Woman on the Internet is out via New Friends: Stream
On Friday, multi-hyphenate indie powerhouse Orla Gartland unveiled her long-awaited debut album, Woman on the Internet. The 11-track project is a culmination of nearly a decade of music-making but contains many firsts for Gartland, who has been developing her newfound love for production since 2020’s Freckle Season EP.
“It was the first time I was a producer on my own songs along with my friend Tom [Stafford], we were producing together, and I was demoing things… it was not a side of it that I had thought I was going to like,” shares Orla, “I can make things that are so much more me because I can dream the thing, and I can just execute it.”
With the world on pause and a cozy studio in Acton to herself, Gartland hyperfocused on production and songwriting. She later reconnected with Stafford on production, and for the first time, members of her live band, to join in on the music-making process.
The result is a genre-melding 11-track project filled with a scrapbook of insightful observations, ruminations over a spectrum of relationships, and careful attention to every sound and texture. Creating a project that effortlessly flows between alt-rock, punk, folk, and synth-flecked pop, while highlighting Orla’s standout vocals with a sequence of clever arrangements.
Leading up to the project’s release Orla Gartland released a string of gems, “More Like You,” “Pretending,” “Zombie!,” “Do You Mind?,” and “You’re Not Special, Babe,” giving fans a proper glimpse into her next chapter. Now, as she unveils the full project, I connect with Orla to discuss Woman on the Internet. Read on below.
Your debut album is called, Woman on the Internet. What does that title mean to you?
She’s kind of a character that appears in two of the songs, and it was an accident. I didn’t realize until after. I didn’t name the album until after all of the songs were done, and all of the music was made and recorded, and it was kind of getting up to the wire, and I was like shit, I need to think of a name. I had a couple of working titles that weren’t quite fitting, and then my housemate and best friend Lauren was like, you should just call it Woman on the Internet. It was kind of sticky and weird, and I think it’s going to sound like I’m talking about myself. I just lived with it for a couple of weeks and toyed with it. I did interviews in my head where I was like, could I imagine introducing my album as this? Is this going to age well? Are we going to call it the internet in a couple of years? Or will it be woman on the world wide web?
I think we’ll be fine, but this character just appears in a couple of the songs as this nameless, faceless, kind of no-one in particular guru Wizard of Oz type that I turn to when I’m feeling really vulnerable and lost. I thought it was interesting that she appeared in two of these songs without me kind of realizing.
The album cover is stunning and also plays into the title with an oversized computer lying in a large field and other details. Visually, what did you want to represent?
I’m glad you noticed the computer because the details we collaged in the back were so subtle, but most people don’t notice them. It was taken in front of a big backdrop, I wasn’t there, and I think again I just like the idea of playing with that illusion. Crudely placing this physically painted backdrop behind me, artificially lighting it in the studio to look like the sun. It was just playing with all of this mind-bending, illusion stuff which I quite liked. Then we got an artist called Demii Whiffin, who helps me with a lot of my design stuff to add in those details and put the title on.
There’s a couple of references to songs. There’s like a zombie hand coming out of the ground for that one. There’s a couple of things. It ended up looking a little bit almost like holy. Someone told me it kind of looks like this Virgin Mary picture. This one specific one of a painting where she’s sort of facing the way, and that was accidental, but there’s something sort of reverential about it. I can’t say it links to the title in a really deliberate way. I just sort of dreamed it up with my friend Greta, who helped art direct the album, and then we took a bunch of shots that day that could’ve been it, but once we got it, we kinda knew. That was really fun.
You started out as a teenager posting original music online. How has that experience and upbringing in music played a role on this first album?
It was totally bizarre. I basically started putting videos of me singing and playing guitar when I literally just learned how to play guitar like two weeks before. So it’s not your story of someone who’s developed their artistry for years and then unleashes it when it’s ready. It’s way more a stumbling, and a development, somewhat publicly, you know, me growing into myself, and here this video is me when I’m like 16 with braces singing this Coldplay song. There’s this big paper trail of me just growing up and figuring it out. I think there was a couple of years where I felt I needed to hide that, and I wanted to look like I came out of nowhere. And then I was like, what am I doing? When I find an artist, I don’t want it to look like they came out of nowhere. I kinda want to see their past and their journey. It’s interesting to me to see where someone’s come from, so I kind of got a little less precious about it a couple of years ago.
But yeah, it definitely taught me a lot doing things that way. It’s given me a very DIY spirit that I still have. The traditional music industry, the teams around people, labels, that was very other to me for a very long time, kind of still is because when you build your own audience, you just get used to speaking to those people directly, telling them about a show directly. I guess still, even now, I don’t rely on anyone to do anything for me, I want to be the boss of it all, and I think that probably still comes from just like putting those videos of myself. That’s a different route into the industry than going on X Factor or being scouted by an A&R. It has a self-made, self-dependent vibe that way of getting yourself out there that I think is still in me now definitely.
You’ve shared a few singles and EPs. Why did now feel like the right time for a debut album?
It was just really just pre the pandemic in January last year when we all thought 2021 was going to be *such a good year*. But, I had done some EPs, and in the last EP I did, which was called Freckle Season, that was like 2019. It was the first time I was a producer on my own songs along with my friend Tom, we were producing together, and I was demoing things. It was not a side of it that I had thought I was going to like, and then I did, and I was like oh, this is really fun, and I can make things that are so much more me because I can dream the thing, and I can just execute it.
So, when we made that and finished the recording process of that EP, I just kind of knew because I really wanted it to go on for longer. It was five songs, but I wanted to be twice that. That was quite telling. Then I made a conscious choice in January last year that I was going to write one, my manager was on board, and she was leaving me to it. Definitely got all of the time I could want to do that in the end. I had just started renting a little studio down from where I live in London and thank God, that place became an absolute lifeline last year. I don’t know how I would’ve got through last year without that space to go and work in.
How many songs did you end up writing before landing on the album’s tracklist?
You know really not that many. That was another thing, especially when lockdown hit and I was starting to get down to the writing, the graft of it, and that being my everyday thing. I think I was like look there’s kind of two approaches here, I can write like 50-60 songs, I can be super prolific and write loads and loads of songs and then whittle it down or I can take my time, I try and identify the ones that I want to do early on and spend more time on those. Which is kind of what I did instead. There was probably 17-18-19 to whittle down from, so there was a couple of spares but there wasn’t that many, and I think I just more tried to figure out how I felt about songs as I was going. I would try to have 2-3 on the go at the same time, and then I’d start the second verse of one and be like, okay, let me check in with myself, do I still like this song still or is it time to put it away? Rather than expelling all this energy and making so many fragmented songs, you haven’t spent that much time on.
You’ve talked about this album being about the chaos of your 20s, and lyrically you give sound advice on the album. How has making this album helped you make sense of your 20s?
I wish I could say I came out with all of this wisdom, and sometimes I have a little to dispense that I’ve heard from somewhere else or something I’ve learned from just being the age that I am, but I can’t say I’m much the wiser at the end of it. I think I’m really good at giving advice and not always good at taking it. I do feel like I’ve grown up a lot since starting to make it. I do feel like a slightly different person.
I think as well the case of your 20s, like the other main thing that accidentally kept popping up, was identity, pretend to be someone else, or embracing who you actually are and not trying to pretend and I think that kind of stuff I’ve made good strides with over the last year. I’ve taken my own advice with that stuff a little bit more, just trying to get comfortable with myself and own what I’m about rather than try to put a mask on in any situation. I’ve definitely grown in that sense. Otherwise, I’d say I’m the same.
You’re a multi-instrumentalist with a newfound love for production. How did that play a different role on this album over your previous releases?
I think I learned a lot during this process of learning when to do things myself and learning when to delegate. I have an amazing band. I play as a three-piece. Obviously, we haven’t played that much over the last year and a half, but before that, we were playing a lot together. Before this album, I had always delivered the song when they were completely finished to those guys and just been like, hey, here we go, let’s make it work live. Whereas this time, I invited them to be part of it, and I invited them to play their own parts in it so that they were playing their parts on stage that they had played on the record. That stuff became really important to me. So, knowing when to play the stuff myself, program drums myself, or when to hand that off to someone that I trusted in this small but mighty team that were at the studio was a big learning process.
But yeah, my love of production that I didn’t really expect to have definitely played into it, and I think on some of the most intricate moments, I just poured so much time into some of those little clicks and pops and bits of ear candy, and that just brought me so much joy last year it became like such a crutch in a weird time. Going down to the studio by myself, doing this really monotonous but fun life where I would just be opening a song from yesterday and adding more bits. Obviously, career-wise, it was the right move for me, but I think I would’ve gone fully insane if I didn’t have this album to focus on.
Are there sonic moments, in particular, you hope people will notice because of the amount of time you spent on those clicks and pops?
There’s a couple! The first track is called “Things That I’ve Learned,” I really like some of those drum sounds. When I was like peak lockdown boredom last year, I spent an entire day recording just clicks and pops. Just like little tiny sounds with my mic. That was the kind of thing you could just spend an entire day on last year. Then I was cutting those sounds into drum loops, not thinking it would turn into songs. When you’re producing, I have tons and tons of drum samples, and I use loads of sample libraries, but there’s something kind of sad to me about the fact that all of the producers that I know have the same sounds. So I just spent way too long manipulating all of those sounds I recorded into sounding like something more usable, and I kind of liked the idea that they were my sounds and not something that were going to be one someone else’s song. Those drum sounds are in “Things That I’ve Learned,” and then they’re also in another one called “Do You Mind?” The same kind of sets of sounds, and the last one, “Bloodline,” as well. I think the drum moments in those songs probably are like some of my favorite little moments.
There are some blistering indie rock moments on the album, like on “Over Your Head.” Sonically, what did you want to achieve with that song, and what went into making it?
That one came so easily at the beginning. It was weirdly difficult to finish off. It had quite a few versions. The chorus was always the same, but there was so many different bits of production around the verse before it worked. Lyrically, it’s just about ego, that’s a lyric in it, but in a word. It’s about literally being in over your head or letting it get to your head and kind of became this little scrapbook of scenarios—me kind of being an onlooker. I have so many artist friends, it’s such a weird job, and this industry really can like shaft you. You can be picked up. You can be dropped. You can have a big audience one day, no audience the next day. You’re just being flung around, and your love for it can really get questioned.
All of the stories in it about the verses and stuff were mainly about musician friends that were becoming intolerable because their egos were growing bigger than they were, and I kind of had some sympathy for that because, like I said, music is such a weird job, it can really push you and test you and tug of war stretch you but yeah that’s what that song was about. It was that moment of being like, ‘hey, you’re not a dickhead, you’re just overwhelmed, like be humble about it, don’t be a dick.’
You just released the final teaser from the album “You’re Not Special, Babe.” Can you tell me about that song and the idea behind the amazing video you co-directed?
I dreamed it up with my friend Greta who was art-directing, also helped with the album cover. She’s literally one of my best friends; she’s so amazing. She’s an artist as well, music and also so amazing at drawing. She’s so talented. We had done a couple of music videos at that point that we had directed together, and so yeah, by the time that one rolled around, we kind of knew what we were doing a little more. I feel like two music videos before we were kind of completely blagging it, and then were blagging it a little bit less, and this time we were still blagging it but a little bit less. I don’t know where the clown thing came from. Greta is just really good at makeup, and I kind of wanted to do something with makeup. And I was like, I don’t know if I want me in makeup, and then we were like maybe clowns. Not like scary clowns, not like children’s party clowns. More like mimes. Somewhere between mime and drag.
Quite delicate, quite dainty. She just did some sketches of some makeup things, and I just loved the idea of having these characters. Then one of the dancers had been in a previous music video as a dancer as well, so we reached out to her again and asked her to bring two dancer friends and then did another movement piece in this weird crypt in London; it was like the basement of a church. It was pretty creepy down there; it looked like an igloo, actually. We knew we wanted it to be theatrical. We knew we didn’t want it to be in a house; we knew we wanted it to be in a dream world.
We’re a month out from your album. What are you most looking forward to once this release is out? After the release, is there anything we can anticipate from you?
I would love to tour in America. The tours I have booked at the moment are in the U.K. at the end of the year. I think we’re going to announce Europe soon, and I’m trying to get something in for the U.S. That would be amazing. I would love to do some headline shows there. So yeah, definitely tours, and yeah, just trying to soak it in as much as possible in August once it’s out. It’s all been so online, so we’re doing a couple of in-stores that week and just meet people. I feel like that’s going to make it so much more real and tangible to meet people and sign the record and not feel like it’s all happening on my computer. So yeah, just trying to make it as much of an occasion as possible, and that’s enough for me.