent, but I love the trust someone gives you when they allow you to sing on their song. I know what it’s like to hand that off, to say, ‘you can have the second verse’. I think that’s amazing. Although they were both done remotely, hearing it come together at the end was really fun. It felt very precious to be given that privilege both times, but maybe the Cavetown one is my favourite.

It feels like FIZZ has been a long time in the making. Are you excited for the album and tour?

Absolutely. It was one of the greatest things I’ve ever been involved in. We’ve been doing our solo things for a really long time, feeling quite caged by it and we were writing songs together for fun. It almost feels like a joke that’s got out of hand. We were writing songs together long before we had a band name or any intention to release it. At the end of last year, we had a whole album worth of songs we’d recorded. I was like, ‘Guys, we have to release this, it can’t live on our computers together.’ The songs feel like bottled joy. It was a very pure intention and I’m loving sharing in all the highs and lows with friends, because I’ve never had that before.

What is in store for Orla Gartland over the next year?

Lots of FIZZ over the next couple of months. We’re releasing the album in September, then touring in September and October, maybe a bit more towards the end of the year. Then album two for me, I’m three quarters of the way to having it done. I’ve been chipping away at it in the background and working on it at different points all year and feeling really good. It’s missing maybe a song or two and nuts and bolts need tightening. As soon as FIZZ is over, I’m hoping to delve into that and return to the world I’ve built. I’ve loved doing FIZZ but I also care about my world and people and audience. I love them so much, I want to feed them with more music. 

FIZZ’s debut album The Secret to Life is out 15 September via Decca Records.