The Weekly Interview: Orwells’ frontman Mario Cuomo

The Orwells play Cosmo’s Boulevard Pool Saturday night as part of X107.5’s Our Big Concert.
Jory Lee Cordy

You guys are back home in Elmhurst, Illinois, right now. How does it feel to be back? It’s still kind of sh*tty. I don’t really like it too much.

Was it hard to break into the Chicago music scene when you were starting out as a band from the suburbs? They’re so far up their whole DIY asses that like, if you’re a signed band and somewhat successful at all, most of them just want to sh*t on you, and they’re just super jealous. ... I guess that scene wasn’t too important to us, ’cause we were just playing, like, real venue shows and not some, like, heroin addict hipster’s basement.

Was it always that way? We would do basement and garage shows in the suburbs, and we played a fair share of living rooms in the city, too. But now it’s just unnecessary and almost dangerous sometimes. One of the last DIY shows we played, there was, like, a 2-foot-tall stage, and it just collapsed from the kids, and Matt [O’Keefe’s] guitar got trampled. It’s not dangerous, but it’s still just like, gear getting f*cked and just kind of pointless. I mean, it's fun as hell but like, it's not really worth the couple bucks you get from it.

You’re about to release your major label debut, Disgraceland. Have you been nervous awaiting its release? Not really. It’s most likely gonna bomb, ’cause, like, nobody buys music. I’m not really too worried. As far as album sales go, unless you’re, like, super well known, that doesn’t really happen anymore.

You recorded Disgraceland with Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Beach House). What was that like and how did the recording process differ from your other albums? We were out in the woods in New York, so we all went pretty cabin-fever crazy. And there was a lot of waiting; like, when you record your parts, especially with me, because I needed a lot of the track to be done before I could lay down vocals. So you just spent a lot of time by yourself, getting drunk. And there were, like, rats in the walls in the place where we were staying down the hill from the studio. And there were bears in the woods; it was pretty scary.

I’m not a big fan of the recording process. I like when it’s done and you get to sit back, like, “Oh yeah, that was a really cool thing that we did.” I like the live show a lot more; I think that’s more important.

Based on your wild David Letterman performance, your show seems pretty unpredictable. Has anyone ever compared you to Ariel Pink? I heard that guy is batsh*t crazy.

He’ll just stop his set in the middle of the show and walk offstage. My people would be so pissed off if I did that.

Are your bandmates ever like, “Oh no, what is he going to do this time?” Yeah, they get pissed enough as it is. They used to get pissed just for me, like, making out with chicks onstage, but I don’t think I’ve done anything wild enough to actually anger them.

Have you had to calm down now that you’re on a major label? Hell no. That’s the reason they signed us, right? For some wild sh*t that we do? No sense in letting up on that.

You don’t play an instrument on stage, either. It seems like that gives you a lot of room to go crazy. Yeah, it’s the only way I can be comfortable, I think; otherwise I feel pretty f*ckin’ weird. I don’t have a guitar to stare down at when I don’t feel like making eyes with people. I bought a guitar when I first got a little bit of money, but I don’t really touch it that much. I mean, I’ve tried, but I’m still trying to learn chords.

I heard your favorite part of tour is getting to stop at gas stations during long drives. What are your gas station essentials? Well, if I’m runnin’ low, I’ve got to get some condoms. Red Bull if I’m tired. Coffee is very necessary. I eat a lot of taquitos, which is probably the worst possible thing that a human could eat. And I like Takis too, those rolled-up chips that have chili powder on them. It hurts my tongue so f*ckin’ bad, but I still eat them.

What’s tour life like? There’s not a lot of you time. It’s a lot of bouncing from place to place. You don’t have a bus. You get into a hotel at four in the morning and have to move all your sh*t. We’re still staying at like, La Quintas and sh*t. It’s not too glamorous. If I’m lucky, I like, meet some f*ckin’ cool chick that wants to use me for 20 minutes. That’s what I get to look forward to.

I read that your parents are pretty supportive of you and your band. Was it always that way? It’s cool now, my parents weren’t too stoked at first. In high school I just told them, "I’m just gonna try to be in a band ... because I don’t know how to do anything else." So they were like, “Okay, then you’re gonna be a broke ass. You should get a job.” I applied to a couple of places and never ended up getting a job, and then I dropped out of high school and for a year just kind of rotted, waiting for my band to graduate.

The lineup for this Vegas show is pretty varied. Is it difficult playing gigs like that, where people aren’t coming just to see you? Nah. I mean, sometimes it works out all right. We played a super hillbilly festival in Michigan recently, but like, they still clapped. … If it’s a sick show it doesn’t matter who set it up or what it’s about.

None of you are 21 yet. What are you going to do when you get to Vegas? Probably just get drunk in the van just like any other city.

The Orwells With Capital Cities, MS MR, Phantogram, Kongos, Cherub, Bad Things. May 29, 5 p.m., $35. Boulevard Pool, 687-7000.

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