Here is my article, the un-edited version, in full. I’m posting it here because although it’s a bit clunky, and I do thank the editors at Noisey for cleaning some stuff up, I feel like a lot of stuff removed for the actual piece was important to the overall depiction of these great, self-aware dudes. So if you’d like to get a little more insight to the weird week we had you can read this slightly longer version. I guess Noisey didn’t want to piss off Julian Casablancas, Jack White, or American Royalty. Whatever, man! Up the punx!
Alright, let’s just get this shit out of the way: everything you’ll hear about the Orwells in the next six months is gonna be anchored with some quip about how young they are. Aside from recently-legal Mario, The Orwell’s ebullient singer, everyone is seventeen. But what nobody is talking about is how perfect that is for them and how these young suburban punkers know exactly what the fuck they’re doing.
It’s been a fast ride for The Orwells who hail from a sleepy suburb just outside of Chicago. In the beginning of the year they emailed Aquarium Drunkard a self-shot video for their song “Mallrats” and just three months later were playing the A.D. showcase at SXSW. Three months after that and they’ve been signed to Autumn Tone records and are playing a handful of grimy house parties and Eastside venue staples in Los Angeles.
The first time I see them live is at the Heroes & Heroines record release show at The Echo. They’re red hot and electric even if the crowd is a bit meandering. Mario, a young CBGB’s version of Robert Plant, bends and breaks all over the stage; often dropping his microphone and running into his band mates while shrilling understated suburban anthems. After their set they try to stay in the venue to catch the other bands as long as they can. But The Echo is 21+ and the security manager doesn’t want them hanging around. They go to get some food and we meet up later at the after-party at Squidmountain (Heroes & Heroines’ party house in Los Feliz).
At the party I get to see first-hand how annoying the discussion of their age can be. But it all depends on the angle. You see, The Orwells are proud of their age. They think it’s a great thing to be young, fresh, and hungry. What they don’t like are the endless drunk women pinching their cheeks and treating them like a novelty. “You boys are, lyke, so cuuuuuute” one partygoer slurs while over-pumping the keg. Grant gives a polite glare and Mario starts laughing. I decide to embrace their age just as they do (which by the end of the night results in a punch-for-punch game with Matt and Dominic, the bands’ stellar guitarists, that leaves me a disgusting bruise for two weeks).
This self-awareness for what a special thing they have is clear when we discuss the validity of college. Matt, a brash and powerful speaker, tells me, “our thing with college is that, for us, it’s like, you can go to college any time in your life. You can not be in a punk band any time in your life. We have the opportunity so let’s fucking do this. If it fails? Then we’ll do whatever the hell comes next. You’re not gonna be able to do this again.”
Mario brushes his hair to the side and comments, “a quote that really fucked up my mind is Cole from The Black Lips said if you have a backup plan you’re gonna fall back on it.”
The Orwells don’t need anything to fall back on. If there is one incongruous quality they all share for being seventeen it’s a rabid and vicious ambition. Matt tells me about other kids in their high school and how “everyone has a talent. Some kids are good at football or painting. I think what separates us from those kids that with us we didn’t slow down. We pushed ourselves. Every week we recorded a song; good or bad. We’re just gonna go for it. We didn’t waste our time. And that’s what high school is: a big waste of time.”
One thing The Orwells are definitely not ready to fall back on is the suburbs. It’s what we talk about most when I interview them before their second show at The Echo and it’s a hauntingly apparent theme on their new album. It’s definitely a zone they don’t want to be tied down to. “We know it’s just going to get better. We don’t feel the need to dominate the high school party scene in the fucking suburbs of Chicago” Mario laughs.
And you can tell they’re so over it. Matt tells me that Chicago sucks for garage rock right now and it’s much harder to pull a crowd. In Illinois The Orwells’ fanbase consists mostly of their friends. Which means pretty vacant crowds at any show that isn’t all-ages. But The Orwells are almost used to that. It’s how they’ve grown up in the past three years as a band. Henry, the smirking drummer, says, “it’s usually just us sitting in the garage. People come and go but it’s the five of us.” And in that revolving suburban boredom they’ve had loads of time to focus on music. But what does a Chicago teen get into that makes him want to wail the fuck out of Illinois?
Matt: For me the biggest albums were ‘Is This It?’ and, oh, Jack White. Jack White is the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place. But those guys don’t mean shit to me anymore. Cause they’re old and they don’t have what they had anymore. There’s another reason why we’re trying to capitalize and how we’re young because rock and roll isn’t an old man’s game, it’s a young person’s game. If we start young we have a longer timeline. And we can be in the game longer. Once you hit where Jack White and Julian are now it’s like, you’re making shit like Blunderbuss and Angles? It’s sad. You feel betrayed.
Mario: It is a little embarrassing but the first time I saw a dark front man tear shit up on stage it was Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance. He was cool!
Grant: Mine would definitely be Joy Division. Like, Peter Hook was phenomenal and inspired me to pick up a bass and not a guitar. I don’t think I would have played bass if it weren’t for Peter Hook. But also you look at New Order? That’s 80’s shit.
Mario: New Order is pretty good.
Dominic: Yeah man, they’re not bad.
Grant: I don’t like that shit.
Mario: Well the darkness left when Ian Curtis hung himself.
Dominic: He hung himself?!
Matt: I don’t think the darkness in our music comes from the dark bands we listen to, though. There’s a dark side to being our age. You get like American Pie movies that fucking glamorize it but there’s fist fights, drugs…
Mario: The confusion, not knowing.
Matt: I couldn’t name one movie or song that captures high school the way I see it or live through it and our goal is to show people what we went through. It was not bubblegum or happy. It was a dark, scary- well, it wasn’t scary but it was weird. It’s confusing.
That confusion and dissatisfaction with school is a large part of The Orwell’s work and, unlike other teens, they’re not ready to be content with that. I ask them about one of their rawest cuts from “Remember When”, “Never Ever”, in which Mario exhaustively exhales “we’ve got this fear of aging”. Mario is eager to tell me the story of how that song came to be and its simultaneously typical, unique, and perfect.
“There was a certain day all those lyrics happened. I was accused in the lunch line of telling a lunch lady that I was gonna hit her or something. But she didn’t speak english really well and she must have misheard me. And I was so, like, infuriated of being accused of something so fucked up I just flipped and before I knew it there was like five teachers around me and I was just booking it through the school and ran through the gym and hit this door. Luckily this really cool gym teacher opened the door for me and saw how pissed I was and he let me go. Then on my walk home I stopped in this random field by my house and sat down and fucking busted out the notebook and I was like ‘what do I got right now?’.”
That lyrical honesty is one of the things The Orwell’s pride themselves on and is certainly born out of a more tender and scratched place at seventeen than the standard fare of late-20s garage rock. Grant says that they’d “like to be in the scene of garage rock but not play garage rock that other bands play”. On top of that, Matt feels like most other bands in the scene have a problem: “They’re not really up front. The worst thing to do in music is to hide behind metaphors and keep your voice low. You have to be ballsy and raw. If you’re honest? That’s all anyone wants. In music or art or movies. That’s my struggle with a lot of these newer bands. They’re getting a little too abstract for me to even understand them. It’s hard to relate.”
This is the biggest thing about these guys: they know who they are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. Because they have to. They can’t stop what’s coming out of them. Backstage at The Echo for their second show we have a discussion with the drummer from American Royalty and again the condescension of age rears its ugly head. At one point he actually says that “money is the bottom line” and I can’t believe my ears. He ends his lazy pontification by telling them that they’re young and should ‘just have fun with it’. He gets blank, bored faces all around. As if The Orwells didn’t already fucking know that.
However, for as much as they are wise beyond their years, they still get geeked. They’re still seventeen. Before they play there’s rumor that someone from Pitchfork is in the crowd and you can tell that’s a big deal for them. Tomorrow night we’ll find ourselves at another houseparty where most of the band is nearly losing their shit that Kickball Katy from Vivian Girls/La Sera is in attendance (though, they couldn’t give one single fuck that Moby is in the other room sharing a decanter of wine with a bunch of lit-heads). This magical, young rock-nerdom is gorgeous. As we walk into the venue down a long hallway resembling that of some rock arena, Mario runs his hands along the walls and shouts “hello Cleveland!”. It’s definitely a joke but you can see the earnest want for that moment in him. Most of the crowd in The Echo is there for American Royalty’s brand of plastic foggy rock ephemera but the second The Orwells take the stage you can tell what band everyone is going to remember in the morning. On stage there is no high school, no college question, no ‘what’s the next move’, no age at all. They are everyone they want to be. I lock eyes with Mario and I see Gerard Way and I see his other idol Iggy Pop and I see a frustrated kid sitting in a field in Illinois scribbling exactly what he feels in a composition notebook.