Garage-punk bambinos the Orwells have only been making music together since 2009. But it didn’t take long for the group, which formed in high school, to catch the ear of producers like Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys) and Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio). With their 2012 album Remember When and a very memorable Letterman performance under their belts, the Chicago quintet are returning June 3rd with a new album titled Disgraceland. Today, we’re offering an early listen to the full LP, plus a chat with guitarist Matt O’Keefe about the group’s inspirations and the state of rock & roll.
You went from recording yourselves in your basement to working in the studio with three major producers on Disgraceland. What was that transition like?
Working with Jim and Sitek and Chris Coady was awesome, but it was a difficult thing to kind of get used to. It’s so much easier to go about recording when you have somebody producing you because whatever you want to hear, they can make happen. But at the same time it’s almost like bringing another dude to the band and you’ve gotta give up some stuff. You have to try what they have, and if you like it, you do it. It was a weird experience but a good one.
What music were you guys listening to when you were working on the new album? It sounds like you’ve moved on from the Sixties psych-rock of Remember When.
There were a lot of people we were listening to — you know, cheesy Seventies rock bands you can’t get into when you’re in middle school but then you rediscover and you can finally understand what they’re singing about. Like a lot of Cheap Trick and the Heartbreakers.
So were you making an Elvis reference when you named the album Disgraceland?
Yeah, yeah, it’s an Elvis thing, but somebody else could say it’s a Paul Simon thing. Really we were talking about making a DIY venue in downtown Elmhurst, and we were gonna call it Disgraceland. Then we never really did anything about that, so when it came to naming the album we were just like, “Well, let’s just take the name of that DIY venue of ours and name the album that.”
Coming from that DIY background but signed to a label affiliated with Atlanic, what do you make of where rock music is at right now?
When I think about what I hear when I turn on the radio, it’s not dangerous. I know it’s like an evolution and that’s what rock & roll should do — evolve — but when you’re meshing rock & roll with synths and shit, it’s just not dangerous enough. Modern rock & roll bands that I hear on the radio are way too safe and soft. And nobody gives a shit about anything that’s safe and soft; it’s boring. When you hear rock & roll, you want dangerous shit.
Is there another current rock band you would deem adequately dangerous?
When we were in high school and starting the band, every year we’d go see the Black Lips downtown at Logan’s Square in Chicago, and just watching the stuff they did and the kids that were there, you’d feel such depth from just being there and thinking, “OK, I might get my ass kicked being here.” I’d much rather feel like I’m getting my ass kicked at a rock & roll show than just stand there like I’m watching a movie projected on a screen.