The Orwells:
Escalating Quickly

PHOTOS: ORIANA BELAVIC | Mario Cuomo, singer from The Orwells, stands stage left, blankly staring. Is he pissed? Is he thinking? Is he just fucked up? It’s unclear.

He takes a step forward, and the magic happens. The crowd, both men and women, reach forward to touch him. To stroke his chest and long, curly hair; running their fingers over anything they can grab. Cuomo seems detached, in the most engaging way possible. His mental distance from everything casts a cloud. What the fuck is this?

Just then is the breakthrough. He soaks it in for a minute, takes a step backs and slyly smiles. That’s it. Just the softening of his eyes and a shit-eating grin shows that he knows he has everyone eating this up.

The Orwells are the wet dream for people with preconceived notions of how a band from the midwest’s backstory should read. Teenage kids in the suburbs get together and start fucking around with music while in high school. They make some stuff they think is cool, record it, submit it to an indie label with a blog, and get signed. Real storybook stuff.

From there things got big. Especially in the past year, The Orwells have become a band on the rise in the indie/punk scene and have been growing by ways of their appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and Later… With Jools Holland, and a spot opening for the Arctic Monkeys.

Cuomo sees the growth, but the outlook for both himself and the band really hasn’t changed. Actually, he seems decidedly blasé about affairs right now, but that’s not to say he isn’t incredibly self-aware and has an eye on where the band could end up.

“I feel the same way about it now as I felt going into it. In a weird way I definitely thought I was going to change. The only change that’s really happened is it’s a lot harder to get excited. It’s just the fact that when something cool happens for you, then a couple more things happen, you just want more and more. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But somebody in a band who hasn’t got signed or is still trying to get signed, they’re still trying to figure it out. But then they hear about what we’re doing and they’re like ‘oh my god, they’re really killing it’. But when you’re actually doing it, it doesn’t feel like you’re actually killing anything,” Cuomo said.

“I think about what’s dominating music and then you think about what you’re doing and it’s just a small piece of it. I don’t know, it just kind of fucks with me sometimes. Before we went on tour with them (the Arctic Monkeys), they were probably one of the biggest rock bands in the world and you just want to get to that level. They also came from a suburb type area and when they played Jools Holland the first time, Alex Turner was the same age as when I played the show the first time. They’ve been doing it a long time and I just don’t know how I’ll feel when I get there, or if I’ll get there, or how old I’ll be when I get there. Who knows what we’ll turn out to be like.”

It’s hard to ignore their ambition when the band performs; they clearly put every ounce of effort into playing live. It’s deep under a layer of ‘I don’t give a fuck,” but it’s there. When Cuomo sings, he physically gives himself to the performance. He explores every inch of the stage (including wandering backstage for a bit while continuing to sing), throwing the microphone at every chance he gets, falling on the floor, and getting right down in front of the crowd, practically begging for physical contact. He clearly gets off on being a performer.

“I actually hate recording because it’s very confined. It’s a lot of alone time, then a lot of ‘do it’ time. I like the do it time, but it’s a lot of waiting. It’s great listening to the final product and saying ‘yeah great that’s what we made,’ but a live show is like instant gratification. There’s no fucking around.”

The Orwells aren’t a case of “Mario Cuomo and all those other guys.” The other members of the band are driving forces. From the ravaging squeal of guitarists Dominic Corso and Matt O’Keefe, the bouncy accessible punk bass lines from bassist Grant Brinner, to drummer Henry Brinner pummeling the rhythm—they are loud and punk as fuck live.

On their record, Disgraceland, The Orwells sound like a straight ahead garage rock revival of the previous garage rock revival in the early-to-mid 2000s. Think The Strokes, The Vines, and the Arctic Monkeys’ first record.

But live, it’s a completely different feel and vibe. There’s a whole bunch of Nirvana and Iggy and the Stooges mixed in. They carry themselves with an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude and their performance is raw and combustible. Bratty, yet menacing. Disengaged, yet aggressive.

“(Coming into a live show) fucking be open-minded and do what you like. I don’t fucking care. A show is an environment like any other environment. You’re having a good time and somebody fucks with you and punches you in the face that’s just fucking life,” said Como. “It’s a show. Have as much fun as you can and smile about it because you’re not at fucking school, or at work, or at your grandparents’ house trying to bullshit about anything. Have fucking fun with it.”

In the current state of music, where sub genres of rock are alive and well but very niche, where does a band like this go? Even through music blog culture with a thriving indie rock movement, bands like The Orwells have a culturally-imposed ceiling. Don’t tell that to Cuomo, he looks back in history with an eye toward the band’s future.

“I want to shut down the fucking VMAs (MTV’s Video Music Awards),” said Cuomo. “I don’t really care about this ‘stay indie’ culture. I don’t care about that. I want to be as big for as many people as possible. Who wouldn’t? I don’t give a fuck about demographics. I don’t care what the fuck our fans look like or how old they are. It’s hard to hear about this garbage music that dominates the world and you can’t help but feel like it’s the enemy and it fuels you. It makes me sad but there’s a bunch of little kids that watch the VMAs and that’s all they have. And it’s such shit. It sucks because you saw Nirvana just fucking do it and destroy it, and it makes me sad because now no one wants to just kill shit like them anymore.”

So, what’s it like to see The Orwells?

As the Cleveland show winds down, three songs into the encore the band breaks into a cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and things get nuts. Cuomo is throwing random food from backstage into the audience and the audience is throwing it back at him. And this isn’t playful throwing. Tension is bubbling over and Cuomo and the crowd are feeding off antagonizing the other.

The band aggressively presses further, while Cuomo increasingly becomes interested in fucking with the crowd. Other band members have taken over signing duties and it’s fucking on. Halfway through the song, Cuomo hangs from the ceiling and climbs out over the crowd, dropping down in the middle of the pit. Chaos ensues and it becomes a blur of bodies, fists, and insanity. The venue’s employees swoop in and usher Cuomo backstage while the band finishes the song.

The venue sums it up nicely when they tweet as the lights go up:

That’s what it’s like to see The Orwells. It’s always escalating quickly.

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