The Orwells Started on "Heroin," Ended Up on Letterman

Categories: Bands We Like

Jory Lee Cordy
In 2010, the Orwells executed the kind of prank that takes forethought and know-how. The Elmhurst, Ill. outfit, which consists of five recent high school graduates, were slotted to play a school concert organized by human rights group Amnesty International when the band decided to do something special for their set. During that period, there was a major heroin problem among seniors at their school. The Orwells also happened to be fans of the Velvet Underground and were willing to cover them. Stop us if you can guess where this is going.

"We just decided to really piss off the administration and we played 'Heroin' pretty loudly. It was awesome," guitarist Dominic Corso, 19, recalls. "I remember when we started with those opening chords, there were kids we knew [whose] faces immediately were like, 'No fucking way they're playing this right now.' After that, they just kicked us out. We got off-stage and they were like, 'All right, get out of the building right now.' We were all like, 'Damn, are we in trouble or some shit?' Then, we went to school the next Monday, and it was totally fine, so we got away with it, but we really did piss off our Deans and shit."

It isn't exactly surprising that the Orwells would attempt a stunt like this. On 2012's Remember When, their ostensible full-length debut (Corso isn't counting earlier albums anymore), the band generate loud, anarchic, dirty and occasionally forlorn garage-punk that takes pride in sounding like it was recorded inside a food processor. You can sense carefree disobedience in their DNA, and that trait is exactly why they did "Heroin."

When Corso and fellow guitarist Matt O'Keefe launched the Orwells in 2009 as something to do after school, the outfit took a different, more Strokes-like tack. "It started as chiller, lighter rock 'n' roll," Corso says. Then, the group got into the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog"--a punk classic the Orwells would end up covering repeatedly--and garage-punk contemporaries Black Lips. They also began paying attention to how much energy their peers' bands were pouring into their music; meanwhile, the Orwells' relatively softer sound didn't allow them to do something similar. The angle started to change.

Along the way, the group became prolific through routine, cranking out a song a week at one point, filling out their pre-Remember When records. After hooking up with Autumn Tone Records (the sister label to Aquarium Drunkard, a music blog the Orwells originally pitched for coverage), the group began life as a touring band, once hitting South By Southwest for a notable stint. But the group's true break arrived this past January when they appeared on Late Show with David Letterman.

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