Heartworms on Her Debut EP, Her Love of World War II Aircraft, and Working with Dan Carey | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, May 23rd, 2024  

Heartworms on Her Debut EP, Her Love of World War II Aircraft, and Working with Dan Carey

Drawn to the Darkside

Mar 24, 2023 Web Exclusive Photography by Camille Alexander Bookmark and Share


Sometimes a song can literally stop you in your tracks. Heartworms’ recent single “Retributions of an Awful Life,” which arrived alongside a dramatic, cinematic black and white video, is one such track. Intense, compelling, moody, and magnificent, Heartworms is the project of UK musician Jojo Orme, who started creating the music she was destined to make when she began to embrace her dark side. It’s certainly paid dividends as her debut EP, A Comforting Notion—which is released today via acclaimed producer Dan Carey’s (Fontaines D.C., Wet Leg, the Kills, Bat For Lashes) label Speedy Wunderground—is a hugely compelling mixture of dystopian industrial goth pop and visceral post-punk poetry. It’s an EP that perfectly highlights her towering talent.

Orme’s mixed ethnic background meant she found growing up in a small conservative town, which hadn’t quite embraced the benefits of diversity and multiculturalism, difficult and restrictive. “When you are different you tend to stand out in that sort of environment,” she reasons. She found solace in music and began studying production and performance at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College. However, when she began creating her own music the reductive boys-only music club mentality reared its head. “I had male friends who were musicians but they weren’t particularly encouraging when I’d show them my own music,” Orme remembers. “They made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.”

Although Orme might have been overlooked by her male peers when they formed bands, she wasn’t about to give up and instead resolved to work harder. “My tutors were really encouraging, which then gave me the confidence to go on and ignore that negativity and to prove to everybody just what I could do.”

She began experimenting with different styles without anything really sticking and took lyrical inspiration from poets such as John Keats, Ezra Pound, and John Cooper Clarke. “I’d written poems in the past as it was a different way of communicating,” she explains. “And musically, growing up you do go through different musical phases. So I went through a pop-punk phase, then screamo and a jazz phase. In fact, there may be videos somewhere of me busking First Aid Kit songs. But I tended to really immerse myself in each genre, which turned out to be quite handy, as later in life I could speak about them with a degree of authority.”

A big change came when Orme began university and became fascinated by the burgeoning and vibrant South London post-punk scene. “I immediately thought, ‘This is me!’ I always knew I had a dark side, but perhaps when I was younger I didn’t have the confidence to embrace it,” she says. “I was inspired whilst listening to a lot of ’80s gothic punk. I decided I didn’t want to carry on with the sort of pretty shoegaze I’d been writing. The transition probably began about the same time as the pandemic was starting when I wrote ‘What Can I Do,’ which was really the entry point to this darker direction. At a time when people were turning to music for comfort I kind of started to write music that was the opposite of that. ”

During the lockdown, she began spending more time online and started following producer and Speedy Wunderground boss Dan Carey on Instagram. “It was just luck,” Orme enthuses. “Dan happened to be online at the same time and started liking my posts, apparently he’s a huge fan of black and white photos and then he followed me back. And I was like. ‘Oh my God! Dan Carey’s following me!’ A few days later he messaged me saying, ‘You’ve got such a great voice let’s do a song together.’ He then messaged me saying he had some demos, and there was a typo which I hadn’t noticed in the initial excitement, asking if I’d like to ‘ding’ on them [instead of sing] so now we have this inside joke now about ‘dinging.’”

This result was that Heartworms appeared on Speedy Wunderground’s Quarantine Series (No. 2 “Take One For The Family”) with Orme now very much on their radar. Yet she still didn’t quite have the confidence to send Carey her demos. “I was going to release these songs myself but it was my partner at the time Charlie, who was also my drummer, who said, ‘You really have to send these tracks to Dan.’ So we worked on them again and I did finally send them. Dan answered via email with ‘FUCK!!’ and then Pierre [Hall] label manager/A&R at Speedy Wunderground Records responded with ‘FUCK!!’ They invited me to play at the Social in London, watched the set and we took it from there. Dan and I have a really pure friendship in the sense that it happened by luck rather than introductions or knowing the right people and that’s quite a beautiful thing.”

Carey’s reputation as a producer is second to none having worked with some of the biggest artists in the business as well as helping nurture new underground talent. Unlike some “name” producers, he’s never felt a need to put a sonic “signature stamp” on the projects he works on. Orme explains why Carey is so respected and such fun to collaborate with. “Dan’s stamp is basically respecting the artist’s vision and working around that. I’d write my demos, I like to do everything myself in terms of the structure and melodies, get them as perfect as possible and then bring them into Dan. He’d listen and advise, for example, the synth sound I used is plug-in on the demos so he’d suggest maybe we can use the Moog? Which sounds so cool. We might add extra guitar lines with the band coming in and playing live, which Dan loves to do. It’s just great working with him.”

For someone whose music is so intense, visceral, and dark, Orme radiates warmth, empathy, and a great sense of humour as well as a fierce passion for her craft. She’s also hugely interested in military history, which extends to wearing uniforms on stage from her own collection. She adores Spitfires, the British World War II fighter aircraft, so much so that Heartworms have been given wings—quite literally. She’s recently collaborated with Airfix, the iconic UK model kit manufacturer, to produce the first-ever music-artist-inspired starter kit in the form of a Heartworms limited edition Spitfire!

“I love aircraft and Airfix,” beams Orme. “Initially it was just an intrusive thought—imagine a Heartworms Airfix kit. Then the label said, ‘Actually that would be a great idea let’s contact Airfix and ask them about it.’ I wasn’t actually sure how people would react as it’s quite an unusual thing to do—but it sold out in an hour! And now I’m like, ‘Wow I’ve got my own little Spitfire!’”

Her enthusiasm is the real deal, she even volunteers at the RAF Museum in London, which displays various Royal Air Force planes, among other items. When I mention my own late father’s love of the Spitfire and the fact it was one of the few things he recognized and took pleasure from in the latter stages of his dementia, Orme is almost moved to tears. “I just so totally understand that! The Spitfire is such a beautiful majestic thing.”

She isn’t quite sure why her interest was so piqued, but she explains: “I wasn’t personally doing very well at one point and I started watching a lot of World War II documentaries which fascinated me. I read a book called The Codebook by Simon Singh, which was all about the enigma code and code-breaking. It was so interesting, I even invented my own little Cipher alphabet. Then I watched a documentary about the Spitfire and I was sobbing—I became incredibly obsessed, and it helped me enjoy something separate from everything else that was going on. I was a bit scared to talk about it all initially because I thought people would ask ‘why?’ But as it genuinely helped me so much I’m more than happy to talk about it now.”

In many ways, the video for “Retributions of an Awful Life” is a perfect distillation of all of Ormes’ passions, the cinematic and dramatic, the military regalia, and the swelling musical gothic undercurrents. The only thing missing is a Spitfire. “I’d love to have a video done with a Spitfire,” she laughs, “but for the ‘Retributions’ video I wanted to put myself in a situation I wasn’t comfortable with, something I would never normally do. So it was a case of getting my bandmates and friends to put our military gear on and run through water and mud all day! I was cold and wet and there’s a bit in the video where you see a close up of my feet trying to get a grip and scrambling in the mud, I actually fell over at that point and cut my hands, and thought, ‘This will be great for the video!’ It turned out so well, it was exactly as I’d imagined in my head. It’s like watching my own mini-war movie.”

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