The Orwells Talk Going From "Horny, Alcohol Kids" To A Wiser, Tighter Band

When Chicago band The Orwells burst on the scene four years ago, young and with raucous hits on their hand, they were declared by many to be the saviours of rock ‘n’ roll. That’s not an easy task. In fact, it may be an impossible task but the band didn’t let it get to them. Instead, they stuck to their own guns and have approached their third album Terrible Human Beings with no intention of saving rock ‘n’ roll but every intention of making the tightest record yet.

They succeeded and are now heading half-way across the world to Australia while they’re, “putting on the best show we ever had,” as frontman Mario Cuomo told us on the phone from Chicago. As a band they’ve changed a lot since their debut record Remember When. For one, they’re not, “just horny, alcohol kids.” They’re now the most lyrically personal and collaborative they’ve ever been and it’s contributing to a live show that’s better than ever before.

Over the weekend, the band completed their first run of shows in Australia and they’ll continue the tour this week including a slot at Wollongong festival Yours & Owls Festival. Ahead of the tour, we spoke to Cuomo about what to expect on their first ever tour and what’s changed since the inception of the band.

Have you ever been to Australia?

No. never. I really didn’t think I’d ever see Australia. Maybe I started thinking about it through music it could be a possibility but I never pictured myself ever going to Australia so it’s cool.

You’ve obviously toured internationally a lot so many audiences have seen you on every album tour but for Australia this is the first time. Does that change the set list at all?

I think we’d like to stay as current as possible. Usually when we’re on the record cycle and we’re touring, we want to mainly play new stuff but give them the best of the old as well, not completely detach ourselves from any old material.

You guys were thrust into the spotlight pretty young. It must be interesting to pull out songs you wrote when you were young and try and make them relevant to you now?

We don’t pull anything from too early in our career. There are definitely moments when somebody wants to hear a Mallrats or something… a teeny bopper song. Now, you do feel like an arse even singing about drinking or chicks. You have to remember that people love your songs and they want to hear them but sometimes you don’t want to sing old lyrics you don’t think are as good anymore.

It must be cool though to see the fans that have grown with you?

Yeah, it’s never ceases to amaze me that you can end up in another part of the world and some kid knows all the lyrics you wrote down. Like Germany for the first time recently and Wales for the first time...all these places we’ve never been. It’s like damn, kids still know all these words. You’ve gotta remind yourself people all over are listening to you throughout their daily activity.

There was a lot of hype early on and this conversation that you guys were gonna save rock ‘n’ roll. Do you feel more comfortable know you’ve established yourselves and that hype has died down to an extent?

Yeah we definitely weren’t trying too...I don’t know who can save rock ‘n’ roll. Probably someone with in-ear monitors. But we don’t make big arena anthems. We wanted to make a solid rock record that sounds good to us and throughout the process we thought it was the best thing we’ve made and nobody could tell us any different. It didn’t have a massive song but we were just trying to make a record. If there were single, there were singles but we weren’t trying to make an arena anthem.

Do you think previously you responded to the hype in a way that made you reach for arena anthems?

I don’t know. It’s hard to respond to thing from people who don’t make music or records. You almost can’t take them seriously. I talk to someone in another band who is making songs or a producer but I’ll have a conversation with anybody else and I can’t just not assume there’s gonna be some bullshit in there because to some extent they don’t know what they’re saying ‘cos they’ve never made a record. You can’t even speak the same language.

Which is a credit to you guys because so often you can head in a direction like that that buys you temporary success but blows you up eventually. This third record shows that’s definitely not happening. What comes up on this record lyrically that you wouldn’t have when you first started?

Maybe talking about ourselves. There is definitely a bit of looking at our surrounding and self-actualisation. There’s a bunch of stuff. There’s a little bit of current events. There’s a little bit of fiction. There’s a little bit of everything, it’s not just horny, alcohol kids. My band also challenged me with certain lines, there was much more of a...me and my guitarist working together not only for melodies but lyrics too. It wasn’t whatever I say goes.

Does that take maturity to be more collaborative?

Yeah. It took us time to work out a good system. On our first record we were either striking gold or it wasn’t happening. Once we started focussing on the basics is when we started being able to make more solid tunes more often. It was us getting together, me and my two guitarists, and going through the skeleton of the song. When we had a nice demo on a phone or something then we’d bring it to the band and flesh it out. It took a long time to figure out that starting from a stripped down melody is the way to go.

Are you guys tighter now because of it?

Yeah. Also a little wiser. We’re more self-aware this time around and the live shows we’ve played recently are by far the best we’ve done. We’re not trying to see how much we can drink before we play. That shit just takes time. You’ve gotta smash five microphones to figure out maybe you don’t have to break any shit and it’s still going to be good.

Do you feel like you have to get the reckless touring out of your system before you figure out that it’s not sustainable?

Yeah. You just hit fucking bumps in the road and one real intense night you feel like you can barely do it the next night. After a while you get a few bumps in the road and you start feeling bad like, I messed up and I want to do two months on the road without a problem so you learn how to do it better. You don’t want to aggravate anyone you have to spend every day with. It takes a bunch of shit. It took us a lot of nights to figure out how to do it but right now we’re putting on the best show we ever had.

The Orwells 2017 Australian Tour Dates

Thursday 28 Sept – TBA, Melbourne VIC

Friday 29 Sept – TBA, Sydney NSW

Saturday 30 Sept – Sweaty Palms, Central Coast NSW

Sunday 1 Oct – Yours & Owls Festival, Wollongong NSW

Wednesday 4 Oct – Sosueme. @ Beach Road Hotel, Bondi NSW

More details here.

- Words by Sam Murphy.

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