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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Q&A: The Orwells

Chicago garage-punksters The Orwells is an energetic group that has been playing together since the 9th grade. Just barely out of high school, the band has already achieved considerable acclaim thanks to their 2012 debut “Remember When.” The Eagle’s Alejandro Alvarez sat down with The Orwells to uncover talk about their new tour, their hopes for the future and their view on living the life of rockers as teenagers.

Eagle: I was hoping you could provide a little background. How did The Orwells meet up?
Matt O’Keefe: Well, we had two family members. The drummer and the bass player were twin brothers, and the lead singer, and the guitar player Dominic are cousins, so they had known each other for life. Once we got to middle school we started playing around in different groups, trying to get bands started. It wasn’t until freshman year when we kind of put every piece together. And that’s how that happened!

E: I’ve got to ask about the name – where did that come from?
MO: It’s a funny story. When we were starting out, we were freshman, and there was this band in our high school called The Orwells. I think they were juniors or seniors at the time, I can’t remember. That was the band which made people go like, “Oh sh*t, The Orwells are playing this weekend, let’s go.” They were the biggest band in our high school. We couldn’t think of a good name, and we were playing a show, so we were just like “F*ck it, let’s just put The Orwells on the bill, we’ll say we’re The Orwells,” and all these people are going to come thinking it’s them but it’s not going to be them. And a lot of people came, pissed off that it wasn’t the band they thought it would be, and then the first “The Orwells” were pissed off. So as a joke, we played a few more songs under that name to just piss them off or poke fun. Then they broke up, and we were just like “F*ck it, we already played a few shows with this name, let’s just roll with it!”

E: What music were you guys listening to when you got together, and how did they influence you?
MO: When we were freshman in high school, the biggest band for all of us was probably The Stooges. We’d been listening to a lot of them when we were starting out, and that kind of set the bar. We’d watch old YouTube videos of Iggy Pop and listen to his records, and be like “F*ck, dude, you go crazy on stage and just play badass tunes!” That looked like more fun than doing whatever everybody else was doing. I remember watching footage of Iggy Pop bleeding on stage, just like cutting himself open, and I remember taking a pencil and barely cutting my finger just enough so that when I played guitar, I could bleed! That’s how much I was trying to rip that whole style off.

E: What other bands do you see as influencing you?
MO: At the beginning of our career, it was mostly Iggy Pop, The Black Lips. I still love that crazy aspect to their rock n’ roll. My favorite musician of all time is probably Bob Dylan. I also listened to a lot of Link Wray. I don’t like a lot of contemporary shit actually, but it’s funny, whenever I talk to somebody who’s giving me an interview, they’re like “I would not expect you to say Dylan.” That’s who I listen to, but that’s not who I, or any of us, would ever want to be.

E: So now that high school is behind you, how do you think the high school experience affected your style?
MO: You know about those garage bands that have a nostalgic kind of aspect where they sing about being young, innocent and drinking for the first time? We were actually going through that at the time when we were writing these songs. I think that gave a much more little genuine spin to it. Not only that, but being in high school in the first place, it never was kind of a career thing for us. It never was, like, “Oh, this is what we’re gonna do, this is our job, we gotta play shows to make money and pay rent.” We were living with our parents; we didn’t really have to make money because we were going to school. It was kind of something we did on the weekend, and I think that added a loose attitude to making rock n’ roll music. It really helped us make better music.

E: Do you think it was much more easy-going back then compared to now?
MO: Yeah, and now there are a few more pressures. I’m not going to school, and if I do f*ck up, I’m going to be working at a gas station. But it’s nice to not have that backup plan. It’s nice to know that if this fails, you’re kind of screwed, because when you’re in it like that, you’re going to try so much harder to make this thing not fail. And I don’t think we’re doing too bad.

E: You guys are out touring with FIDLAR right now. What’s the experience been like so far? What’s life on the road like for a teenager?
MO: It’s awesome. Especially when you’re touring with a band like FIDLAR which was one of our favorite bands before we even met them or they’d asked us to go on tour with them. So, it’s a sweet experience. You know, there’s a lot of times just hanging out in the van drinking extremely warm beers because you’re trying to hide from the bouncers at the show. It’s funny, because being under 21 when we play a show we can’t be in the bar area hanging out, walking around and talking to everybody. I think because of the fact that we’re under 21, on tour we spend so much more time with each other, because we can’t get away to go drink and talk to the people. If you want to drink before the show and get loose and give the people a good show, then we have to hangout. So there are preshow rituals like us sitting in the van for about 2 hours just drinking and cracking jokes.

E: Tell me a little about what it’s like to see The Orwells live.
MO: Some nights we’re on top of everything – our musicianship is there, our stage presence is there, we’re having a great time. Some nights, we had one-too-many, and we’re stumbling around stage half-covering songs and not even making it through our own songs. But, I think, if you have an attitude of like “Yeah, I just like rock n’ roll music, I like having a good time, I like just seeing what they’re really feeling,” then you’ll have a good time at our show. I mean, you can actually get one of those nights where we’re covering half of “Build Me Up Buttercup” and you’ll still have a fun time!

E: So you’ve released two EP’s so far this year “Who Needs You” and “Other Voices”. You guys have definitely been busy lately and it doesn’t look like you’re gonna stop any time soon. Where do you see The Orwells going from here?
MO: There’ll be a full length coming out next spring for which we have a few songs done and then we’re going to do the rest of it in November up in Woodstock, N.Y. with Chris Coady who’s producing it. And then hopefully a lot more touring. You know, a lot more bullshit. Hopefully by then I’ll have figured out what people are digging about us.

E: Are there any new styles or sounds you’d love to experiment with in the future?
MO: We have about three tracks recorded so far, and they’re not low-fi sounding. It’s not like “Remember When,” we’re trying to make it as hi-fi as we can, because we figured that once we had the resources to make a good-sounding record, why not go for it? A lot of people think that “Remember When” was intentionally shitty but that was really just the best that we could do with what we had. It’s not super clean, it’s like “Nevermind” clean. You still get a little dirt in there, but it’s definitely not low-fi. We’re also definitely f*cking around with a lot more sounds. It’s not like “Alright, we’ve got two guitars, a bass, a drum, and a singer, and that is all that will go on this record,” there’s piano tracks, and there’s – I can see if I was a fan of The Orwells and somebody was saying this I’d be a little spooked out, but we’re not straying too far from what “Remember When” sounded like, we’re just trying to make a much bigger and more different-sounding record. I think that’s where it’s going.

The Orwells played at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Oct. 26. Their two latest EPs “Who Needs You” and “Other Voices” are available now.

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