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Escape Velocity

Up In Arms: An Interview With Heartworms
Zara Hedderman , October 3rd, 2022 09:30

Following the release of her Speedy Wunderground debut ‘Consistent Dedication’, Heartworms’ Jojo Orme speaks to Zara Hedderman about the influence of everything from Scissor Sisters to Spitfires

Photos by Camille Alexander

Jojo Orme is extremely cheerful. A pleasure to be in the company of – albeit via Zoom – her sweet demeanour is not at all what you’d expect from the gothic post-rock music she makes under the Heartworms moniker, or the monochromatic aesthetic of her Instagram; which features posts about poetry and pictures with John Cooper Clarke and Pete Doherty.

“Pete’s lovely! I was in his van with my friends driving to EartH in Hackney and he was telling us about all the old spots he used to go to around London. It was really interesting, especially hearing it come from his mouth,” Orme recalls of her interaction with Doherty, whom she met when her friend, writer and DJ Dave Haslam interviewed him in June. Given the year she’s had with Heartworms, notably signing to Speedy Wunderground, – co-founded by producer extraordinaire Dan Carey, whose recent credits include Wet Leg, Goat Girl, Squid, and Black Midi – that whirlwind afternoon in Doherty’s van was surely a breeze.

The last two years have been particularly formative for Heartworms. Since the release of their unofficial single ‘What Can I Do’ in 2020, they’ve steadily carved their place within the London scene having joined Sports Team on their annual musical bus trip to Margate this summer. The lo-fi video for ‘What Can I Do’, featuring Orme performing in a bedroom and dancing around a bathroom, acquainted audiences with the DIY sensibilities at the heart of the project: “The vocals for that song were recorded in a wardrobe in my ex-boyfriend’s house!” It proved to be a crucial moment in the crystallisation of Heartworms’ sound as we now know it.

Up to that point, Orme had explored various styles before eventually letting go of the need to please other people when it comes to her music. “I was grounded for a year when I was 14. I had no computer during that time, so I taught myself how to play guitar. And I wrote my first song when I was 16, it was very Jeff Buckley-like,” she says, amused by the memory. “My early solo stuff was nothing like it is now. I’ve been through lots of phases and names.”

Now, Orme proudly describes her music as “dystopian”, and doesn’t like it when songs are “too obvious”. “I like to use the word ‘man’ in my lyrics, I don’t know why, exactly. I just like how it sounds. Same with ‘eyes’, people always comment on the way I say that word.” It’s no surprise then, that the chilling refrain Orme clings to throughout ‘Consistent Dedication’, Heartworms’ official debut single, goes: “Ugly is the man / he’ll chew his eyes / tumble from the high / full of surprise.”

Coupled with the sinister lyricism and Orme’s impassioned vocals, is an aesthetic that emphasises the ominous feeling conjured in the music; Second World War ephemera. From press shots to footage from Heartworms' live sets and the music video for ‘Consistent Dedication’, Orme is never without her military uniform. Dressed in apparel steeped in an extremely dark history, she has a haunting, almost spectral, persona when in full Heartworms mode. Her stare remains fixed, passing through you with great potency. It’s simultaneously unsettling and effectively draws you in, much like her music.

2022 has been an amazing year for Heartworms. You signed to Speedy Wunderground, gave your inaugural Great Escape performance and released your official debut single, ‘Consistent Dedication’. How are you feeling?

Jojo Orme, Heartworms: I can’t even begin to put it into words, really. I’ve been manifesting all this in my head for so long. Speedy Wunderground was always my first choice of label to be with and I’d wanted to work with Dan Carey for a long time. I had all these things on my list of goals and I can’t believe they’ve actually happened! It’s overwhelming but I’m so happy and excited.

What’s left on that list?

JO: Playing shows in America, I’ve never been there before.

You’ve mentioned Interpol and PJ Harvey as some of your favourite artists. Listening to ‘Consistent Dedication’, however, I immediately heard echoes of The Cure.

JO: I like loads of different styles of music. When I sit down to write a song, I haven’t just listened to something and gone, ‘right, I’m going to do this’. I’d say it’s more that I’ve been listening to a lot of music and then be like, ‘ok, I’m feeling creative now. I want to write something’.

Everything I’ve listened to and loved over the years, is all just in my brain. That’s how I’ll have a particular sound or riff that’s similar to say Interpol or The Cure. Pornography by The Cure is one of my favourite albums of all time; it’s completely ingrained in my brain. Naturally then, something like that comes through in my music.

With ‘Consistent Dedication’, I was actually inspired by a funk guitar tone throughout ‘The Skins’ from the Scissor Sisters’ first album. When I heard that I was like, ‘I need to write a song with a funk guitar line’! That was one of the main influences for that song.

Poetry is hugely important to your artistic practice. What is it about them, in particular, that you admire and how, if at all, do you feel their respective styles inspire your writing?

JO: Sometimes, I’ll read a poem and have absolutely no idea what’s going on in it. But, I’ll love the feeling it evokes in me. I love to look up new words I find in poems, as well. John Keats’ poetry is very visual and there's also something so fairytale-like about it which I find freeing. I love that about his work. I like to have strong visual qualities in my lyrics as a result. I’m not fully aware of his history and background, I guess Ezra Pound is a controversial poet, but I love the way he sounds. Every time I read The Cantos, the famous poem he wrote that has like five different languages in it, I go onto YouTube and listen to him recite it. There’s something so eerie about him and his voice. He also uses very strange words and wording structures. And, I just love everything Dylan Thomas has written, some of his work makes me cry.

We think of artists like Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith equally as poets and songwriters. When you sit down to write a poem is it always with the intention of turning it into a song or simply as a form of creative expression?

JO: It depends. The lyrics for ‘Take One For The Family’, the song I did with Dan Carey for Speedy Wunderground’s Quarantine Series, were taken from an old poem I wrote because I panicked about writing something new. I found that poem and from there I started with the idea of writing something else.

That’s how it happens, sometimes. I’ll write a poem, take a line from it, throw it into a song and add extra parts to it. There are times when I write poetry before the song and other times when it happens after. It always just depends on how I feel. Sometimes, I don’t even write. I’ll sing words over an instrumental and think, ‘that sounds right for this song’, and then make a lyric out of it.

Dan Carey co-produced ‘Consistent Dedication’ with you, how was it working with him?

JO: The way I make my music is that I’ll have the demos to a point where it sounds like you don’t need to add anything else. Basically, I do as much as I can at that initial point. When it came to recording, Dan replaced a few things like putting a melody through a different synthesiser or suggesting little changes in the song.

It was really nice, we were very much equals in the studio. I used to not like collaborating with anyone which is why I like to write and demo music myself. Dan understands exactly what I want and I trust him with everything. We’d had time to become friends before we went to the studio together which was great. So, when I got to the studio, I was like, ‘oh, here we are, let’s start’!

Your performance at the end of the song is so intense and big. That must have taken a toll on your vocal chords!

JO: It was actually so fun. I practised it a lot beforehand and structured the vocal during live shows. When it came to recording it, I got it done in two takes because the emotion was there already and I knew how I wanted it to sound from doing it on stage. I feel like that’s a very rare thing, though. When it comes to writing an album, you have to know what you’re doing on the day. You can’t always work things out in a live setting over time.

Military history is an integral component to the Heartworms aesthetic and your personal interests. You’ve been volunteering at the RAF Museum in London. When did your fascination for this strand of history begin and how’s it been going at the museum?

JO: I’m not there as much because of my music and everything that’s happening with it. The first thing I did with them was for The Queen’s Jubilee, which was quite fun! I worked in the kid’s tent and had my full military gear on. Being in the RAF Museum is perfect for me; to be surrounded by all the history.

My interest in military history began when I read The Code Book by Simon Singh and learned about the history of code breaking, like Alan Turing and the Enigma. From there I watched loads of documentaries and came across one called Spitfire [directed by David Fairhead and Anthony Palmer] which made me sob so much. I immediately fell in love with the Spitfire itself, that’s when aviation came into it and I learned all about all the World War II aircrafts. I went to Fairford with my mum for the Air Tattoo, or air show, and it was amazing.

I also collect loads of military clothes, proper 1940s pieces. I just get really excited about that stuff. I guess we all have something we love, don’t we? People do say that my aircraft obsession is particularly niche, though. There’s not too many people that share it. But yeah, I love it so much.

Have you been inspired to write about specific events or figures you’ve learned about from that period?

JO: Yeah, a few lyrics have popped in here and there. I try to not have songs about one thing. I get inspired to bring one thing in as like a metaphor and build around it. There have been songs about a Spitfire, about me talking to it like it’s my best friend.

What can we expect from Heartworms for the rest of the year? An EP, perhaps?

JO: I have no idea what’s going on for the rest of the year, to be honest. I’m writing loads, though. I’m writing lots of poetry and trying to draw more Spitfires, watch more documentaries and collect more uniforms. That’s my plan for the rest of the year!

Heartworms' new single 'Consistent Dedication' is out now on Speedy Wunderground