The 24-year-old Irish alt-pop artist knows a thing or two about collaboration having formed an unlikely partnership with K-pop sensations BTS.
Alongside her solo work she has a side line writing for others and co-wrote the band’s track 134340, which still surprises ever her.
Last year also saw Orla put out her first material in three years in the form of two singles, I Go Crazy and Between My Teeth, and this year looks set to be a busy one as she prepares for the release of her third EP, Why Am I Like This.
Orla’s lengthy list of achievements are even more impressive in light of the fact that she remains an independent artist, with no label, who operates in a DIY capacity.
Having made the move to London four years ago, she has developed her unconventional take on pop, which has subsequently drawn comparisons to artists like Imogen Heap and Regina Spektor.
Here we chat to Orla about her story so far, the inspirations behind her new EP and collaboration…
What’s the thinking behind your latest EP?
They’re inward-facing songs. I’m just trying to figure myself out basically, rather than them being about other people. The whole concept, if there is one, is the, “why am I like this?” kind of thing. I’m trying to figure out why I am the way I am. These are super formative years, I didn’t go to Uni, I just came here to do music.
I wanted to present these songs to people and maybe have them ask themselves the same questions about themselves, and to look inwards rather than always be thinking about other people. It’s always something I’ve been interested in. I was very torn between doing music and something like psychology. In a weird way, within the confines of a pop song, at least for myself it’s a way of looking at how I’ve come to be the way I am.
How would you describe the music you make to the uninitiated?
I guess it’s pop. That’s sometimes seen as a filthy word for some reason. I guess alternative pop – that sound a little pretentious – but there is a quirk to what I do that isn’t straight down the middle pop. There’s a touch of singer-songwriter in there in the sense that it’s my name on the project, it’s from me and my experiences.
I ended up with a group of friends back in Dublin, where we went busking a lot. There were a couple of friends that ended up coming out here who I basically just followed over after I finished school.
I’d written songs before but when I came over here it was more about actually making a career out of this. There were a lot of writing sessions. I learned so much, so much more than I think I would with a songwriting degree. My first couple of years here really were an education on how to be an artist almost.
People I live with and all of my friends here do this. Even though I do a solo project I ended up in a community that was very encouraging and very normal. None of the people I know that do this are any way full of themselves or thinks that they’re special. It’s just kind of what we do.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
If I was to give a pretentious answer, like a more abstract thing, I would probably just say people. It’s going back to how I would love to study psychology someday. I’m so fascinated with it, whether it’s me or someone else. I find myself thinking so much about why we do the things we do.
In terms of an artist, I really love – she’s always my go-to, and I feel like one day I’ll get tired of her, but I never do – Regina Spektor. She would be my number one for sure. It’s such an unchanging reference.
How did the BTS collaboration come about?
[Laughs] It’s so random. I have a publisher and I sometimes write songs for other people. It’s something I’d like to do more of, I’ve only just dipped my toe into the last couple of years.
It’s not that they specifically requested me, it came via my publisher, but the people they were willing to take ideas from I found really refreshing. They could have been like, “who is this random Irish girl?” but they didn’t.
I sent it back to them and they took a part of our top line and a part of someone else’s and then they get a translator in to translate it all into Korean, and then I think it’s at that point they present a bunch of tracks to the band. It’s the kind of thing I do in my bedroom with my friend Martin (Luke Brown), we forgot about it for a year.
Then we got an email saying that part of idea had been chosen and was part of the final version of it. When I explain the idea to people there’s something very unromantic about it because fans of bands like that want to believe that the band does everything, and I want to let them believe that. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing ideas. There’s an openness to it that even though it’s, in a way, very contrived. There’s something sweet about it. I left the whole experience with a really good taste in my mouth.
What do enjoy most about co-writing and collaborating with other artists?
I think it makes you better at doing it yourself. It’s almost like it unlocks part of your brain, and it makes you a more rounded writer. It’s a skill and you get better at it the longer you spend on it.
I found with this EP, compared to other stuff I’ve released, I written most of it on my own. I’m just more of a control freak now. I enjoy collaboration, but I really enjoy what I’ve learnt from collaboration.
You were chosen to receive support from the PRS Foundation-led initiative Momentum Music Fund, what did the support mean to you?
It was amazing. I’ve honesty no idea how I would have done last year without it. I have a manager, obviously, and I have a publisher that looks after me as a songwriter, but I have no record label or rich parents. So, in one way you can do an artist project on any level. But there was a producer we wanted to work with called Ben Langmaid – he was just someone I loved, he did all the La Roux stuff – and he’s just so poppy, but my favourite kind of pop. I would never have been able to work with someone like him.
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
One of them would be to collaborate. I would take all of your friends that can play an instrument and come up with something. It doesn’t have to be a formal writing session, juts open yourself up to that idea, because it’s vulnerable and scary and you will learn from it.
There’s the online thing, the self-promotion thing. I mean whether people like it or not, and I don’t know whether I like it or not, but it’s necessary to have a presence online. I think I sort of resent that idea in a way, which is silly because I am a child of the internet. But I can’t think of any artist, at any level, who could launch without it. And you can have some fun with it.