Henri Herbert From Jim Jones Revue
Enjoy a spur of the moment video from Jim Jones Revue’s keyboardist Henri Herbert at the concourse of St Pancras International station, London.
JJR played at this year’s Tomorrow Never Knows Festival.
The Orwells // Chicago Tribune
This article was featured in the Chicago Tribune’s Arts & Entertainment section. Written by Steve Johnson.
On an April Tuesday afternoon, a big black van rolled through the streets of Elmhurst.
It might have been rented for a prom by a group of friends. It might have contained a baseball team headed to a game.
Then it stopped at Dominic Corso’s home and Corso got in, a scruffy 19-year-old in a gray hoodie and baseball cap.
Corso said he had just heard “Who Needs You” on Chicago’s 101 WKQX. This wasn’t just musical chatter: The back of the van contained the guitar he’d used to help play that song in an electrifying national TV appearance in January.
The van also stopped at the house of Mario Cuomo, Corso’s cousin and lead singer in their band and the only one who, at 20, is not still a teenager; at guitarist Matt O’Keefe’s, in whose basement they all used to practice; and at the home of the twins, bassist and drummer Grant and Henry Brinner.
Henry came out and presented a bag of Easter egg candy to the band’s driver and tour manager, Drew Potenza, also an Elmhurst native and friends with O’Keefe’s older brother, Eddie.
"My mom," Henry said sheepishly.
Meet The Orwells, five pretty ordinary-seeming kids from Elmhurst who just might be rock’s next big thing.
That national TV performance, on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” went viral. It ended with Paul Shaffer, Letterman’s 64-year-old musical director, flopping on the TV-studio floor in imitation of Cuomo.
You could say the “Late Show” triumph put them on the national radar, but The Orwells have been on a steep upward trajectory for years.
They’ve got their major-label debut, “Disgraceland,” coming out in June; its cover, shot by Eddie O’Keefe, depicts a cookie-cutter post-war Elmhurst house. They’ll be back on Letterman’s show June 10.
And the touring, already happening at breakneck pace, will only increase. The Orwells are playing festivals in Japan and America this summer. Already this year, they’ve visited the U.K. twice, rolled through mid-level U.S. clubs and even spent a week on The Weezer Cruise.
The people on the ship “were all such big Weezer fans,” said Cuomo. “They felt obliged to say, ‘Now, don’t get me wrong. You’re no Weezer. But you guys are great.’”
WXRT-FM 93.1 and WKQX-FM 101.1, two stations without a lot of overlap, are already playing The Orwells’ music, and they ought to be. Critics always talk about Cuomo’s on-stage antics — including not just stage-flopping but occasional bouts of pantslessness. But the band is making rock-and-roll with two-guitar muscle, driven by the Brinners’ pounding rhythms, topped by absurdly catchy melodies and Cuomo’s fragmentary, shout-along lyrics about teenage anxiety and disaffection.
Think Arctic Monkeys — for whom they’ve opened — merged with Green Day, minus the latter’s fake British accents. “Filtering the Strokes through the granite bedrock of Led Zeppelin,” a reviewer for The Guardian said of “Who Needs You.”
It’s a bright spotlight. Expectations are high enough that the band members have won their parents’ blessing to forgo college — for now.
"I realize this is insane," Matt O’Keefe said. "I remember walking home from York High School to my house and I’d put my headphones on, listening to Velvet Underground and Nico, and I’d be like, ‘This is what I want so bad.’"
The day’s destination was Lincoln Hall for a sold-out show that would be The Orwells’ first in the city since a pre-Lollapalooza gig last year. Parents would be there. Grandparents. Friends who were organized enough to ask for tickets before the guest list filled up. Their out-of-town managers, punk-scene veterans who signed them after being blown away at the South by Southwest festival last year. And the head of the record company that signed them, Canvasback, a subsidiary of Atlantic.
So yes, it is a big show, but as the Orwells describe the blear of touring, it is also, inevitably, another show in a string of them. Being all-ages on a weeknight, it’s also an early show.
"8:30 show?" Cuomo said. "We’ve got to pace ourselves."
"Yes," responded Potenza, a skinny guy in his 20s whose role ranges from big brother to father to gopher to settler of accounts at the end of the night. "Please don’t make it a (mess) tonight."
(Later, backstage at Lincoln Hall, when a band member suggested doing shots beforehand, Potenza said, “The venue knows you’re all under 21, so let’s not even try any (stuff) with your fake IDs.”)
As the van rolled through the boys’ hometown and then the West Side of Chicago, the talk was typical: Hamburger Heaven, the vintage, charming-looking drive-in on North Avenue has gone downhill. A couple at the skate park proved their love by sharing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
But music and the music business always worked their way back into the conversation. Band members wondered whether they’d be getting their $25-per-day tour per diem (yes). Potenza explained the laundry trick he had used to get diesel fuel out of a batch of “Who the (Expletive) Are the Orwells?” T-shirts (Dawn and Coca-Cola) so they could be sold at the merchandise table.
"We should have just sold them as ‘diesel shirts,’" Cuomo said.
O’Keefe mused about making a next album with acoustic guitar and bass: “When has anybody ever done, like, a throwback to the Violent Femmes?”
Other bands that came up: Nirvana, Wesley Willis, John Lennon, The Strokes, Robert Plant.
O’Keefe pointed out that a friend tweeted, teasingly, that “Let It Burn,” the first song released from the Orwells’ forthcoming album, “is about having the Clap.”
"What’s the Clap?" someone asked. "Chlamydia?"
"The Clap is gonorrhea," O’Keefe said.
Potenza announced that, at the Chicago hotel where they’d stay before a very early-morning drive to Minneapolis, “everyone has their own room tonight. So, you know, gather for Bible study and discussion of Eastern European socioeconomic policy. Just a typical Tuesday.”
As he stopped at the hotel, the Indigo in the Gold Coast, to check the band in before soundcheck at Lincoln Hall, some of the band members stepped outside the van for a smoke.
Corso decided it was time to bust Grant Brinner about his outfit: skinny jeans, an “Aztec Baseball” sweatshirt, Nike running shoes and a backward Adidas cap.
"You are not in this band. That’s not what we are at all," Corso said. "If there was ever a day to stop and look at yourself in the mirror, this is the day." He snapped a cellphone picture, just to be able to make the point again later.
Added Cuomo, “You look like a mom going for a jog.”
Grant later would laugh about it, pointing out that Corso, in his estimation, was dressed “like a grandfather.”
The band has been together more than four years, since the four younger guys started high school, ended their middle school band and recruited Cuomo to sing.
This was no sure thing, they said, because while the younger foursome were pretty nondescript students, keeping mostly to themselves and out of trouble, Cuomo was known throughout York High School.
"He was always the kid who always started (stuff)," said his cousin, Corso. "He was pretty consistent with his provocations. It seems like it would be hard to live with, but it’s part of the band. It is a dynamic part of the band."
Cuomo blew off the first practice to be with a girlfriend, but they broke up and, a few days later, there he was. The new band started with, what else, a Strokes cover, but they quickly began writing their own songs.
The band name had nothing to do with English class. It was outright theft, explained O’Keefe: “We had booked ourselves for a garage show, and we wanted to hang fliers around the school. We couldn’t hang up, like, ‘These kids are playing at this place.’
"So the biggest band at York at the moment were these senior kids called The Orwells. So we were like, ‘Let’s just say The Orwells are playing.’ We did that and kids showed up and then we just kind of continued to do that, just like a joke, until, coincidentally, a few weeks later they were like, ‘We’re not a band anymore.’"
Not content to just play the occasional party, the band rehearsed steadily, and the members challenged themselves to write a new song every Friday: Corso or O’Keefe would come up with guitar parts during the week and while the band fleshed the song out, Cuomo would sit on a couch “trying to figure out vocal melodies, scribbling down lyrics,” O’Keefe said.
That work ethic, plugging away rather than waiting for the genius moment, forced them to improve as songwriters, the band members said. As they began to get sincere compliments on songs — a request for a digital copy, rather than just polite approval — they started to think they might have something that would propel them beyond Elmhurst and into the company of acts they admired, including The Black Lips and Ty Segall.
They made and distributed two records on their own, “Head” and “Oh! Well.”
The music blog Aquarium Drunkard offered to put out the band’s first album on its Autumn Tone label. “Remember When” (2012) drew praise from Filter as “nothing like the inexperienced unprofessional debut one might expect. The songs are stable, full.” From that, the song “Mall Rats (La La La)” — again, ridiculously catchy and with a winning low-fi video shot at Yorktown Mall by Eddie O’Keefe — got a fair amount of independent press attention.
Jack Steven, a veteran A&R man who’d worked with bands including Eurhythmics, wanted to help manage the band, he said, after he and his partner found them at South by Southwest.
"I hadn’t seen anything like that at that age since the 1970s," Steven said. "They got me out of retirement."
"They’re not frightened of hard work," he said. "I think they’re only hitting the tip of the iceberg so far."
That’s the bet that Canvasback is making in signing The Orwells as one of only a handful of acts. To shepherd his investment, label head Steve Ralbovsky flew to Chicago for the Lincoln Hall show to meet with the band for a kind of pep talk.
Fragments from his talk with them in the Lincoln Hall green room filtered out into the hallway.
"I know these drives are brutal," he told the band. "It’s only going to get better from here."
He reminded them that gratitude, appreciation, “pleases and thank yous go a long way,” a lesson the band put to use when representatives from 101 WKQX came backstage to say hello before the show.
There was business to talk about in advance of the June 2 “Disgraceland” release: a photo shoot, CD packaging, a possible return appearance on Letterman (since announced for June 10).
"Does everyone know about the good news on iTunes?" Ralbovsky asked. "We are single of the week, which is huge."
Then, like Bulls coach Phil Jackson with his players in the 1990s, he gave them reading material, plus viewing and listening material — a big bag of stuff he’d picked up at Barnes & Noble.
It included “The Wire” and “‘Fitzcarraldo,’ which is a film about dying for your art,” music by the Rolling Stones, New York Dolls, Van Morrison, Big Star and Townes Van Zandt, books of Lester Bangs criticism and on the Chelsea Hotel in New York.
It was a paternal sort of gesture that would probably put at ease the minds of some of the band parents, who aren’t entirely sure what the rock world has in store for their kids.
Lori Brinner, mother of the twins, said she worries “24 hours a day, 365.”
"I just talk to them a lot about it, maybe ad nauseam. I think they get really tired of it," she said. "I love music, but I don’t like the stuff that comes with it.
"I’ve texted it to them. I’ve said, ‘That’s already been done. It’s not original. Be cool. Be great. But don’t become a cliche.’ We’ve all watched ‘Behind the Music.’"
The parents together call themselves the Orwell family unit, she said, and “especially the moms” get together to talk about how they can best help their kids.
In the end, she said, she has to trust how she raised her kids and that the five Orwells and the people around them will “keep each other in check.”
Besides, there’s plenty of scary stuff going on in college dorms these days too, she said. Letting them pursue rock rather than go on to school became an easier decision as The Orwells kept advancing in their careers, and she and her husband, a chemical engineer, kept liking the music the boys were making, both on record and live.
"How do you tell your kids when they’re growing up to follow their dreams, and then when their dreams are coming true tell them ‘You can’t do that?’" she asked.
The Lincoln Hall show was rowdy by 2014 concert standards: a large mosh pit, with fans frequently landing or maneuvering themselves up onto the stage to dance for a few beats before diving back in. Cuomo, who has said he’s over the pants-removal thing, at one point dived into the crowd himself. From behind a curtain onstage, Potenza monitored it all, playing catcher in the rye for those fans who seemed a little too exuberant, depositing them back where they came from.
By Orwells standards, it was, band members said, “pretty tame,” hot-and-sweaty recitations of songs to which the mostly young audience seemed to know most every lyric: “You better pledge allegiance / You’re not the only one / Listen up forefathers / I’m not your son.”
When it was over, friends of the band came by to offer congratulations. Spencer Tweedy, son of Wilco frontman Jeff and former drummer in the band The Blisters, had praise for Henry Brinner’s drumming: “Dude, the (expletive) volume that comes out of your snare drum!”
Henry: “Thanks, man.”
Socioeconomic policy discussion would have to wait. The band members would head to a party at the city apartment of a friend from Elmhurst before getting up to get on the road for the Minnesota show the next night.
But first there was gear to load into the van, and that process was complicated by the keys being lost temporarily. (They turned out to have been left at the merchandise table.)
"All right," Henry said, "we seriously need to stop losing the van keys."
As Brinner packed his drums away, a couple of broken drumsticks on the stage nearby, a “Woo-hoo!” came from up in the balcony.
"My mom," he explained.
Whiskies Of The World
Schubas is proud to continue its tradition of hosting a multi-course whisky dinner featuring some of the most prominent names in the whisky business! This year, we’ve partnered with The Bulleit Distilling Company, and welcome Diageo Master of Whisky Kyle McHugh as our host and guest bartender for the evening. You’ll enjoy a fresh, handmade Bulleit Bourbon cocktail as you arrive for the evening, personally prepared by Kyle, followed by an incredible multi-course meal prepared by Schubas’ Chef Jean-Paul Fanuke, each paired with a different whisky (or whiskey!) from around the world. Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch, Talisker Single Malt Scotch, Bushmills Irish Whiskey, Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey, and of course Bulleit will all make appearances throughout the night, as Kyle leads us through some great food, fantastic whisky, and an evening not soon to be forgotten.
Buy tickets here.
Bourbon Barbecue House Smoked Brisket & Slaw Spring Roll
House Smoked Whitefish & Bacon Bourbon Chowder
Bourbon Raspberry Vinaigrette over Mixed Greens with House Made Croutons and Heirloom Tomatoes
Apple Cider and Bourbon Brined Pork Chop with a Cherry Bourbon Compote over Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes
Bourbon Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream and a Bourbon Streusel
Join us June 1st at The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger comes to Chicago for a show you definitely don’t want to miss.
“Anyone who knows me knows I don’t get excited about anything, but there was something I got genuinely very excited about in Austin [at SXSW] and that was seeing The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger…it was just the most awesome live show I’ve seen in ages.”– Robin Hilton, NPR’s All Songs Considered
GALANTIS | APRIL 29
An undiscovered island. An epic journey. An illustrious ship. Known just by its name and its logo, Galantis could be all or none of these things. A Google search only turns up empty websites and social pages, and mention of a one-off A-Trak collaboration. Is it beats? Art? Something else entirely?
At the most basic level, Galantis is two friends making music together. The fact that they’re Christian “Bloodshy” Karlsson of Miike Snow and Linus Eklow, aka Style of Eye, is what changes the plot. The accomplished duo’s groundbreaking work as Galantis destroys current electronic dance music tropes, demonstrating that emotion and musicianship can indeed coexist with what Eklow calls “a really really big kind of vibe.”
“Galantis is about challenging, not following.” says Karlsson.
Galantis is at Lincoln Hall next Tuesday for an 18+ show. TIckets are now available for the new low price of $20.
Enjoy the video for their track “You” below and make plans to join us on the 29th.
Sons of Fathers - “Hell And Back”
See SoF at Schubas on June 19 - Tickets
Enjoy a new Swans track from their upcoming album To Be Kind.
See them at Lincoln Hall on June 22 - Tickets
Guest Mixtape: Eisley
Our latest guest playlist is unlike anything we’ve ever received. Coming from Eisley, we have 317 tracks covering nearly a full 24 hours.
From Sherri DuPree, “I always feel like I have to have a mix of my old ‘tried and true fav’s’ and new music. I love anything with a strong melody…”, which you will surely be able to find in this massive mix.
See Eisley this Sunday at Lincoln Hall. Tickets are still available.
Guest Mixtape: Daley
Manchester-based singer/songwriter Daley brings us this week’s guest mixtape, a playlist of what he’s “currently listening to”, saying it is “just a fairly random compilation of exactly what I have in my playlist at this moment in time, some old, some new, but I’m feeling all of it right now.”
See Daley this Friday at Lincoln Hall. Tickets are almost gone!
Guest Mixtape: Hari Kondabolu
Check out this week’s Guest Mixtape from comedian Hari Kondabolu.
The Flannelmouth Sessions: NO
About 20 minutes into NO’s set on March 27th at Schubas, vocalist Bradley Carter dropped the microphone. It sounds like the intro to a gig horror story or a memory best flushed away by too many shots, but Carter was too distracted to hold the microphone. He was too involved with the tambourine he was hitting as the band built up into another rousing finale.
It doesn’t matter whether it was just an on-stage goof, it’s a testament to NO’s ability to find the groove between devotion to their sound and being showmen.
On tour now with label mates, The Darcys and Reuben & the Dark, NO are in the homestretch of an Arts & Crafts tour. Though their first album, El Prado, was just released back in February, NO have been together for three years.
They’ve previously toured the US and Europe twice playing material from their first EP, Don’t Worry You’ll Be Here Forever, self-released through a record store/label called Origami Vinyl. They’ve also supported bands like Public Image LTD, Smashing Pumpkins, Best Coast and Father John Misty, but this is their moment.
On first listen, NO appears to be another baroque indie band in the mold of The National or The Walkmen, but while Carter’s grizzled rumble resembles the malted baritone of those bands’ front men, NO is unafraid to shy away from rafter-shaking hooks.
Carter stalks the stage with a theatricality that betrays the possibility that the band is playing smaller clubs. A six piece since shortly after the band’s birth, guitars whirr and contort from textured noise to new wave pomp all while drummer Michael Walker revs tracks from shadowy ballads into unabashed anthems.
The Flannelmouth Sessions talked to founding members, Bradley Carter and Sean Stenz about what it’s like to balance six members of a band, why legendary crooner Leonard Cohen speaks to them, their secret oasis during SXSW and the unexpected sweetness of Johnny Rotten.
FM: This is your third time back in Chicago, how was the last time you were here?
Bradley Carter: We couldn’t make it here for our last show in Chicago. We couldn’t afford the gas to come here from another show.
Sean Stenz: It’s literally the only show we’ve ever cancelled in our lives and we felt so bad about it!
FM: How has the band changed since the last time you were here?
SS: The band has grown so much closer. These songs are just more defined. Some of the songs that are on the record now were just written on that first tour back in 2011. They were real loose and we hadn’t quite figured out what they were yet.
FM: What was the difference between recording the EP and being on a big league label like Arts & Crafts?
BC: The first EP came more out of a friendship. We all like music and it was very simple. With Arts & Crafts, they helped to spread the word. We hung out with them in Canada and it felt like being part of a family as opposed to being in a company.
SS: We had just finished our album and we started looking around for homes. We looked at A&C and there were inter-communal groups of musicians like Broken Social Scene and that’s what appealed to us. They were all so close-knit.
BC: For us, it’s always been about making something beautiful. Some of the songs we’re playing tonight we’ve had since we started, but it doesn’t mean they’re bad.
FM: It seems like there’s a really strong identity of Los Angeles in the band. Your debut album is named after a bar in LA and you guys seem ingrained in the scene there. Is there something special about LA?
SS: I grew up there, that’s home. I met Bradley there and it’s the neighborhood we all live in. Everything just built out of Echo Park (a neighborhood in LA) organically.
FM: Is there something specific about LA that draws you all to it?
BC: I’ve been there for 12 years and I’ve had three or four different lives there. El Prado is this bar we go to almost every night. It translates to “the park,” and it just kind of made sense. It’s where we came from; it’s where we all met. We’re all fucking broke, but we’re making stuff we love.
FM: One of your most interesting recent recordings was the cover of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne with The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn. Why did you guys pick that song to cover?
BC: Sean and I actually got to see Leonard Cohen. We just sat there mesmerized for three hours.
SS: He really does have a presence. There’s a general aura that is alternately soothing and wise, but at the same time it’s like he has this secret that we all need to sort out.
BC: Shortly after that, I became friends with Laura and I saw that she posted the lyrics of Suzanne on her Instagram, and we joked that we should cover it. Later, we picked her up at the airport and she had like 5 hours between sound check and a show at the Greek Theatre and we recorded all the vocals.
FM: Was it frightening to cover a song you love so much?
BC: Oh completely. Laura was actually like, ‘we can’t fuck this up, it needs to be amazing or we’re not doing it at all.’ I’m really proud of our version though.
FM: How do you feel when people cover your own songs?
BC: It makes me so happy even if they get all the chords wrong because they’re singing their heart out. That’s what it’s about. It’s about that connection.
FM: On your Facebook page, you list Lou Reed, Bill Callahan, Leonard Cohen as musical influences, do you feel a greater affinity with singer/songwriters than bands?
BC: They’re all storytellers.
SS: It could be a hardcore band; it could be a folk singer, as long as there’s a story it matters.
BC: It’s not about a guitar tone or a riff, it’s about a feeling. We want it to be an experience whether they hear a three and a half minute song or the whole album.
FM: It was a pretty quick period to release the album, wasn’t it?
BC: We feel like we took our time. We did 200 shows on an EP, but it’s like we weren’t taken seriously until we had an album (Laughs).
FM: How do you guys mesh the influences of six different members?
BC: We’ve been learning that. We would ask, ‘is this a NO song or not?’ Stay With Me was the first song that felt like it was a thread for the band. The theme for this album was letting lonely people know they’re not alone.
FM: Under your genre on Facebook, it’s listed as Post-Hymnal Anthematic, what’s the story on that?
SS: It came from one of the first reviews of our music and we liked it (laughs). When you’re watching a comedian or a film and you catch the eye of someone else having that same moment, and you’re together in that thing, we want that moment.
BC: There was a show last night in Ontario where there were maybe 15 people and there was a woman who drove three hours from Michigan just to see the show and she sung every word. Even with only 15 people, that one person made that show special. It doesn’t matter if there’s 15 people or 500 people, it’s still an important show.
FM: You guys opened for Public Image LTD, how was it to meet Johhny Rotten?
SS: It was cool, we got to open for PIL in Manchester. It was pretty amazing watching 60 year olds with liberty spikes just swaying and dancing to our music. The whole thing was like we’re all a little bit intimidated and everybody turned out to be super sweet and Johnny (John Lydon) just starts spouting poetry, and it was just surreal.
BC: They were so gracious, I thought we were going to get slaughtered (laughs).
FM: You guys did a string of shows at SXSW, how did you handle the chaotic scheduling?
SS: It’s a sprint no matter what you do. The last day we were led to this secret place in the middle of 6th street and it felt like an old speakeasy where a slot opens and they ask you for a secret password. It was just peaceful music and free alcohol and just getting hammered in peace. It doesn’t matter how many shows you play, you still have to navigate that festival and that’s tough.
FM: How do you bounce back when the morale is low for a number of shows?
BC: You just need to stay positive and be grateful. You have to be patient. I’ve read so many stories about bands that played shows for like one person. It takes a lot of time and work to let the songs soak in.
FM: What have you guys been listening to lately?
SS: The new Future Islands record is amazing. You would never expect it listening to their album, but they whip crowds into a frenzy. People jump off the stage like they’re at a hardcore show. We really like the new Connan Mockasin and Lou Doillon as well. We’ve also been listening to a lot of D’Angelo in the van. You know, sometimes you gotta get sexy.
This edition of the Flannelmouth Sessions is brought to you by:
Photos: Jason Barnes
Words: Michael Snydel