At the beginning of this year, brash Chicago garage rockers The Orwells released their third album, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek record titled Terrible Human Beings. The album came off the back of a hallmark few years for the band, who got themselves signed to a major label – Atlantic Records – not long after they left high school. Accompanying the release of their 2013 EP Other Voices and 2014 sophomore album, Disgraceland, were mountains of festival billings, an Apple iPad commercial, the recruitment of producers like Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys) and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, and one, very entertaining, David Letterman performance. That video is below, do yourself a favour and watch.
Yet, despite hitting all the milestones of a band breaking through into the mainstream, The Orwells can’t seem to shake their underdog spirit. Chatting to Music Feeds earlier this year during New York’s Governor’s Ball Festival, the band’s frontman Mario Cuomo and guitarist Matt O’Keefe aired their gripes on everything from “the racket” of US radio to songwriting to festival bills and, in the process, revealed why Australia might just be the right place for The Orwells.
Music Feeds: You’ve just come off the Governor’s Ball stage. Is it harder for a band like The Orwells to play earlier in the day at a festival?
Mario Cuomo: We’ve been doing it for years.
MF: Do you feel you have it down pat then?
Matt O’Keefe: Yeah we know how to play very early in a festival and be hungover. Have the small font…
Mario Cuomo: We’re pretty used to it.
MF: What’s the trick?
Mario Cuomo: [Laughs] The trick is to just accept the fact that you’re never going to play later at a festival. Accept it.
MF: Is it a good feeling after these last few months, having new material to play live? After touring Disgraceland for the best part of two years.
Matt O’Keefe: Oh yeah, it’s more fun for us. Even at this point, we’ve only done three tours on this record and already it’s like, “God damn this song sucks.”
MF: Are you writing on the road?
Matt O’Keefe: No we suck at that. We suck at writing…we suck at really being a band!
MF: So you find writing hard? The writing process…
Matt O’Keefe: No, when we’re actually writing it’s very easy. When we sit down and do it.
Mario Cuomo: But when you’re on tour you don’t want to fucking do that. When you’re at home and bored, you’re like, “Yeah let’s fucking do a song and sit down. Yeah, this is chill.” On tour, you’re like, “Oh I’m hungover in fucking Cleveland, I don’t want to write.” You’re like the most uncreative person ever.
Matt O’Keefe: On the road, I don’t even listen to music really.
Music Feeds: So when you’re off the road and in a writing space, do you surround yourself with music? What do The Orwells listen to?
Matt O’Keefe: Definitely. All different stuff, there’s not one band that we all collectively like.
Mario Cuomo: We don’t agree, musically.
Matt O’Keefe: There’s a benefit to it definitely, songwriting-wise.
Mario Cuomo: It’s fucking good. If we all liked the same shit, it’d be boring.
Matt O’Keefe: Then you’d definitely be copycatting shit. When we all don’t like the same stuff, then you definitely can’t be a copycat. We’re five different people with different taste, you can’t make one song that sounds like five different bands.
Music Feeds: If you had to describe your sound then, what would you call it?
Matt O’Keefe: I’d say garage rock.
Mario Cuomo: I’d say rock and roll music
Music Feeds: There’s an interesting debate in Australia with some rock bands finding it hard to get radio play. Is that something you’ve encountered?
Matt O’Keefe: I don’t know who listens to the radio in the United States. Really I think it’s just mums. I don’t know how it is in Australia but none of my friends, other than Domenic who’s in the band, listen to radio. And he doesn’t listen to modern shit, he listens to like ‘Hotel California’…
Mario Cuomo: He listens to ‘Starway to Heaven’ like five times a day…
Music Feeds: Do you think about that though, do you think about how people listen to and find your music?
Matt O’Keefe: How they get it? No. Because, what are you going to do?
Mario Cuomo: I don’t really give a shit. If you flip on the radio, do you know what kind of dog-shit you hear? I don’t even want to be a part of that. I mean, we have to, and when we get to be [it’s] kinda cool because you’re like, “Maybe we’ll be like the thing that’s better in this field of dog shit that people get to hear every day, for free.” But part of you is like, “Why are we even trying to fuck with these people? That want to put us next to this dog shit?”
Music Feeds: Do you feel like you want to revive some kind of sound?
Mario Cuomo: I listen to the fucking radio and it’s all such fucking, stupid trash and I think my band is way better. I think we’re doing good… and yeah, it’s opinion-based, but I think we’re doing something good that we fucking love and we’re making songs that we love and it takes time and then you’re going to put us next to some shit that sounds like that? It’s fucking sad, it’s fucking money stuff.
Matt O’Keefe: Musically, when people are like “Records don’t sell anymore! People listen to Spotify. Nobody’s buying. You can’t physically hold a record anymore…” That’s all bullshit. Who gives a fuck? I don’t care if they’re streaming or whatever they’re doing. Hearing your song on the radio – even if no one is listening – it’s still a really cool thing. But what they choose to play…it’s a racket.
Mario Cuomo: Why does the BBC play new shit every day and have five stations, and in America you hear ‘Back in Black’ five times a day? American artists that are coming out, they don’t get a fair chance.
Matt O’Keefe: And if you get played on modern radio too in America, I don’t know how it is in Australia, it’s like “Come do this for us and even if we don’t like your song we’ll put you on the station.” It’s really a radio racket and it’s fucking bogus.
Mario Cuomo: It’s safer to play the Red Hot Chili Peppers and ACDC every day. There are enough hillbillies in America to be like “Oh yeah, I know this song. And rock out in their truck.” The Brits are fucking killing it, they’re doing it right.
Music Feeds: Who are some other bands you think are doing cool shit at the moment?
Mario Cuomo: Well we toured with DZ Deathrays in Europe. And Dune Rats had like a number one album right? Which, in America, that’s fucking unheard of.
Matt O’Keefe: [In America] You couldn’t beat the new Pixar soundtrack…
Mario Cuomo: When I heard that I was like…I’d like to move there, to Australia, just to be the shit. ‘Cos if they’re fucking with that, they would fuck with us.
Music Feeds: It’s surprising you haven’t been to Australia yet.
Mario Cuomo: Well we fucking hate flying. That’s the shittiest part.
Matt O’Keefe: We’re trying to get out visas blocked or our passports denied or something!
Mario Cuomo: No, we’re going to get banned from England first…baby steps
Music Feeds: But, it didn’t work. You are coming down!
Matt O’Keefe: We are coming. We’re doing it. We’re doing a bunch of shows, a bunch of flights. [Laughs] We’re Super mad about it. I said, this is either the year I go down in a plane or the year I give up [being afraid of] flying.
Mario Cuomo: We’re going to start liking flying, or dying!
Music Feeds: For the uninitiated Australia fan, what should they expect from an Orwells show? How do they prepare?
Mario Cuomo: You know the guy from The Vines? I want to be like that, but also doing well. I would like to be half of that man, Craig Nicholls. I want to be half. When he was fucking completely insane and crazy and awesome, I want to be half of that. I don’t want to be all the way like that, you want half. Half The Vines.
The Orwells play in Sydney tonight and hit the Yours & Owls festival stage – at 7.30pm, mind you – this weekend.