Stepping away from the camera: YouTube musician Orla Gartland serenades fans on first North American tour

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.02.31 PMI first happened upon Orla Gartland in 2012 when she posted a cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” on her YouTube channel.

One quick search for covers of the song and you’ll quickly realize that there’s no shortage of talented musicians putting their spin on the well-known tune. But for some reason, Orla’s video stood out to me. I think it was the endearing combination of her effortless voice and quirky facial expressions that reeled me in (though I’m sure haters in her comments section would disagree). Plus she’s a ginger, so I liked her based on that fact alone.

After rewatching the video today, I have the same feelings. But I realize there’s something else I like about it, something that I never noticed before. At the end of the video, Orla optimistically says, “If certain things go ahead, this could very well be a very exciting year for me and this music thing that I do.”

2012 Orla was pretty spot on.

Three years and many, many videos later Orla is now in Austin, Texas where she has just wrapped up a four show stint at South by South West (SXSW), an annual interactive, film and music festival. A few days earlier, Orla had reached the halfway mark of her first North American tour.

When I mentioned those old covers to her during our phone conversation, she laughed and audibly cringed.

“Oh god!” Orla said, taking it in stride. “I definitely still consider myself a work in progress, but I think people really like that.”

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Orla recently with Tom Higgenson of The Plain White T’s.

That progress started around age 7 when Orla began playing violin (“I hated it at the time but perhaps it gave me a fairly decent ear for music,” she said.) and at 12, she picked up the guitar. Much to the confusion of her classmates, Orla began uploading videos on YouTube when she was 15-years-old, inspired by musicians from the UK do the same.

“In Ireland, we are a little bit behind the times on Internet things so it was a very, very weird thing to do then. People in school were asking me what the hell I was doing,” Orla said. “Now I think the concept of the ‘bedroom acoustic cover’ is fairly common, and if anything a way more saturated group of videos on YouTube.”

It might have been unconventional at the time but it’s with those videos (like this Spice Girls cover – are you KIDDING me with that talent!?) that Orla grew her following to over 94,000 YouTube subscribers.

With the hope that some of those subscribers would come out and show their support, she planned a North American tour. These photos (from Orla’s Instagram) should serve as proof of how eager and excited those fans were to see her perform live in person, instead of through their computer screens in front of ‘the yellow wall.’

Orla told me that there are a surprising amount of older couples who come to her shows, excited that they get to see her play after essentially watching her grow up through her videos.

“People will come up to me after shows who I will have spoken to online for like three years and I will know them and know their faces, and it’s just amazing,” Orla said. “As not just a musician but as a listener of quite a lot of different things, I’ve always appreciated being a part of different stages of people’s journey.”

But even after successful turn outs at the first set of shows, Orla still wasn’t so sure that people were going to come out to her SXSW gigs.

She called her early afternoon gig at B.D. Riley’s Pub on the last Friday of the festival the highlight of her week (besides seeing Marina and the Diamonds perform, of course).

“I thought we were probably going to get about three people and I was gonna have to pay my mum to come from Ireland and fill the place,” Orla joked. “But it was quite surprisingly packed out at like half eleven in the morning in the middle of the main street in downtown Austin.”

It was at this show, and the others at SXSW, where she was able to show off her new song “Modern World” (and yeah, okay, some of those quirky facial expressions too).

With the help of keyboardist and guitarist mate Jake, Orla wrote the song a few months ago about her recent move to London, and said it came about very naturally. Despite having a few connections in London already, she was curious to see how long it would take before she felt like a “part of the city.”

“It’s quite tricky to meet people in a big city which is so silly because there are millions of people,” Orla said. “How do you meet people in a friendship sense, and any other sense, when you’re surrounded by people but no one is necessarily connecting?”

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She’s not headed back to that city just yet, though. Right after our interview, Orla hopped on a flight to California to play the last few shows of her tour. She might have finished up her stateside performances but Orla is kickin’ it in Cali for a few weeks to write and collaborate with other artists.

“Whilst on the continent I wanna make the most of everything,” Orla said. “I’m just letting really good songwriters take me under their wing. I openly have no idea what I’m doing any of the time so I find it very useful.”

Without a flight booked back to the British Isles just yet, a few weeks time is about as extensive as Orla’s planning gets. She’s very much a “roll with the punches” kind of gal, so when it comes to a 15-year plan, you won’t find that scribbled in her notebook.

“I’ve become increasingly aware that that’s almost impossible to have when you do something like music, but not necessarily in a bad way,” Orla said. “It’s something that you have to see as more exciting than daunting. This year basically epitomizes that because I’m just seeing what happens.”

All photos via Orla’s Instagram.

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