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Local Q&A: The Orwells

Try as he might, Mario Cuomo, singer for rising garage-rock quintet the Orwells, can't seem to avoid trouble.

His high school years essentially were a string of missed classes and misdeeds, including a lengthy suspension for launching a water bottle at a DJ spinning music in the lunchroom cafeteria during homecoming week. "I thought the whole idea of him being there was goofy ... and I wanted to do something about it," Cuomo said.

Recent months have been equally challenging. In October the singer was arrested along with two family members after police seized marijuana and drug paraphernalia from the Cuomos' Elmhurst home (the 19-year old frontman has since been cleared of the charges). Then, earlier this year, the band created a minor stir with a performance at Iowa's Grinnell College that the student paper dubbed "destructive."

Musically, however, things have been on the upswing for the youthful crew. The band's breakthrough album, the sneering "Remember When," has attracted the attention of local and national tastemakers, and Metallica recently hand-picked the group to perform at its Orion Music + More Festival, taking place in June in Detroit.

Reached in the tour van en route to South by Southwest, Cuomo talked about his run-ins with the law, why he's so afraid of aging and the shock of being chosen to perform by Metallica.

Considering your multiple run-ins with the police [Cuomo also served a two-year probation for his role in a fight], have you given any thought to law school? You could become your own defense attorney.

[Laughs.] Nah. I think I'm going to stick to paying for lawyers.

Since negative press tends to get more play, I was wondering if you've done any good deeds lately.

I think playing shows for people is probably the best thing I do on a day-to-day basis.

You guys actually named "Remember When" for a now-closed record store in Westmont, right?

Yeah. That was our guitarist Matt's go-to spot. I wasn't interested in collecting vinyl at the time, but I recently picked up a record player and started a collection. Having a physical copy where you can see the album artwork is a lot cooler than scrolling through [bleep] on your iPod.

In past interviews, you guys talked about a desire to move to L.A. Is that still the case?

We thought it would be a good idea to live out there for a year to try and get recognized by labels and stuff, but once we started to get recognized here in Chicago it was like, "Well, now we don't really have to leave. We can do this from here."

Do you feel like you're part of a scene here? Is there a sense of kinship with local bands like Smith Westerns?

Hell yeah. Recently they came out to a couple of our shows and invited us to hang with them, which was insane. It was like, "Why did the Smith Westerns come out to see us?" We were confused. It was crazy chilling with them and thinking about how much I listened to their music, and what it's done for me and gotten me through. I try to keep it to myself, but whenever we hang out with them it's still shocking and it still amazes me.

There's a line on "Remember When" where you sing, "We got this fear of aging." Why does getting old frighten you?

Seeing old people, they all seem happy just sitting around and not doing much. It seems like a sad part of life, and I'm not looking forward to it.

What do you consider old?

Probably like 40 is pushing it. That's an old dude.

How did you react when Metallica invited you to play the Orion Music + More Festival?

It was almost comical. I was like, "What the [bleep]? A festival that Metallica is playing?" It's still a shock. Knowing that people who have been so influential in music have actually heard about you and approve of what you're doing is a really big deal. I probably haven't listened to Metallica since middle school, but I still recognize what they've done for music and as musicians.

They're all well over 40. Does that give you any hope that getting old won't be that bad?

Yeah, now that I think about it there are older dudes like that. Especially Iggy Pop. We saw the Stooges in Chicago last year, and when I saw his ass up there doing what he was doing it was like, "If he can do that at his age, I can probably try."

The Orwells, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 23 at Beat Kitchen, $10

Mario Cuomo personality test
Song you've listened to on repeat recently? "'Varisty,' that new single by the Smith Westerns."
Song you never want to hear again? "Probably 'ABC' by the Jackson Five because the way we have our iPod hooked up in the van it goes back to the first song in your music library whenever a song ends, so the beginning of 'ABC' has been played like 500 times in our van on this tour."
Best concert you've seen in the last year? "Probably Waka Flocka at Congress Theater."
New band you don't know personally that deserves to be big? "Deerhunter are known on the indie level, but they deserve to be one of the biggest bands out there."
Favorite movie ever? "Sin City"
Chicago's best music venue? Schubas

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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