Im not that old but Im getting pretty wise — a sentiment within the early seconds of The Orwells new album, Disgraceland, that pretty much sums up the eleven tracks that follow it. Two years have passed since the band emerged from their boring Chicago suburb as five high schoolers hell-bent on reminding the world that American rock & roll is still alive. A lot has happened since then for The Orwells. Theyve slain and sweated on audiences around the world, recorded with their favourite contemporary producers, shared the stage with childhood heroes, and even had David Letterman begging them for more. And now, as they release their irresistibly raucous yet masterfully architected Disgraceland, The Orwells are getting pretty wise.
The story of Disgraceland– recorded last Autumn at studios in London, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Woodstock, NY — is the story of The Orwells escaping the confines of their hometown and of their own expectations for themselves. Back when they made their 2012 debut album, Remember When, they were recording by themselves in guitarist Matt OKeefes parents basement. OKeefe, bassist Grant Brinner, his brother, drummer Henry Brinner, guitarist Dominic Corso and his cousin, singer Mario Cuomo, had been playing together since their early teens. We were hoping eventually something would happen and it would become serious, says OKeefe. We were like, We love writing songs, so lets just keep doing it. When we were writing those early songs, the goal was just to make all the other bands in our high school jealous. Maybe one day, they thought, theyd get to be as beloved as their heroes The Black Lips. You make good music, say what you wanna say and have a good time — that was what we were shooting for, OKeefe continues. But now that were a little older, the goal is bringing rock & roll back to everybodys car speakers. Sometimes you get afraid to go to the highest point you can, at the price of being called sell-outs or whatever. But we say fuck that, if we can get every single kid playing rock and roll music in their parents car stereos, thats what we wanna do.
Though they eventually teamed with producers Dave Sitek (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Santigold, TV On the Radio), Chris Coady (Smith Westerns, Beach House) and Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys), they started writing the new album before the first one was even released. We were still in high school when we wrote the early songs for this album, says OKeefe. So we expected that we would be handing the first few songs we were making out on a CD to kids in the hallways, just like we had before. But as time went on and we got signed, we figured this might be the last album we write while still living in Elmhurst. We wanted to capture what the last 18-20 years of our lives were like, in this anywhere USA suburb. Songs like Dirty Sheets, Southern Comfort and Let It Burn detail debauched nights, sloppy hook-ups and the kind of trouble you let yourself get into when youre bored, broke and barely legal.
Cuomo says that songs like the Jim Abbiss-produced Dirty Sheets and album-closer North Ave are pretty autobiographical, detailing feelings bundled up from high school shit. Writing about those experiences, he says, is his way of burying them. The rest of The Orwells — all a year younger than the singer — had been playing together for a while when they finally got Cuomo to join them. Mario was always that kid all of us knew about, says Grant. Not just because he was cousins with Dominic, either. Youd always hear stories about something crazy that Mario had done. He was definitely that kid everyone knew about and either hated or loved.
Up until that point, Cuomo had been singing along to CDs in his room, trying to hit notes. He cites frontmen like Glenn Danzig and Odd Futures Tyler, The Creator, as inspiration, as well as Iggy Pops menacing, self-destructive presence. Though The Orwells live show has become the stuff of legend in the past year, Cuomo admits that it took him a minute to unleash his own inner wildman on stage: I was super uncomfortable just standing there and it made me feel unsatisfied with shows, using a mic stand and being boring, he says. Little by little as I started moving around more, it started feeling better. It took maybe 50 shows to really get it down and get super comfortable and know what I was doing.
Doing whatever comes naturally seems to be paying off for The Orwells. Their television appearances on Later With Jools Hollandand The Late Show With David Letterman in the past year gave audiences around the world a taste of what concertgoers have seen during the bands recent tours with Arctic Monkeys and FIDLAR. Footage of the performances instantly made the rounds. I thought we did it right, says Cuomo. I fucked up a bunch, but in retrospect, its how rock music should be played: No matter what venue and where you are and who youre playing for, its not going to be perfect. Even if youre on TV, its ok to fuck it up sometimes.
Watch the video to new album track Let It Burn here:
Tracklisting: Southern Comfort/The Righteous One/Dirty Sheets/Bathroom Tile Blues/Gotta Get Down/Let It Burn/Who Needs You/Norman/Always NForever/Blood Bubbles/North Ave.