(Photo by Kelly Puleio)
Chicago-based rock ‘n’ rollers The Orwells are touring the U.S. this November to promote their new album, Terrible Human Beings, due out on February 17. Olivia Gehrke spoke to singer Mario Cuomo about the new album and being back on tour. The Orwells will be playing the Middle East Upstairs on November 5.
Olivia Gehrke: You guys are set to release your new album, Terrible Human Beings, pretty soon. What can we expect from this album and how has the sound changed or stayed the same since your previous albums?
Mario Cuomo: I just think it’s better personally. Less dumb shit, different subject matter. Like there’s a little bit of everything—fictional stories and current events. A bunch of stuff that is more of a challenge to make songs about, but it turns out better.
OG: You said there’s been some new subject matter and is that because you feel like you guys have grown up and left high school and Elmhurst? Like do you think that has had an effect on the change?
MC: Yeah. We’re super over that beer-soaked cigarette bullshit. Starting music at a young age, it’s hard to not be thrown into this little, rebel fucking alcohol bullshit about sneaking beers or whatever. It’s good to get away from that because I didn’t like that people were pigeon-holing us, like “You’re teens, you’re teen music,” like angst and stuff. It was good to go forward and really step away from that. And being not so much a “kids growing up” thing anymore and to fucking just totally take a step forward.
OG: Yesterday you just released a song off your new album and a video for “They Put a Body in the Bayou.” Was the video inspired by the upcoming presidential election or was that more on a whim?
MC: No, we had all these people wanting to make the video. It was ridiculous all the treatment we got from directors who were talking about doing just fucking cigarettes and beer with zombies and shit. Like all the ideas that we were getting just sucked tons of dick. So finally somebody came to us with an idea that was unlike the other ones. Writing the song, I would have never guessed that that’s what the video would look like, but I like when videos are like that. I think it turned out great. And that was just kind of the last choice we had that most of us liked or that we all could agree on, so we went with that direction.
OG: Yeah that’s a great video! So you’re about to hit the road next week. Are you excited? What are the pros and cons of being back on tour in your opinion?
MC: All pros. I don’t see anything bad about it. It’s just a long time that I feel like now I can do. I can do that now no problem. I don’t see any downside to it.
OG: Back to song content—as you guys have gotten more and more successful, there seems to have been an emergence of songs on your albums like “Bathroom Tile Blues” and more recently “Buddy” that almost seem to offer a jaded view of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Is that something you guys feel is true? Is that an attitude you guys have?
MC: Yeah, there’s like this goofy rock ‘n’ roll stigma and I don’t know what to blame it on. Like the ‘80’s? Maybe that’s just how it was or something like that. Nowadays, the whole rock ‘n’ roll thing and great bands that are out there killing it, it’s not very flashy. People are saying like “I want you to come back and hang out with you guys backstage,” and it’s like most nights you’re probably just going to find some bored-ass looking kids drinking and waiting to do their job. It gets exciting, but most of it is sitting around at a venue for six hours waiting to feel excited. There are very high highs to it, but there’s also a job side where it’s like what I do for a living. It’s time to work. Sometimes you feel like your band has some menial working lives. Like you still like to have fun and stuff, but sometimes you just want your space to do your thing.
OG: As another side of your job, you guys have been churning some solid, pure rock ‘n’ roll music and kids are kind of looking to you as rock saviors of the generation. Is that a role or responsibility you feel you guys have taken on at all?
MC: There are some great bands that are like huge rock ‘n’ roll artists that are putting out albums today, but a lot of the great rock artists right now I feel aren’t—it’s like a big risk going down a major label type route, but that’s a way you’re going to reach a lot of people and a lot of kids. Other labels wouldn’t have the radio power to have a bunch of different types of people hearing your music. I just want a lot more people to take that gamble and try to be the biggest band in America, like take a huge risk. There’s going to be a lot of cons with it, but I feel like we took that risk and the last record did fine. But we had these crazy expectations for our first time working with a bigger type of power I guess. You don’t know what to expect, but this time around I think our expectations are lower. It’s different going into it and how we made it and what we thought was going to happen. It’s pretty unreasonable to think about overnight success. Like the bands that are on top of rock music right now, they’re all like five or six albums in—it’s a real career thing, rock music. I mean it could happen, but it’s way less likely that one song is going to make your career. We’re all accepting that and more in it for the long run now.
OG: Speaking of other rock bands, you’re touring with the Symposium, another Chicago band. Chicago seems to be producing a lot of great bands recently—there’s you guys, the Symposium, Jimmy Whispers, Twin Peaks, The Walters, NE-HI, and so on. Why do you think the Chicago scene is so strong right now?
MC: I don’t know. I guess that’s just something to do. I lived here for three years now and other than that, I don’t really know if there’s much other shit to do than make music or play shows. It’s probably just because a lot of younger people that are talented only have one thing to do. They can’t help but get good at it and put out good music because they don’t many options.
OG: Fairly recently you guys have posted some old material on Facebook and reflected back and even critiqued it a bit. Is that because you feel like you can no longer relate to the songs you’ve written before, or that you wish you had done something different with them?
MC: I think that was what we could do at the time. Now that we want to get away from that type of thing—like cute, young kids—ever since we started it was like “These young kids, they’re underage and trying to get out of their parents’ house and leave the suburbs.” It was romantic at the time, but now you look back at it and you’re like “Wow, how do you even make a record about that?” Now it’s so uninteresting to me. Just living in the city for three years and having that last time somebody wrote something or reviewed us about the suburbs and stuff—it’s really nice to finally get your music out and it isn’t about that shit. There’s one song, like “Buddy,” that’s a touring song about touring hook ups and stuff. Even if that stuff continues—I don’t know what kind of life I want to lead on this tour and upcoming tours—you get sick of that kind of thing. I’m very done with making music about that and talking about that. “Buddy” is kind of like the only cheap fucking boozy hook up song. It’s one little quick one and fun, but the rest of the album is not like that at all.
OG: On that note, is there a particular song off the new album that you’re eager for people to hear that hasn’t been released yet?
MC: Personally, I think the song “Last Call.” I don’t think anybody we worked with or the rest of my band was that crazy about it, but I thought that it was the most mature sounding, talented thing that we’ve ever made. It’s like one of my favorites. I’d probably say that one. For some reason it sounds so well put together. Like the verse and stuff doesn’t even rhyme but it ended up sounding good. It’s a weird, not very predictable type of song for us, and it just sounds well put together and well made. I’m really proud of that one.
OG: I look forward to hearing that one then!
MC: And the end of the last song on the record—I was blown away by the band’s playing and how much their musicianship has grown. We’ve been closing with that song and the second half I leave the stage because I don’t sing anymore. Just watching them play from a crowd or backstage point of view is still super exciting. I’m like “Wow.” I’m really proud of them on that song.
OG: That’s really sick! For a final question, if you could have your music soundtrack any movie, what movie would it be?
MC: I don’t know if it’s good enough to score any film. Probably just a softcore HBO porn or something. I just think it’d be funny to watch. It would look funny. I don’t think we’re good enough yet. There was that one shitty movie we were in, but I never saw it. I don’t like that one girl, that actress. But I guess we were in one movie.
THE ORWELLS 2016 TOUR DATES
Tue. Nov. 1 – Washington, DC @ DC9
Wed. Nov. 2 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
Fri. Nov. 4 – Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts – Black Box
Sat. Nov. 5 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Upstairs
Tue. Nov. 15 – Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
Wed. Nov. 16 – Portland, OR @ Star Theater
Fri. Nov. 18 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
Sat. Nov. 19 – Santa Barbara, CA @ Velvet Jones
Sun. Nov. 20 – Los Angeles, CA @ Resident
Mon. Nov. 21 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Smell
Tue. Nov. 29 – Leeds, UK @ The Wardrobe
Wed. Nov. 30 – London, UK @ The Dome