Photo: Alex Uhrich
If we’ve learned anything about the Orwells by now, it’s that they’re not only young, they’re fucking young. And this causes the band no shortage of hassle. Case in point: our original plan to conduct this interview in the press tent was thwarted by its location within the 21+ confines of the VIP area, from which Orwells bassist Grant Brinner was unceremoniously removed by security. “I was walking back, looking at my feet, and instead of [security] saying, ‘Hey, can you stop,’ he just grabbed me. Even with a wristband they wouldn’t let me in because we’re so obviously not 21,” he says. Now we’re perched atop “Underage Hill”, as the band’s publicist has wryly nicknamed the grassy knoll just outside of the VIP area, ready to talk touring, basement shows, and how these Chicago boys ended up being L.A.’s favorite new band.
The Orwells are in high spirits when we sit down for our brief chat, and no wonder: it’s been a pretty big day for them. They opened up FYF 2012, the first festival they’d ever played, with a banging set on the Spring Street Stage preceding FIDLAR, one of their favorite bands. They’re stoked to be back in Los Angeles where their record label (Autumn Tone) is based and where they’d had a fun stay back in July, playing several shows around the city, one of which Lo-Pie was fortunate enough to catch. Their raw and raspy take on Midwest punk and abundance of thrashy charisma piqued our interest enough to reach out for an interview after learning of their super late addition to FYF — the feat of a good booking agent, which the band is happy to admit. “At the rate we check our e-mails, we would not be anywhere without our manager.”
Aside from the exciting quality of their music, there’s something else intriguing about the Orwells. This band is part of an ongoing transformation in the way underground punks get their music heard. They’ve had all the advantages of social media at their disposal from the get-go, the most basic of which — a simple e-mail — has propelled these little babies far beyond their suburban Chicago origins and into the Los Angeles hype machine on the strength of one really great tune (“Mall Rats (La La La)”) and a solid but slightly unfocused debut record. While it can be worrisome when kids this young taste of popularity too soon, we have confidence that this smart, determined bunch of teenagers will survive the travails of being “the next big thing”. Their dreams are big and their talent is manifest, but it’s the old-fashioned Midwest work ethic and commitment to their Chicago roots that will carry them through to the next level. But for right now, the Orwells are ready to buy a van, hit the road, and start bringing their music to hungry kids across their great nation of ours. Right after graduating high school, of course.
FYF is the first festival you’ve ever played. I’m sure you’ve attended festivals before so what was different about being on the performers side?
We kind of got the experience at Lollapalooza because we got artist passes from our booking agent. We basically did everything but play. We got a taste of it, but it’s much better when you play. So much better.
Did you run into the same problems with being underage at Lollapalooza that you have here?
Lollapalooza was much chiller. We got to drink at Lollapalooza. Here they wouldn’t let us check into our hotel room without someone over 21. That was a bitch.
Who were you most excited to see at FYF?
FIDLAR! We love them. We wanted to see King Tuff, but we had to come over here and do an interview. The Growlers would be cool, and Cloud Nothings, but we’re leaving to go to this house show in Los Feliz.
You guys were out here in July playing some shows and you signed with Autumn Tone. How did that come about?
We had done a music video for our song “Mall Rats (La La La)” and we were sending emails to all these blogs like, ‘Can you post this?’ Aquarium Drunkard wrote back saying, ‘Let’s just do a record.’ Then they said when we got out of school to come out to LA and they’d book shows for us. First they took us to SXSW, which was awesome. It was our first taste of the music industry. It’s crazy that you can send emails and get signed, but that’s how it came about it.
Did you have Remember When ready to go when you were signed?
We had actually self-released it in October of 2011 to our friends at our high school. We’d walk around and hand out CDs and shit like that. So it just came back up, we did not think anything was gonna come of it. We’d already started writing our next record.
Did you play any new stuff in your set?
It was pretty much an even split. Five brand new songs and four from Remember When. A lot of them were songs we’d never played live before.
How often do you practice?
Never. No, once a week. Leading up to a festival, a lot more. Mostly our shows are our practice now. We’ve been playing Remember When for so long, we’ve gotten pretty used to it. Playing those basement shows pays off.
There must be a massive difference between playing basement shows and playing a big festival like FYF.
This is awesome because we’re at FYF, we’re in LA playing on a big stage, but basement shows always have better stories in the end. You can tell a basement show story for a long time.
Can you share one?
We’ve got so many fucking good ones. We played Mario’s garage a year back and the cops got called. It was upstairs in his garage; there were kids hanging off the rafters, smoke everywhere. His brother was tossing 40s out the window. We didn’t stop playing. All we saw was the two cops walk up there, look at what was going on, throw us a thumbs up, and walk back down the stairs. We were like, no way that just happened. No way they were so cool about it, which is rare in our town.
So are you guys planning on staying in Chicago or…wait, have you graduated high school yet?
No, we graduate in January. We’re gonna do early graduation. And we don’t want to leave Chicago too soon. We want to be known as a Chicago band because that’s our home. Ending up in LA would be awesome, staying in Chicago would be awesome. We’ll figure it out. First thing we want do is hit every state and every big city. We’ve never been on a national tour, we’ve only ever played, like, six cities.
Is a national tour in the works?
Yeah, that’s the goal. Right when we get out school, buy a van and hit the road. It’s almost good to do these block because there’s areas like LA that are much more dense with people that want to listen to us. If we went, like, to Denver, there might not be as many people. There would be no people.
You guys are shooting a music video tomorrow for what song? Where are you doing it?
“Halloween All Year”. We don’t even know what the idea is, but Matt’s brother is doing it. He’s done all of our videos and he’s done a great job so he’s going to surprise us. We’re shooting it in Highland Park.
So what’s on the agenda for the rest of this year?
Tour. For all of fall we plan to hit Madison, Milwaukee, St. Louis…no wait, fuck St. Louis…Indianpolis, Minneapolis. Just hit the Midwest hard. And we’ll be at CMJ in October.
What’s your favorite thing about L.A.?
Tacos, the weather, the hospitality. People are so much more open and willing to go out and see live music here than they are back in the Midwest. In the Midwest you don’t go to a show to go to a show, you go to a show because you know the band that’s playing. Here, people go even if they don’t know the band.
So even though you’re on an LA based label and you’ve played out here a lot recently, you wanna be known as a Chicago band. Why the loyalty?
We would feel more rewarded in that Chicago is known to have a shit music scene. There’s not been a big band to come out of Chicago for a while, since Wilco or the Pumpkins. It’s rare. To know the music in Chicago you have to be from there, you have to be into the scene. One of our favorite bands is the Replacements and we’re loyal to them because they stayed in the Midwest. We wanna do that for our fans, too.
What’s your favorite kind of pie?
French silk. That shit’s great. That’s a fucking cake, thats not a pie.