The Orwells: Chicago Garage-Punk Hooligans Defy Their Ageist Doubters

"That's about all we are after we play: sweaty-ass kids. "

The Orwells in NYC, October 2013, this is happening
The Orwells in NYC, October 2013 Photo by Daniel Topete for SPIN
Kyle McGovern WRITTEN BY
Kyle McGovern

Who: The Orwells are a crew of underage scamps who keep their strain of boisterous, hook-littered garage-punk in the family. Frontman Mario Cuomo, 20, and guitarist Dominic Corso, 18, are cousins; bassist Grant Brinner and drummer Henry Brinner are 18-year-old twin brothers; and second guitarist Matt O'Keefe, 18, has been friends with everybody else since middle school. Formed in 2009 in a Chicago while the boys were still in high school, the quintet passed out their first two albums — Head and Oh! Well —in the hallways. Eventually, they released the charmingly scuzzy single, "Mallrats (La La La)," and a proper debut, Remember When, in 2012 on the Autumn Tone label, followed by a tour with fellow troublemakers FIDLAR. Earlier this year came the Other Voices EP on National Anthem, the former label of pop princesses Haim. Onstage, when Cuomo isn't screaming "I Wanna Be Your Dog" or spitting drinks at crowds, he's dropping his drawers. "Some exhausted-ass teenagers," he says when asked what audiences should expect at an Orwells gig. "I really don't know what else to promise. That's about all we are after we play: sweaty-ass kids."

Barely Legal: Despite their chaotic live charisma, the Orwells are often condescended to by people who view them simply as fresh-faced nippers. Other times, venue staff can toss out begrudging compliments. "After I got off the stage," O'Keefe says, remembering a recent performance in Detroit, "this bouncer came up to me and said, 'Ya'll ain't bad for a high-school band.' And it's like that: 'You're good for your age, but you're not really good.' And sometimes when you're 18 years old, people don't really even enjoy your music, but they don't want to hurt your feelings. They're like, 'He's only 18. He's good, he's good.' I'd rather just have them be like, 'No, you're horrible.' We get a lot of that fake sympathy due to our age."

Stolen Identity: Don't let the name fool you: "The Orwells" is not a reference to a certain author — it's actually stolen from another group. "We were freshmen, starting the band, and Mario was a sophomore," O'Keefe recalls. "And there was this senior band and they were called 'The Orwells.' They were probably the biggest band in our school. We couldn't think of a name and we were going to play our first show, and we were like, 'Let's just put 'The Orwells' because we'll hang it up around the high school, all these kids will see it, and they'll go, 'Oh fuck, the Orwells are playing this weekend.' So then they came [to the show] and it was actually us. We did that a few more times, and coincidentally, about a week later, the senior band broke up and the name was open. So we were like, 'Eh, fuck it, we'll just keep it.' There was a little bad blood for like a month, and then it just became a laughable thing between us."

So Fresh, So Clean: Having just survived a long tour, the Best New Artist alums are now planning to hole up in a Woodstock, New York studio for the month of November, in an effort to slap together their full-length follow-up to Remember When. Producer Chris Coady (Beach House, TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) will helm the effort, which is slated for release in the spring of 2014 via Canvasback Music. "We're definitely not trying to hide behind any lo-fi shit," Cuomo says of the forthcoming album. "Now that we have the resources and opportunities to make a big-sounding record, we're going to try to do that. It'll probably have a little less dirtiness, but still have the same energy, the same rawness. It's not, like, polished, by any means. It's still got balls."

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