The Orwells on Family Matters and Brits

talks to the American rockers after they open for Weezer at the O2 Academy Leeds

With their boisterous antics and fast time signatures, The Orwells certainly warmed up the crowd of nearly 2500 at Leeds’ O2 Academy. While Weezer unmistakably played in the background, The Orwells took a well-earned rest in a small room backstage where I met up with lead singer, Mario Cuomo and Bassist, Grant Brinner. What struck me as I entered the room was Mario Cuomo’s vivid red boots. In more ways than one, Cuomo’s boots sum up the band’s personality – alternative, energetic and loud. I was eager to find out more about this band, who reflect iconic early alternative rock bands, such as The Pixies and Black Lips.

Image credit: bSides

From their appearance on Jools Holland and The Late Show with David Letterman, the band had certainly grown more comfortable with large crowds and each other. I was keen to understand the difference between these two crowds. With Leeds kicking off the UK tour for Weezer and The Orwells, I wanted their opinion on whether there is a difference between a crowd from their home country, the US, and one from Europe. As Cuomo looked inquisitive, Grant Brinner, jokingly proclaimed: “18 year olds getting drunk!” However, Cuomo declared that their usual crowds, that specifically come to see them, are “usually the same kind of people until you start speaking to them; then they’re different. They have a different accent.” He later went on to tell me that the band had been to the UK a lot “but a Weezer crowd is different. It’s like we haven’t been here at all. But opening for someone much bigger than you it doesn’t really matter. It’s not disappointing. It’s exciting to not open for nobody.” I gauged from this that Cuomo believed the performance didn’t go as expected for The Orwells. When questioned on this he responded: “No it was good tonight… can’t expect more than fine, probably more than most haven’t heard of us, but if there’s no boos then that’s good”. I would have believed that his modesty may be getting in the way, however, this is surprising for someone so outgoing on stage. Then I questioned whether he was a perfectionist. With a tight, well-rehearsed set, I settled on the latter.
Following this, I found out that Cuomo finds it more nerve-wracking to play to a smaller group of “fifteen” than a huge crowd. Cuomo also added that it was “fine” if the crowd didn’t like their performance because they are there to see their favourite band, Weezer. However, it was not hard to find the show exhilarating when he intensely screamed and snarled his way through the set. Their performance was a throwback to early alternative/indie rock and made you think of doing nothing other than throwing yourself about in a manner you would expect of the genre, such as Cuomo does on stage. Mario Cuomo certainly captivates the crowd; his unique dance style and controversial moves make him a centrepiece for the band’s image. As seen on many of their previous live performances such as The Late Show, Cuomo pulls off stunts that not many bands could. The Orwells certainly bring early 1990s alt/rock back to 2017. Most of the crowd was receptive to this, making The Orwells not only the perfect warm up band, but one that is worth experiencing exclusively.

I delved into the band a little deeper to understand their background some more. Like bands of the time, such as Milk Teeth, Neon Waltz or The Hunna, one question is constant – ‘what is the origin of the band name?’ However, Cuomo explained that there is no extravagant backstory. In fact, it merely arose at random when the “bassist took the name off a book that he never read. 1984, probably.” He added that he would not read it if it is “sadder than the Brave New World book” by Aldous Huxley.

The band told me how growing up in their hometown of Elmhurst, Illinois shaped their future. In their town they said that people “either like sports or music” and so the life-long friends took the latter route and started making music at the adolescent age of 14 and 15. The band however, took the elements of sports and brought that into music. They would meet on certain days each week to practice, just as a sports team would. This way they could write songs and get the best sound.

Interestingly, this band of five has two sets of family dynamics — Mario Cuomo and guitarist Dominic Corso being cousins, and Grand Brinner and drummer Henry Brinner being brothers. The odd one out is guitarist Matt O’Keefe, who I later found out was a lifelong family friend. It is not a surprise to see that the band members are close; however, it is interesting to note if the family involvement changes the dynamics of the band, in ways that it affected Oasis. Grant Brinner reassured me that “love each other”, although Cuomo believed that the family participation “doesn’t make better music. That’s the Partridge Family or the Brady Bunch. [The music would be] just as good if we were strangers” and he would still like Dom “if he wasn’t his cousin.”

Despite an obvious exhaustion from such an exhilarating performance, the guys were very hospitable, and were willing to joke around with each other to make answers more interesting. Not only did they portray a fun and vibrant atmosphere onstage, but carried that with them during the interview.

The Orwells new album Terrible Human Beings is out now following their 2014 release of Disgraceland. This is their third album and encompasses a new style of music. They told me that their focus was on removing things rather than adding, in a “more is less way”. One key difference is that the album focuses less on their upbringing and more on themes that they have experienced through their lives. The band recorded in Electrical Audio and even did the vocals for one song in a bathroom, so it is clear that the band are pushing themselves to find new and original sounds. The band are certain that finding new sounds and recording music is their life’s goal, and from the energy that they show on stage, it is unquestionable.

The band will be touring with The Pixies in December.

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