Standing on 4th Street in Austin, Texas, interviewing the members of The Orwells earlier this year, two men in their 40s interrupt our conversation. The men recognize the band as an act they’ve already seen at the SXSW Music Conference and they’re wondering if the band are playing again during the week. The band members inform their fans of a show the next night, where they’ll be taking the stage at midnight. The Orwells themselves are about half the age of these enthusiastic fans.
The Chicago five-piece, which includes two cousins and a pair of twins, have been at it since high school (which was only a few years ago for them). They say that most of their fans are either a lot older or a lot younger.
“It’s basically like 12-year-olds and 30-year-olds,” says singer Mario Cuomo.
The essence of The Orwells can be found in this sort of duality. They attract little kids and they attract older dudes. A line on the opening song of their latest album, “Disgraceland,” puts it succinctly: “I’m not that old, but I’m getting pretty wise.” The young kids seek the band’s wisdom and the older fans find something in the band’s boundless youthful energy. At the time of the interview, none of the band members are of legal drinking age, yet they all appear hung over. They play punk rock, but unlike punk rockers of previous generations, they have absolutely no gripes with jocks or sports. Cuomo often wears the jerseys of professional teams onstage, and they all ran cross-country together in high school.
“My senior year I did a 6:45-mile,” says drummer Henry Brimmer. It sounds a little bit like he’s bragging. “I bet you I’d do like a 7:30- or an 8-minute mile, but I’d probably die after.”
“I’d probably be throwing up cigarettes,” offers guitarist Matt O’Keefe, between drags of one of the cigarettes he’d probably be throwing up.
“The best workout is probably sex,” offers Cuomo. He says this with a goofy grin, but he seems sincere. Is he being serious?
“There’s some van-rocking here and there,” he says.
The turn that this conversation takes leads to pickup lines and the assistance of technology to hook up. Do they use Tinder?
“Hell, no,” says Cuomo, almost disdainfully. “Our manager uses Tinder. I don’t think it’s working out too well for him. My Tinder is me just walking around after shows, ‘Did you see me up there? Cuz I saw you down there!’”
The band seem to also get a pretty good workout onstage. At the next night’s show, Cuomo takes the stage wearing a jersey with the number 23 on it. Later, he climbs the scaffolding and dangles upside down, uses his mic stand to smash one of the stage lights and fires an empty beer can into the audience, which happens to hit the head of an observer towards the back of the crowd who may or may not be this reporter. Said victim may have had his nose buried in his phone, tweeting about some of the above action onstage.
“Offstage, he’s a little more chill,” says O’Keefe of Cuomo.
“He’s not quite as Satanic,” offers guitarist Dominic Corso.
‘Some good TV’
Though “Disgraceland” came out in June, back in January The Orwells played “Who Needs You” — one of the album’s standout tracks — on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Cuomo writhed on the floor and even found his way to Letterman's guest chair during the performance. The host was so moved that he called for an encore, but the band froze.
Paul Shaffer and his band picked up the slack, with Shaffer even writhing around on the floor in homage to Cuomo.
What was going through Cuomo’s mind?
“Not a lot,” he says, “just, ‘What the f— is going on?’ It was just total confusion. But nonetheless it was some good TV.”
When the band were invited back to the show in June, they played "The Righteous One," but this time they were prepared for the possibility of an encore and they played “Who Needs You,” with Cuomo and Shaffer trading vocals.