From the suburbs of Chicago to a modest venue in Vancouver’s Chinatown district, The Orwells have woven across provinces, states, and countries to share their music with both new and loyal followers. The quintet, consisting of Mario Cuomo, Dominic Corso, Grant Brinner, Henry Brinner, and Matt O’Keefe, recently released Disgraceland, a follow-up to 2012’s Remember When.

Biding their time before they hit the stage, a somewhat caffeine deprived Mario, Matt, and Grant took Pop Counter//Culture onto their tour bus to chat about the new album, life on the road, and of course, rock and roll. Earlier this year the band had gained notoriety from an extremely improvised performance on David Letterman. The performance might just be a reflection of the band’s knack for spontaneity, and it is precisely this spontaneity that has shaped the band’s level of magnetism. Call it the Orwellian way.

What was the biggest motivating force for you not only to make music, but to make it your life’s work?

Mario: That is heavy as hell. I almost limited myself on purpose so that this could be the only thing that I can do. Personally, I only wanted to do this, so I made it my only option.

Grant: For the rest of us it was more like something we did after school for a while. It was what we did. Other kids played football; other kids did other shit. [Music] was kind of our thing. When we started to feel confident in the music that we were making, that’s when we started to send it out. It was never like we were doing this like it was going to be our lives when we started out. It evolved into it.

When you set out to make the new album, Disgraceland, was there one thing at the forefront of your mind that was the driving force behind all the writing, recording, and producing decisions?

Matt: Maybe just to make a better record than our last one, really. I think that was just the goal. It was just as simple as that. And then our production style just kind of falls into what kind of songs we wrote and how we felt the style of the recording should be representative of what the song was about or what the song’s feeling was.

Do you feel like there was a unifying theme you guys were going for?

Grant: I think it developed a theme, but we didn’t go into it with a theme in mind.

There are a whole lot of stories already told through song. During the making of this record, were there moments where you were concerned that something sounded cliché or done before?

Matt: I think you know immediately if that was ever the case and you just don’t like it. I don’t think we ever wrote something, liked it, and then thought maybe it’s cliché.

How do your emotions fluctuated between when you arrive into a new city, hit the stage, and then get back onto the road again?

Mario: It’s just waiting. It’s a lot of waiting. It’s a long waiting game. You really just want to come to a city and kill a show and have fun. So, the whole waiting to do it part, sometimes I guess it makes you want to do better. It can be kind of a drag when you have to wait long because you really just want to make people happy, play your songs and have a good time.

When you’re a band that is pretty spontaneous on stage, what does a sound check or rehearsal look like?

Grant: We really don’t sound check that long to be honest. Most bands that have played with us will tell you that.

Matt: As for rehearsing, we don’t really rehearse. We kind of write the song and that’s it. The rehearsing is just us playing live. I think the spontaneity is just born out of boredom. We do play the exact same songs every single night for months at a time. If you were to play it exactly the same way every night, you’d just find it fucking stupid. You have to put in that spontaneous thing or just have the freedom to do whatever you want so there’s still that spark of interest as a performer playing songs countless amounts of time.

Grant: Just like it’s important to keep your audience interested, it’s important to keep yourself interested.

Although the band and the music flow cohesively on stage, individually, each of you seems to be in your own world, in a trance of sorts. Where does your mind wander?

Grant: I’ve been doing it so long I don’t really know what I think. A lot of people ask me, “Getting on stage, isn’t that kind of scary?” It doesn’t really affect me because it’s been such a gradual thing to get to this point. We did start off with twelve people, and then eighteen, and then keep building.

Mario: I think about a lot of shit during our shows. I think to like really do the best, if it’s a fucking happy feeling song, I just think of happy shit. I don’t think about thinking about things; I just automatically do. If it’s like a downer song, or about something sad, I’ll actually get pretty sad automatically. I get pretty emotional when I’m doing it.

Matt: I don’t know. I can’t really recall much. I just think about what’s happening at that exact moment of wherever we are in a song or what ever is happening in a song. At most if I’m thinking during a song is crowd judgment and being like okay, think about like the songs coming in the set and what you can do – switch them around or take out and replace songs and how to make the show more enjoyable for the people that are watching it.

As a rock and roll band, what significant changes do you see when you compare rock history with today’s music scene?

Matt: Twenty or thirty years ago, it was cool to be super glamorous. Now it seems like the cool thing to be is a normal person or a down to earth person. Back in the day all the rock stars, it was cool to look at them as these gods. Today you don’t really find them in rock and roll music. There are changes in the dynamic between what a band is to its fans.

Do you think that the sort of accessibility fans get now due to social media might diminish some of the mystique that rock stars had back in the day?

Matt: Yeah, I think that the fact that you can go on your favourite band’s Twitter and see all the retarded things they are posting every two seconds and see what they’re thinking every two seconds totally takes away from the mysterious aspects of like just getting these images and these songs. That’s all you get.

Mario: That’s why I think Ty Segall is so cool. That’s why he’s the coolest in the world. Because he doesn’t do that.

Of all the bands out there fighting for attention, as a music listener, what characteristics attracts you and prompts you to keep listening?

Matt: It’s really just the music; like a really good record and a really good musician.

Mario: Dope tracks.

If you guys were to explain to someone who has never listened to rock and roll, what rock and roll sounds like and embodies, what would you tell them without having to physically play for them?

Matt: Boredom I think is the number one word. I think rock and roll is bred out of boredom and discontent of what’s around you.

Mario: What’s a good word for wanting something?


Mario: Yeah, desire.

Grant: Lust.


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