ELMHURST – Just a few years ago, Mario Cuomo, 20, was a teen fresh out of York High School who couldn't get a job at Buffalo Wild Wings.
"It just kind of like played into my favor that I just had to work harder at this," said The Orwells frontman, Cuomo, following the rock band's second appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman" in less than six months.
The five York graduates, including Matt O'Keefe, cousins Dominic Corso and Cuomo, and the Brinner twins, Grant and Henry, performed at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee last weekend and released a new album June 3 in the U.S. called "Disgraceland," which aside from nodding at the King of Rock-n-Roll is also a commentary on the band's suburban roots.
"That's where all the songs were made," said Cuomo, who just moved to Chicago after the band's return from Bonnaroo.
He explained that while he and his band mates all had a "great childhood" growing up in Elmhurst, in his teens, he saw how boredom led kids to snort drugs or push their limits in other ways.
"It became like a lot darker of a place," Cuomo said.
Cuomo didn't look forward to going to college and joining a fraternity like he recalls many of his classmates did. He and his band mates didn't play football or go to homecoming. They had a different goal.
"It was nice to have something for us to work at throughout high school and like keep us going – keep me out of trouble," Cuomo said about the band.
He remembers watching other bands on Letterman and thinking that was it. They'd made it, but even after two performances at the Ed Sullivan Theater, Cuomo isn't convinced The Orwells have made it.
"I feel like as soon as you think that, you start to spiral out of control and hit rock bottom, so I hope we never make it," he said.
The performer known for his curly blonde mane and writhing stage moves said he believes the band still has plenty of room to grow. He wants to see The Orwells on a top 10 video countdown, beating out pop stars in the name of rock-n-roll.
"I'd like to bring real rock-n-roll music to the masses ... just so everybody knows what real rock-n-roll music sounds like because a lot of people, especially younger people, have forgotten or just never found out," Cuomo said.
The band founded in 2009, is well on its way with growing their fan base. Cuomo said when he comes home to Elmhurst, he feels like people don't look down on him like they did in the past.
"It didn't look good for a really long time, and the only people who had your back and supported you were the kids you chilled with on the weekends and that you would show your songs to," Cuomo said.
Now, the rocker has kids dressed in their Little League uniforms asking to take a photo with him when he stops in Subway during his Elmhurst visits between performances. The surge in hometown fans doesn't bother him, though.
"It's really sweet. It makes me feel like I'm doing something right," Cuomo said.
As much as Cuomo is looking forward to enjoying his new place in Chicago, he recognizes that Elmhurst played a role in the band's music. The Orwells' "North Avenue" video follows the five underage guys as they score a case of beer and run through their hometown causing trouble.
"That's the place that made us who we are," Cuomo said.
The rest of the band will still call Elmhurst home for now, but Cuomo said the video and song feel like a goodbye to that chapter of his life. He's ready to move on.
"I see other bands that I don't think are as good, doing way better. So I'm not satisfied, yet," Cuomo said.
While he said he's looking forward to drinking free beer backstage listening to Weezer and Wu-Tang Clan at the 10th Anniversary Riot Fest Chicago this September, Cuomo insists he doesn't feel like a rock star, yet.
"We're just like five kids in a band. I don't think that's going to change for a while," Cuomo said.
– – – –
In his words
The Orwells frontman Mario Cuomo reflects on the Elmhurst band's recent rise toward stardom.
On growing up in Elmhurst: "It means a lot to us in the sense that like if we were like city kids maybe we'd be out partying more."
On Letterman: "I don't know if I like encores on late night shows. It's pretty weird."
On making it big: "I just want to make a few more albums, make a few more dollars."
On "North Avenue": "It's like a nice kind of homage, like a goodbye song, I think."
On their success: "I think we put a lot into it, and it almost feels right. ... It is still incredible and everything, but you know we put a lot into it at a young age. I feel like if you put a lot into anything at a young age that it'll do all right for you."