Interview: Mario Cuomo of the Orwells on ‘Flower Punk,’ graduating high school early, and oh yeah — that Letterman performance


[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the blink of David Letterman’s eye, Chicago’s the Orwells went from relative unknowns to one of the most divisive bands in rock music. It was mid-January, just about the time when everyone was done with stale Best Of lists from the previous year and hungry for something new and exciting. The garage rock band took to the Late Show by storm, and after their performance of “Who Needs You,” ol’ Dave himself was demanding for an encore. By the morning after, people either loved it or hated it — but everyone had an opinion on it.

The Orwells are back in town Tuesday, March 4 for a headlining gig at Great Scott in Allston, but Vanyaland caught up with frontman Mario Cuomo just before their recent show at Agganis Arena, opening up for the Arctic Monkeys. We talked about that tour, their tender young age, and of course, the Letterman performance (included after the Q&A jump).

Rob Duguay: How excited are you guys to be touring with the Arctic Monkeys, and what can Bostonians expect from The Orwells?


Mario Cuomo: You can expect the same shit as always from us and I’m really stoked to play that big ass place with the Arctic Monkeys.

How did you guys get together with them to do this tour?

It was just offered, really. Our manager brought it up to us saying it was a possibility and we were all stoked about it. Then he got back to us saying “You guys wanna do it?” and somehow they heard our band, I don’t really know how they heard about us. I think their booking agent or manager showed them our music and I think they dug it enough and invited us out.


Recently you made your network television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman and after you performed “Who Needs You” Dave & Paul Shaffer were so excited that Paul had the CBS Orchestra performing the song again followed by Paul parodying the way you were dancing on the floor. Did you feel any sense of nervousness before the cameras turned on?

They were super cool and they were stoked about it. That kind of shocked me because I didn’t know how they were going to react and when they said “Let’s play it again!,” I was very surprised and confused. I was like, “What the hell? Bands usually don’t get told to go again on late night shows, so I was super confused but I thought they had a great reaction.

Online, you guys refer to your style of music as “Flower Punk.” That personally makes me think of hippies and the Ramones, two things that usually don’t mix and end up in a fist fight. Are the Orwells deadheads at heart but you like playing punk rock? What is your definition of “Flower Punk”?

I’m pretty sure the term was coined by the Black Lips, who we really idolize. They meant a lot to us when we were starting to make music and still do. I think their definition was “Too hippie to be punk and too punk to be hippies” so it’s a clash of the two and we just took the genre title from them to use it to describe ourselves. We wanted to be so much like them but we thought the genre also fit us.


Is it true that the Orwells got around to graduating high school early to pursue their musical career? How did that happen? Usually school administrations would laugh at that stuff.

Well, I’m a grade above the rest of the band so when I was a senior they were juniors and I dropped out around halfway through because I was pretty sure the band thing was going to work out. I waited a half a year for them to graduate or it probably was longer than that. At our school you can graduate early if you have a certain amount of credits by a certain amount of time so I guess they all met the standard and talked to their counselors to get the OK. As soon as they graduated early we went on tour.

Now how old are you guys? Are you even 20 years old yet?

Yeah I’m 20, and I’m about to be 21 in September and the rest of them are 18 and 19.


Damn, you guys are young! The Orwells debut album Remember When came out in 2012, along with two EPs you guys released last year in Other Voices and Who Needs You. Can fans expect another full-length album in 2014?

We just finished it, the mastering process is going on right now so it’s all done.

Cool, when should it be coming out?

You can probably expect it out in the very very early summer so around there.

THE ORWELLS + TWIN PEAKS + THE SILVER PALMS + Tuesday, March 4 @ Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Ave., Allston :: 9 p.m., 21-plus, $12 advance / $15 doors :: advance tickets