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HeartwormsPhotography Gilbert Trejo

You need to hear Heartworms, the fearless new voice of British post-punk

Ahead of the release of their debut EP, the musician talks poetry, Spitfires, and her obsession with Matty Healy

For those already familiar with Heartworms and their gothic post-punk sound, it may be hard to believe that they owe as much to Plain White T’s as they do The Cure. “I was grounded for a year because I had a boyfriend,” Jojo Orme, the musician behind Heartworms, remembers with a laugh. “I had nothing to do but teach myself the guitar, so I ended up learning “Hey There Delilah” – and from that moment, I knew in my soul that’s what I wanted to do.”

Despite having such a controlled musical and aesthetic style, there’s a vulnerability that runs through the core of Heartworms. Within minutes of our interview starting, Orme is happy to run through her childhood with me. Born in London but raised in Cheltenham – a town she remembers fondly “if not because of the people then because of the scenery” – a strained relationship with her mother saw her leave home when she was still a teenager. In the ensuing years, Orme would crash on friends’ sofas, at the YMCA, and for a brief period went into foster care. In doing so, she says, she found the space to develop her craft. Now settled in south London, the move to the capital has been a rewarding one  – not least because it’s allowed her to indulge her passion for military history by picking up a volunteer gig at the Royal Air Force Museum. 

With her first two singles, “Consistent Dedication” and “Retributions Of An Awful Life”, Heartworms announced herself as an exciting new voice in the British post-punk scene, and her debut EP A Comforting Notion was released last week through Speedy Wunderground. It’s an exciting time for Orme, and one that thankfully she can now share with her mother. “My mum and I are very similar and I think she ended up respecting me more when I wasn’t living with her,” she explains. “She is so happy to see me doing what I’m doing. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Ahead of the release of their debut EP, Heartworms speaks to Dazed about using music as therapy, the appeal of military tailoring, and her weird obsession with Hasbulla.

In the music video for “Retributions Of An Awful Life”, you’re dragging yourself through mud and ice-cold water. What’s drawn you to put both yourself and your audience through the wringer with your music?

Heartworms: It’s a kind of therapy for me. I wanted to put myself through that because I was afraid of it. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it and I thought it would be cathartic. In that track, there’s a lot going on. The lyrics are very vulnerable. There’s one lyric in particular – “When you’re young decisions aren’t that fun / I hear you running from fear you worry about” – I love that because it’s so vulnerable. We’re all scared of something, we’re all scared something is coming up behind us all the time, and I wanted to not have that anymore. I want the listener to be able to feel that in my music. It’s an important song to me because of that. The whole EP is very important to me because there’s no filter.

Your musical influences are very eclectic. You reference Interpol, Kraftwerk, and PJ Harvey as touchstones, but what else do you draw on?

Heartworms: My mum had very good taste in music – she was obsessed with Prince – and she helped me to discover bands like Fleetwood Mac and Santana. She would not know who PJ Harvey is. 

As a teenager, I was desperate to discover new music, and it may sound silly but it was often just a case of going on YouTube and searching for “cool indie bands”. That’s how I discovered The Shins and they were so important to me. James Mercer opened up another world of lyrics for me. It made me a better lyricist, because it made me realise you can write lyrics that are dark but beautiful and also very witty.

How important is style to you as a performer?

Heartworms: I was aware of it before I even thought about creating Heartworms. I knew that having a style people wouldn’t forget was so important because I looked up to artists like Prince who did exactly that. Looking at them, I saw how powerful they must have felt and I wanted other people to feel inspired like that when they saw me. I like to make people feel the joy I feel.

And currently, that style is military uniforms. Why have you chosen that for your look and what are you trying to say with it?

Heartworms: I built the aesthetic quite early and I wanted it to be dark but controlled. I’ve always been into aircraft and military history so that inspired me. I love how the tailoring can make someone look so strong. When I look at myself in the mirror I love the feeling I get. I think that excites people. When you see me on stage in it, it makes you uncomfortable but you can’t take your eyes off it. Bands like The Clash were a huge influence on me, the way they took these outfits but made them totally their own.

You’re a big admirer of poetry, what impact has that had on your lyrics?

Heartworms: I came to poetry quite late, but I love Pound, Keats, and Dylan Thomas. It introduced me to this whole new way of putting your emotion and experiences into words. It can be so dark and so beautiful. I don’t know as much about poetry as some might but I do know that when I read it I feel things I need to express myself, too.

What poem should people go away and read right now?

Heartworms: “The Funeral” by Peter Redgrove.

I built the aesthetic quite early and I wanted it to be dark but controlled. I’ve always been into aircraft and military history so that inspired me. I love how the tailoring can make someone look so strong‘ – Heartworms

When did you first become aware of the power of good music? 

Heartworms: It was my mum playing me “I’m Alive” by Celine Dion when we took trips anywhere. I would constantly put it on repeat while I pretended I didn’t like it as much as I did. But clearly, I fucking loved it and that’s when I discovered emotion.

Would you record the soundtrack for Rishi Sunak’s next campaign for £10,000? 

Heartworms: Yes. I’d record it all with a glockenspiel.

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given? 

Heartworms: Listen to your parents.

What’s your weirdest internet obsession?

Heartworms: Matty Healy and Hasbulla. They’re both sex symbols.

What conspiracy theory are you quite into actually? 

Heartworms: Avril Lavigne’s death and her cloning.

Any recurring dreams?

Heartworms: I die a lot in my dreams. Listening to this should give you an idea.

Let your predictive text finish this sentence: “I am a musician because...”

Heartworms: I am a musician because I love to sing but people don’t know that I am actually singing.

What was the last meme you saved? 

What do you put on your rider? 

Heartworms: A Spitfire Mk Vc.

What’s your star sign and are you a typical one of that star sign?

Heartworms: Aries and from what I’ve heard, maybe. Honestly, astrology makes my head hurt.

A Comforting Notion is available now