Mutilated pop tunes...
A lot of my choices are pop songs that are just slightly off and that is a big influence on The Orwells,” the band’s guitarist Matt O’ Keefe explains as he runs MusicRadar through the ten records that changed his life.
The influence of the key albums that Matt reels off during our chat is clear to see on his band’s new album, Terrible Human Beings.
In discussing the making of the Illinois fivesome’s third record, Matt reveals that his upbringing of off-kilter pop was a cornerstone of the album’s writing sessions.
“We all love pop songs that are just slightly off and we would start with the melody and the lyrics and once we had a tune that would pull you in we would think, ‘How can we fuck this up now? How can be mutilate it?’”
Recorded at Steve Albini’s Electric Audio studio in Chicago, Terrible Human Beings sees Matt apply his ‘mutilated pop tunes’ approach to his guitar work.
“There’s nothing really fancy on there guitar wise,” Matt says. “I like when I can grab all the strings and rip them and something great comes out of it. There’s some of that on this album.
“There’s times when I’m just hitting my guitar or I’m letting the feedback wail. When you get lucky like that, that is my favourite and there are some nice parts like that on this record.”
With the influences that powered Terrible Human Beings still fresh in his head, we grilled Matt on the albums that shaped his musical past, present and future.
The Strokes - Is This It (2001)
This is the first record that I heard that really made me think about playing music.
It was so simple, that was what was great about it because it was so easy to learn to play all of those songs. It was all so cool. It’s a great record, The Strokes are great.
That was the first record that I felt some kind of attachment to. When it was first released my elder brother was obsessed with it but I was in first grade or something. I remember hearing Last Nite at that time but it wasn’t until later that I really understood it and started to dig it big time.
Pixies - Doolittle (1989)
This was another huge record for me. I still listen to this record a lot.
It’s tripped out. It’s like a pop record that is so out there. It has all of these weird noises and it has bizarre lyrics.
I love the production of that record so much as well, it has all of this reverb, it sounds like it is being played in a gymnasium or something. It’s a record that I just can’t get over.
Once I discovered Is This It I started playing guitar and when I first heard Doolittle I was playing but I hadn’t quite figured out exactly what I wanted to do just yet. I didn’t realise that I would end up writing songs, but this was a formative record for me.
The Stooges - The Stooges (1969)
It’s funny about some of the records I have chosen here, some of them I don’t listen to at all anymore but they were really important in my life.
This record is one that my brother got me for Christmas. I remember listening to it and zoning out for 1969 and it didn’t really catch my attention but then once I Wanna Be You Dog came on with the sleigh bells that really pulled me into that album.
I became kind of obsessed with The Stooges for a bit after hearing this record. My brother is six years older than me so he had figured out a lot about music and had filtered out the bad stuff so he showed me the good stuff.
Modern Lovers - Modern Lovers (1976)
That same Christmas that I got The Stooges record, my brother also got me the first Modern Lovers record. This is just so simple but also unbelievable.
We grew up in a little Mid-Western suburb and those songs really do feel, even though they’re about Boston, they feel like they could be translated directly to being about the suburb that I grew up in.
It takes a good record to capture something like that and have a vibe that you can apply to yourself and where you grew up. To do that, and for it to not come across as cheesy, is difficult but they pull it off.
The Replacements - Let It Be (1984)
I went through a big Replacements phase. This was a huge record for me.
With all of these records I can’t really explain what it is about them, they are just great records. This one has the whole package.
It has the KISS cover [Black Diamond] in there and the artwork has them on the roof which is one of my favourite images of all time.
This one was the first time I heard rock songs where I thought, ‘Ok, the lyrics can really be something’. This album took me into a whole different realm. Again, my brother introduced me to The Replacements. Most of these bands came from my brother or my dad.
Big Star - Radio City (1974)
From The Replacements I discovered Big Star. Radio City is their second record and I could easily have put their first or third records on this list because I love them all, but Radio City is so cool.
It is the sloppiest and rawness of three and it is just a great record. This is another one, like Modern Lovers, that captured the feel of growing up. Those are coming of age records.
Lee Hazlewood - Requiem For An Almost Lady (1971)
We start now with some of the weirder choices, some of the records that I don’t think have really influenced The Orwells.
This is a folksy album and it’s just him with a guitar and an acoustic bass. He has all of these songs about these girls that had left him and how he got over them.
The melodies are great, the lyrics are great. It’s super simple and I love it. I remember hearing the first track on this album which is I’m Glad I Never… and it’s a funny song about him saying some pretty weird shit. I think I heard that song and wanted to hear more.
Bob Dylan - Vol 4: Royal Albert Hall Bootleg (1998)
If I had to pick one Dylan collection I would take the Royal Albert Hall bootleg, the one that was actually in Manchester.
That is like a greatest hits at that point. He plays those songs live on this album in such a cool way, like when he play Visions of Johanna and he’s stretching out the words.
It’s such a vulnerable sounding spot with him sounding alone and then it goes to him the band.
The solos in Tell Me Momma and One Too Many Mornings are some of the heaviest rock music out there.
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001)
Going a little bit more modern it gets tricky because there are about 50 modern records that could take these spots.
The theme that goes across my choices are that they are pop songs but there’s just something off about them. It’s like they’re pop songs that just got melted a little bit.
With this album they’re mostly pop tunes and then there’s folky tunes and then they’re mutilated with these noise tangents that they go off on.
That is such a great record lyrically, it’s unique. I remember hearing that song when I was very young and I heard Heavy Metal Drummer and thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.
Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012)
This is the super-modern choice. This was the first time that I heard something like this and really liked it.
This is one of those really big story records. To make one of those big story records great is very rare, I had never heard a record like this before. Lyrically, this album is unbelievable.