The Orwells could be the Peter Pan of the music world. Having met in high school and formed in a Chicago garage, the five piece outfit have always been the rowdy kids with the fire of a heart from the late 90s. Last record, Disgraceland, acted as their Neverland; songs about underage drinking, boyhood and brotherhood.
Now they’re back. Guitarist, Matt O’Keefe insists that the Orwell attitude hasn’t quite been shaken. “Yeah I think we’ve still got a little bit of that in us, which is y’know yeah…” he laughs, wincing slightly remembering when tmrw met the band the morning after their first London show in two years. “Our drummer had it the worst, there might be some good photos in there of him like puking in a pile of dead leaves.”
Though after a couple of years off, the band “have tried at least to mature a bit as songwriters and as people going about what they’re doing.”
First released ‘Buddy’ might not be long enough for you to brush your teeth entirely to, but knocks back urgency as a garage born, frenzied ode to one night stands; ‘And what’s to make you stay?, pocket full of rubber/ And my hand on your face.’ In contrast, latest single ‘Double Feature’ is an epic seven minute scuzzy jam of growing up ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’ that spreads like threatening chainmail.
The latest record, Terrible Human Beings ( Feb), is a tongue-in-cheek response to the people of Chicago. Despite their lost boy playful attitudes, the city is where the band have always called home, there Matt says, “we don’t have the greatest of reputations.”
“It’s a bit undeserving.
“We thought it’d be fun to kind of just champion it and say well, there you go look, we named our record after what you guys like to say we are. I think it’s cus we’re not from here and we just came in. They were like you can’t just come in like that! You can’t just come in and claim this city and pretend you’re from here.”
The forthcoming however, is something that Chicago should embrace. Having played shows solidly for over a year, they recognised that they were “burning these songs out” as well as themselves.
“When we got back, we took a little bit of time off and then it was just trying to decide what we wanted to do next and work out what sort of record that we wanted to make. Then we started writing and it just happened and it took as long as it did. We ended up with a record that we’re all really proud of.
“We just took a longer break than usual but for no reason than that’s just how it went, that’s how long it took to write these songs and record them.”
The Orwells have always been ones to grasp and embrace their teenage-hood in suburbia, the epitome of generation Y living. They’ve come-of-age with bad girls and firearms.
Recognising however that to be a young person anywhere in the world is tough, and to be a young person in America this year has been a particular focus. “I think it was hard, no matter what your age was, I think it was hard to be an American this year and not understand or be somewhat involved in politics. We just went through a very crazy year of politics and the election that we had.” Says Matt, explaining how “I don’t think we ever sit down and think ‘what is it about America that we don’t like?’ and wonder how we comment on it in the songs. If it just comes to us and it happens naturally, then that’s what the song is about.”
One of the first teasers from their third full length, the dirty yet sultry, ‘They Put A Body In The Bayou’, “just happened to line up very well with what was happening” timing wise. A song about something happening beneath the shadows, a lurking in the corner, the video shows the boys as security for a politician, where they come face-to-face with their representatives vices.
“I don’t think that we fashion ourselves as a very politically conscious band.”
Recording Terrible Human Beings in their adopted and beloved Chicago, they roped in Jim Abbiss from the last full length and tucked themselves away last winter. Though there’s no “central theme that goes across the board”, this record teases to be pretty personal.
“There’s a song called ‘M.A.D’, which is really just about what was happening in the two years that we’d taken off.” Reunited with their friends, the band watched them leaving their parent’s homes and going to college. “We kept hearing what people were going through. Some of the lines are taken directly from some of the conversations we had with our friends, they’d say something and it’d find a way into a song.”
The biggest thing was the opportunity they had been given. Matt speaks eloquently with excitement for Terrible Human Beings, proud of the step up.
Reminiscing thinking, “We have these people who are going to listen to this so we have this opportunity to do something different and maybe try to push ourselves and push our music.
“We can translate that to the world and try and push our listeners and engage our listeners more than what a song about getting drunk and driving around town does.”
The Orwells may have just grabbed hold of their shadows.
Whilst there are fears whispered among fans that their DIY ethic may have been abandoned for commercial success, Matt is confident that “where we’re at right now is how we want to be”.
“It’s hard to kind of be and have a do-it-yourself attitude and get to the place that we want to be which is to be getting heard by as many people as we can without compromising the way we write songs and what we want to write songs about.
“You need the big time producers and the record labels to push the thing out and make it a big thing to try and reach as many people as you can, but it’s not like that’s it and how we’re drawing the line and how it’s going to be forever.
“Along the line we might make another record in one of our basements or something, that’s never off limits, it’s just not how we wanted this record to go.”
The band are climbing back into the van and hitting the road early next year. Switching up the live show every night, “it’s just fun to be kinda vulnerable like that on a stage, when you’re trying something new there’s a chance that it’s gonna bomb, or it’s gonna be a very special experience.”
Immortalising their never-ending childhood in scratchy, grunge records, these mischievous young boys are flying higher than ever.
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Words by Tanyel Gumushan