I first encountered The Orwells last year, not in their native state of Illinois, but on the rooftop of a CMJ show in New York. Los Angeles rockers Francisco the Man had just finished downstairs and everyone had retreated skyward for a view of the city and lungfulls of tobacco smoke. The five piece garage rock band stood in a tight cluster a bit away from the crowd, nursing beers. No one in the band is 21. At 19, lead singer Mario Cuomo is the oldest among them; the youngest are the 17 year old Brinner brothers.
But they've already encountered their fair share of success. Their first album Remember When was put out by Aquarium Drunkard's Justin Gage's Autumn Tone imprint, and re-released on cassette on Burger. At CMJ they also played a slew of other gigs, including Vice Magazine's showcase. They still had not finished high school.
The Orwells, especially Cuomo, didn't seem to take high school all that seriously. If he writes songs about being suspended, it's because he was: constantly. “I already knew I wasn't feeling the whole college thing,” says Cuomo, who looks not entirely unlike Jeff Spicoli. “I would see it as an opportunity to just not be at school.” There was a time during his senior year where almost every week the school's administration would, well, administer Cuomo “in-school” suspensions, which amounted to sitting in a white-walled room without sleep or entertainment. His solution? Just take off.
Perhaps the culmination of Cuomo's Spicoli-hood was during homecoming week. The the DJ performing at the school dance was brought in to spin some tunes during lunch. Cuomo didn't appreciate Pitbull punctuating his meal. “So I picked up a full ass water bottle and chucked it at him,” he says. “It got all over his turntables.” Another suspension coming right up!
What's so funny about these anecdotes is that they're being told from a place of retrospect, when most of the group's members haven't even finished school. It's like a turbo-charged version of nostalgia, juxtaposed against the background of an equally turbo-charged trajectory.
Yet The Orwells aren't a look at us we're the youngest kids in the room trope. That would get annoying quite fast. Instead, they have a sort of youthful doggedness about them– guitarist Matt O'Keefe, perhaps the most outspoken member of the band, remembers how when they were starting out in Chicago they often had to play dinnertime sets at venues because they were underage. But they pressed forward, finding clubs that would put them on.
They've been writing a new record, which is still untitled, but will be released sometime in 2013. “We want none of the songs to sound like they could have been from Remember When,” says O'Keefe. “But we also don't want it to sound like anything but an Orwells record.” The irony of a band writing a follow-up album called Remember When before some of them are old enough to vote is the most delightful kind of paradox. Somebody buy these guys a beer.
The Orwells play the Echo tonight