Heartworms: defiant, goth-inspired post-punk that draws strength from the doubters

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’ll see opening the bill for your favourite act. Having overcome racism and sexism in the music industry, Jojo Orme now stands tall and ready to take on the world

Jojo Orme is not about to let anybody get in her way. The singer-songwriter, who has recently signed to cult indie label Speedy Wunderground [The Lounge Society, Honeyglaze], has had to overcome doubters and negative forces throughout her life – yet they have only made her stronger.

Whether it was having to deal with bigoted views about her mixed ethnic background in her hometown of Cheltenham as a teenager, or being confronted by sexist attitudes when studying Production and Performance at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, Orme, who records under the name Heartworms, uses these forces as fuel for her career.

“That was a very male-concentrated course,” says Orme of her time at college, speaking over Zoom. “And me being me, I didn’t let it get to me, but none of [my classmates] would let me be in their band, and they would say that I wouldn’t last long on the course. At the end of the two years, I won the college’s Student of the Year award, and I look at it sometimes and cherish it.”

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That defiant attitude is writ large across Orme’s strident new single, ‘Consistent Dedication’. From her icily fervent vocals – which flit between a breathy intensity to explosive bursts of screaming – to the ’80s-style, goth-inflected guitar licks of the chorus, a brilliantly chilly space inhabits the track. As her first fully-formed single release, it makes for a powerful and sophisticated opening statement.

“I want people to be like, ‘Wow, OK, what more is there?’,” she says of the song. “There’s something [magical] about it – it’s very short and sweet. Well actually, I wouldn’t say sweet – the song goes fucking hard.”

Orme had initially leaned towards other songs to be her first release on her new label, but after hearing the completed version of ‘Consistent Dedication’ with Speedy Wunderground owner Dan Carey’s production, her mind was made up. A veritable godfather figure in the UK and Ireland’s post-punk and guitar music scenes (Wet Leg, Fontaines D.C. and Squid are among those to have benefited from his influence and work), Carey was Orme’s dream collaborator long before their paths ever crossed.

“Before I met [Carey], I idolised him,” she says, explaining how the pair met via Instagram in 2020. “And then he came into my life and he sees me the same as I see him. It’s very beautiful. I appreciate his friendship, I’m so honoured. We get on really well; he’s a very special person.”

Carey aside, the abiding characteristic of Orme is her artistic independence. Having lived on her own since she was 16, including a spell in a YMCA, she taught herself to play guitar and write songs off her own back. It was when she finally seized an opportunity to move to Streatham in south London, however, that life immediately began to make more sense to her.

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“Coming from small, conservative towns, it’s hard to have your own space and be yourself. I didn’t really find myself for a very, very long time,” she explains. “It’s just nice to be able to be me and to be free in London, because no-one gives a shit about what you do. They’ll forget about you, and if they don’t, they’ll respect you because you’re you.”

Credit: Camille Alexander

Just as Orme has followed her own instincts professionally, she has been largely the master of her own musical taste, too. Inheriting an admiration for Prince and Michael Jackson from her mother, it wasn’t until her teenage years that her own preferences began to reveal themselves: PJ Harvey, Interpol, Kraftwerk, and The Clash are all favourites, but there is a special place in her heart for seminal indie group The Shins.

“The Shins were the first band I found that got me into playing guitar,” she says. “My music and lyrics are inspired by how [lead vocalist] James Mercer sings. His lyrics really hit home, but they’re also very strange, and I like that. I find new meanings behind them all the time – they’re like puzzle pieces.”

Orme’s admiration for The Shins extends far enough that she named her project Heartworms after the band’s 2017 album of the same name, a title that Orme enjoys simultaneously for its humour and its darkness. The Heartworms image is entirely her own, however, and her sense of control and self-determination shines through in every photographer of Orme. Her personal fascination with military history plays into that discipline – Orme has just taken a volunteering role at The Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon – but it is the same resolve that stirred her into acing her college course.

Orme views Heartworms’ live shows as a chance to kick back against “preconceived notions of smallness and fragility as a female musician”, and nobody that comes into her orbit could doubt her dedication to the cause. “In the music industry, being a female, it’s always going to be a problem,” she says. “It’s hard for certain males to compliment your work. It’s like, ‘Ignore my gender, listen to the work.’”

Boosted by the confidence of such a towering first release and with the promise of major  surprises and new music to come in the near future, it seems inevitable that Orme’s doubters will soon be confined to her past.

Heartworms’ new single ‘Consistent Dedication’ is out now

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