By Shannon Carlin
The Orwells may or may not be David Letterman’s favorite band.
The five-piece Chicago garage band, whose members are still too young to legally drink, made their television debut on Letterman’s Late Show back in January, performing their song “Who Needs You” off their 2013 EP of the same name.
Wearing mismatched sneakers and a Derrick Rose Bulls jersey, frontman Mario Cuomo writhed around the floor and popped a squat in Letterman’s guest chair. When it was all said and done, Letterman wanted more. But what the host got instead was five very confused Chicagoans watching Paul Shaffer do his best impression of Cuomo. Floor writhing and all.
Six months later, the band returned to perform “The Righteous One” off their recently released debut, Disgraceland. This time around they were ready to play that requested encore. “I thought they would want one. So yeah, we were prepared,” Cuomo told Radio.com over the phone at a stop in Nashville.
When Radio.com caught up with Cuomo, he was nursing a pretty bad cough, which he blamed on the fact that he had played 13 shows in 12 days. His band is in high demand thanks to word-of-mouth praise over their raucous live shows, which tend to feature stacks of guitars, stage diving and a whole lot of hair. “My hair is half of my performance,” Cuomo said in reference to his long blonde locks.
According to the frontman, The Orwells are the male version of teen dreams, The Runaways, noting that if you put wigs on him and his bandmates, no one would even know the difference. “I’m like the f—ing blonde, Cherie Currie,” he said of the all-girl rock band’s frontwoman. “I’m trying to like shake my a– for the people.”
That being said, Cuomo has put a ban on dropping trou onstage, something he used to do, but now says it makes him feel a bit dirty. “Even as a dude, I don’t know I felt like I was kind of being used after awhile. It was taking away from what I was doing, people weren’t taking me seriously anymore. So I tried not to do it, but occasionally people will start grabbing at my junk,” he said. “Which is flattering and everything, but you know, after the show would be better.”
Cuomo is all about adding a bit of danger to the current state of rock and roll, whether he’s getting a little lewd in the mic, spitting on the crowd or getting physical with Scottish hooligans who keep jumping on stage to give him the finger. In that particular case, he ended up throwing one of the guys into the drum set causing the show to end a bit early. “I can take beer bottles being thrown at me,” he explained. “But other things, I have to draw a line.”
Cuomo is looking to create the kind of concert-going experience, he says, “where at the end, you’re like, I might s–t my pants, but now I just want more.” This is different than hardcore or punk shows where people are just beating each other up. “There’s a certain amount of danger you have to find,” Cuomo explained. “I think the Black Lips do it right. Odd Future does it right.”
As The Orwells start playing to bigger crowds—not that long ago, they were often stuck playing for seven people—Cuomo says the stakes have gotten higher. So high in fact that he has an artist in mind that he’d like to surpass. “I want to pass f—ing Timberlake and s–t,” he explained. “Yeah, f–k it, we’ll do it.”
Like Justin Timberlake, Cuomo has a certain frontman swagger that he says was born out of his love for six distinctly different performers. He was nice enough to share that list with us, check it out below.
1. Julian Casablancas
“I am a huge f—ing Strokes fan. Julian was like God to me when I was in 8th grade. But I can’t just stand there. He’s that cool, boy. I’m not that cool, so I tried to figure out what to do. I don’t know how he can do that, but it’s perfect.”
2. Cole Alexander & Jared Swilley of The Black Lips
“The Black Lips came to Chicago to play the Logan Square Auditorium and I didn’t know that much about them, I was still pretty young and trying to find out what good music was and Matt [O’Keefe, The Orwells guitarist] was like, ‘Get ready for this s–t.’ Like we got there and I was like, ‘What the f–k?’ Right off the bat, craziest f—ing experience of my life. I was just like getting moved by this f–ing sea of people. They were f—ing spitting into the air and they were f—ing like throwing their beers into the crowd and streaming toilet paper and stuff. I was just like, ‘What the f–k is going on? This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’ That was another band that made me realize there’s no limits once you have people coming to you. You don’t have to play it cool, you can f—ing say what you want and do what you want. That’s all that matters.”
3. Pelle Almqvist of The Hives
“I saw their live videos. He was just going bat s–t crazy, I thought, ‘That looks a lot more fun, than f—ing standing around.'”
4. Tyler, the Creator
“For like two or three years I would only listen to Goblin and Bastard, I was impressed at the time that he was talking about skipping class and going to record. And he was at an age where he did it and his mom was not having it. And my mom wasn’t having it. It like spoke to me even more than any other music I was listening to. I think if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have had the balls to drop out or even be in a band. I feel like [Odd Future] did a lot for me and when I saw them live, it was like, ‘Wow, they’re really f—ing doing this, they’re so f—ing wild.’ They would be on the news and s–t for the crazy s–t that happens at their shows. I just wanted to be like them so much.”
5. Iggy Pop
“He’s the pioneer for people who want to like be that wild on stage. Or that charismatic. I think he started it. So, props. Props to that dude. He’s kind of like paving the way for the way we want to be onstage.”
6. Jay Reatard
“I never did see him live, but like I just f—ing love his music and I’ve seen live footage and the documentary [Better Than Something] they made about him. You could see how much he put into it, like he would be playing shows with f—ing 15 people and he’d be doing the craziest s–t. There’s footage where he’s like in a small living room and he takes a f—ing beer bottle and breaks it over his f—ing head and blood is just pouring down his head and his eyes. And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever f—ing seen.’
Catch The Orwells live when they kick off their North American headlining tour in September.