Cover Feature The Orwells: “Arctic Monkeys are like the hip Backstreet Boys”

The Orwells: “Arctic Monkeys are like the hip Backstreet Boys”

Chicago noisemakers The Orwells have a lot on their minds…

Scattered awkwardly around a backstreet studio in Dalston, The Orwells seem a little out of sorts. A red-faced Mario Cuomo is sat silently in the corner – his hood up and gaze steely – whilst the others stand uncomfortably by. A night of hard partying is apparently to blame, something that makes more sense when you remember they’re technically not old enough to drink back home in the USA. “We’re not really young anymore - 20’s not young, is it?” Henry Brinner pipes up, blearily, “…We’ve been in a band for, like, four years - so it doesn’t really feel like we’re young.” Dom Corso shoots him a baffled look, “20 is pretty young, man… You were like 15 when we started.”

When you consider their relatively diminutive age, The Orwells’ last few months read as pretty impressive: there’s the performance on David Letterman that received pleas for an encore, the comfy slot supporting Arctic Monkeys on their mammoth US tour. All of this, and they’ve barely got two albums under their belt. “We don’t just take it for granted,” Grant Brinner quickly asserts, “When something huge happens to us we’re happy - but it’s not as huge as you think it’s going to be. It’s also a lot of work to do.”

Originally from Elmhurst, a small western suburb of Chicago, they all met at high school – but claim that starting a band was more a way of combatting boredom than an instinctive passion. “None of us really played a lot of sports, some of us skateboarded but…” Henry mumbles, “…You kind of have to create your own fun.” Matt O’Keefe, the guitarist, continues - “We never really over thought it, because as soon as you start thinking about other shit then you have to kind of balance it… But for us, we didn’t have shit to worry about. We could end up just writing about what we wanted to, without having to worry about rent or food or groceries or shit like that.”

“As long as you’re just thinking about the music, you’ll never put out a shitty record.”

Matt O’Keefe

What started as a boredom-busting hobby then eventually became more consuming. The boys started to get serious, and so began the quest for a title. To counteract the wave of weird names sprouting up in and around the Chicago area (they mention ‘Pisces At The Animal Fair’ and ‘Star-Spangled KGB’ to name but a few), they decided to opt for The Orwells. However, they stress that this is nothing to do with the late English author. “We just picked it because we needed a name… Some of us have read some of [George Orwell’s] books - he’s like a really good author - but we just needed a name.” Henry says, “We really could’ve picked anything.” Dom clarifies, “We basically wanted it to begin with ‘The’, and then a plural.”

This matter-of-fact approach seems to be a pretty standard Orwells’ trait. On the subject of songs, Mario pipes up for the first (and only) time in the interview, declaring abruptly that he “just shit[s] them out.” For a sound that feels so steeped in angst and frustration, it’s interesting that they all agree on the songwriting remaining pretty instinctual. Matt explains, “We could say something about ’this is how songwriting should be done, but then you just end up contradicting yourself. There is no formula really when it comes to writing songs.” Dom agrees, “we can never really say when we can write music - it’s very sporadic.”

Understandably, the term ‘rock’n’roll’ has been used repeatedly in the music press when it comes to describing The Orwells - but this doesn’t come to them as much of a compliment. “People are probably just getting bored of [rock] because it’s been happening for so long.” Grant ponders, “…I don’t think rock music is a good genre to put things under.” Matt nods, “Rock’n’roll is like John F Kennedy - it’s like a huge part of the country but it’s not there anymore,” he says, before being sensitively cut off by Dom - “Yeah. It’s brains exploded in Texas… It’s a ghost of itself.” They seem equally jaded by the older music idols they looked up to whilst growing up, collectively agreeing that they all appear to be victims of their own success. When asked if they could think of anyone they still look up to, there’s a bit of a pause. Matt mumbles something about Jack White, but then dismisses it – “Nah. He got hit by the blunderbuss bullet.”

They have a similar attitude towards their former tour mates, Arctic Monkeys, who are currently celebrating great success stateside. Although they insist they were grateful for the opportunity, something still niggles. “It was cool seeing, like, their production,” Dom remembers, “they bring a semi-truck with all their stuff, and two buses… but all we really learned was – this is it. This is as far as you go. They’re huge…” Matt cuts in – “They try and mash together genres. [They’re] kind of like the hip Backstreet Boys or something… the set list was always the same. If you saw the show once, you saw every show that they played. I mean, we learned lessons from good things that they did, but then also – let’s not fucking do that.”

With their hotly anticipated album ‘Disgraceland’ released in June, as well as a big bout of touring planned, The Orwells’ hype only seems to be building. After being so vocal about their worries of success killing creativity and spontaneity, it’s interesting to hear how they feel about their future before the interview ends. “I just want everyone to hear [the album],” Matt shrugs. “It’s hard for me to know what I really think of the songs anymore, because we’ve had them for so long - you’re playing them every night so you’re just like, fuck this song!” However, when it comes to any worries about The Orwells ’selling out’ as some of their other idols have, they all seem confident it won’t happen. Matt continues, “There are bands who did it really well. If you look at, like, The Velvet Underground… they never really made a shitty album. Then also you see someone cool like Modern Lovers who just put out one badass album and then call it quits. I think as long as you’re just thinking about the music then you’ll never put out a shitty record.”

Taken from the new DIY Weekly, available to download for iPhone, iPad and Android or read online nowThe Orwells’ new album ‘Disgraceland’ is out now via Atlantic Records / Canvasback.