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."