Urge Overkill was one of the biggest bands to ever come out of Chicago. Before the Smashing Pumpkins stole the local spotlight away, Urge ruled the 1990’s Chicago music scene for awhile with their combination of arena rock, punk and funk, along with a 1970’s sense of fashion and image. Initially on Chicago labels Ruthless Records and then Touch and Go, the band made their major label debut with Geffen Records in 1993, when they released “Saturation,” which remains their biggest seller.
Most of their hits came about when they were a trio, Nathan Katruud, John Rowan and Eddie Roeser — better known as “Nash Kato, Blackie Onassis and Eddie ‘King’ Roeser.” They may have had stage names, they may have been decked out in cheesy 1970’s era lounge suits, but the music was always real. After their second Geffen album, 1995’s “Exit the Dragon,” Urge disappeared for 16 years, until releasing “Rock & Roll Submarine” on their own label in 2011, this time without Onassis.
The last few years they have played sporadically, but now they are back, with a new album planned to come out before a big show. They were recently tapped to play Wrigley Field in August, opening for The Foo Fighters along with Naked Raygun and Cheap Trick.
The Chicago Ambassador recently spoke to Nash Kato and Eddie “King” Roeser about their upcoming Wrigley Field concert, touring with Nirvana, being stalked in the 90’s, playing for the second generation of Urge fans, a little movie called “Pulp Fiction” and their plans going forward.
Interviewed by Bob Chiarito for The Chicago Ambassador.
CA) Congrats on the Wrigley Field gig. That has to be pretty exciting for you guys.
EDDIE) I would say it’s historically appropriate. We don’t get to call these things, but I think that a band that is in and of Chicago like us. Put it this way: we obviously belong up there.
CA) When someone thinks of Chicago bands, Urge Overkill is definitely in the top half of the list. You guys toured with Nirvana in 1991. Was that how you became friends with Dave Grohl? Is that how this Wrigley Field thing came about?
EDDIE) Basically I would have to say yes. When we first played with Nirvana, we were sort of on a level where we were of equal standing. We used to play before them and I remember them telling us later — we were in Ohio — we were a really tight trio at the time — they said they checked out our show and they said they definitely had to lift up their game to hit the stage after us. I think we first met them in a club in Columbus, Ohio.
NASH KATO) Yeah, that’s right.
EDDIE) They saw our suits all laid out, ready to go and they came in there are were like ‘who the fuck are these guys?’ Although our reputation I think had preceded us. I think they certainly at that point had known all about Urge because we had worked with Butch Vig prior to them, and we also had worked with Steve Albini prior to them, so I think they were well aware of the Urge sonic footprint back then. Steve was not known on the world stage at that time. He was known for more of a punk rock producer guy.
CA) The Foo Fighters new album was recorded at Steve Albini’s studio, Electrical Audio here in Chicago. I know there was some bad blood between him and Urge Overkill when you left Touch and Go. Has that been patched up?
EDDIE) Umm, yeah. I don’t know that there’s any bad blood. He hasn’t really said anything that we can tell (if there’s bad blood.)
Steve Albini, reached by The Chicago Ambassador, had this to say about Urge Overkill: In Urge’s case, Touch and Go had always operated on a handshake basis, with the presumption being that as long as everyone was happy with the arrangement, things would continue. Urge Overkill was the first band to try to take advantage of that by leveraging attention from the mainstream into sort of bullying Touch and Go into doing stuff that wasn’t really in their nature as an independent label like spending more on promotions, investing more into the band, advancing the band money because of an implied threat that Urge would sign with a big label if Touch and Go didn’t jump through hoops to appease them. Then, after Touch and Go did jump through hoops to appease them, Urge Overkill still left the label. It was particularly unpleasant to see a band that had been so cared for by the rest of the underground music scene. When they had no public profile, they were able to put records out, when they had no audience they were able to play shows with all these other bands that supported them and liked them. On a personal level, people put up with their unpleasantness and more demanding nature in different circumstances where they wouldn’t have had….
I don’t have high regard for the way they conducted themselves but we were great friends at one time and I still value that period and that friendship. We had a lot of good experiences together, we saw a lot of cool stuff and did a lot of cool things. I feel like the way everyone was acting in that period was evidence of great camaraderie and genuine friendship. I’m not embarrassed by my association or anything, I think during the period where they were participants in that musical community, they were beloved in that scene, and rightly so. They were entertaining and they were funny. Their self-aggrandizement was a kind of mockery of the rock star bullshit which they later sort of embodied in a literal sense. The way I’ve described it in the past was the ironic distance narrowed to a point of nothing, and then it was no longer ironic. They were just another rock band trying to make money and get laid.
CA) What are your thoughts on the lineup for the Wrigley Field show? You have yourselves, Naked Raygun and Cheap Trick all opening for The Foo Fighters. Are you guys fans of those bands as well?
EDDIE) Definitely early on, we always dreamed outside of the box and were kind of playing the world stage in our own minds. Raygun I think is very appropriate. Their template, their style of rock, we’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the ‘WHOA WHOA WHOA-OH” style of Chicago rock, the sing alongs. They had a lineup that I believe Nash probably saw more, but we always were into the guitar playing especially.
CA) With the fake names and the outfits you guys had an image, but if you strip it away, there is nothing fake about the music. It’s pretty much straight-up rock and roll.
EDDIE) Right, at the time the scene was so serious. We just wanted to bring a little levity to that. I think certainly at the time, in a way, Raygun would have been a predecessor to Urge. Nash — you remember seeing them play? I saw them open for The Replacements at the Cubby Bear once in the 1980s. And as I recall, it was not that crowded. You would assume that it would have been a huge show, but it wasn’t.
NASH) Yes, I remember seeing them also.
CA) You guys went quite awhile — 16 years between “Exit the Dragon” and “Rock & Roll Submarine” in 2011. Are you working on anything new right now?
EDDIE) Yes, we’ve always held back some songs and we have a bunch of songs that we’re sitting on. We’re going to get something out there before we play Wrigley Field. Plans are afoot for the next record.
CA) Because it’s been so long since your early albums, and even “Pulp Fiction” is 20 years old now — do you find yourselves reintroducing yourselves to younger fans who are in their 20s now?
EDDIE) Every artist hopes to do that, and it’s great. Obviously we’re not gonna change what we do to appeal to people other than our fans but I think we have a lot of second generation Urge fans. The kids we see at our show are usually kids of parents who were really into Urge, so we have the second generation coming now to our shows.
CA) Another claim to fame that Urge has is that you have organized “stalkers” — Beverly Babb and Karol Cooper, the ladies who taunted you and put out that newsletter called “The Stalker.” What do you (or did you) make of them?
EDDIE) I have no idea. Are they still active?
CA) I talked to one of them, Beverly Babb, who lives in Georgia. She said she’s going to parachute into the Wrigley Field gig.
NASH) That would be awesome.
CA) She’s still full of piss and vinegar. According to her, she said you guys were jerks to them and told stories about you being not so nice to other bands back in the day. (To read The Chicago Ambassador’s conversation with Urge Overkill “Stalker” Beverly Babb, click here)
EDDIE) Who are we supposedly — I don’t recall those times that well.
NASH) I hardly can remember anything. (laughs)
CA) To get back to the Wrigley Field gig, do you guys have any surprises or special guests planned?
EDDIE) You know, it’s pretty early in the process, but yes, there are plans afoot, but I can’t answer that question as you know very well.
CA) Are you guys still friendly with Liz Phair?
EDDIE) Friendly might be the word. I believe she doesn’t live in town, in Chicago, anymore. We haven’t crossed paths that much. Chicago shows are great, but in the Urge mind, we are always threading the world stage. It is, however, fitting to be playing at one of the world’s great venues for rock music, historically at least with The Beatles performance there. And Billy Joel.
CA) I know Billy Joel played at Wrigley, but didn’t The Beatles play at Comiskey Park and not Wrigley Field?
EDDIE) You are correct, sir. I think it was at Comiskey. I think you’re right.
CA) Are you going to play any gigs between now and the Wrigley gig in August?
EDDIE) Yes, we’ll unveil our plans and the Wrigley show will be the climax of 2015.
NASH) We do have some dates in Spain in December.
EDDIE) Yes, we’re going overseas at the end of this year. As for the spring, we are talking about that. There’s nothing announced yet.
CA) You guys still live in Chicago?
EDDIE) Yes, in Chicago and the environs. Nash splits his time between Chicago and other ports of interest. That information, as you know, is also not widely available.
CA) How’s Blackie doing? Last I read he was battling some addiction problems. Do you keep in touch with him?
EDDIE) Well, we read the same papers as you do apparently. It’s the kind of thing where, I don’t know if you’ve had a close family member involved in this struggle, but it’s very difficult and it’s not something one wishes on oneself. I think if Blackie has a message for us, we are easy to find. I do not actually know the particulars of his situation right now but we do hold the door open in terms of any information. I’m always curious to how he’s doing.
NASH) Actually, Jack sent me a text a couple weeks ago that Blackie was dating his sister-in-law.
EDDIE) Jack Black.
NASH) It’s good to hear that he’s still alive, getting laid and all that.
CA) You guys still have a fondness for him, correct?
NASH) Oh yeah. The music we made, it was the three of us. That will always live on. He was part of that journey, some of the most exciting chapters in the book of Urge. We’ll always have fond memories.
CA) You called the Wrigley Field gig a climax. You are still going to keep playing after that, right?
EDDIE) Yes, the band is a continuing entity. We are always making plans and playing it close to the vest. The Urge legacy is still much a well-kept secret in today’s digital underground and that’s fine with us. If Urge makes a major resurgence, obviously we just keep doing what we’re doing. We’re going to let the connoisseurs of music come to us, as it were.
CA) You’ve heard the Wesley Willis song ,”Urge Overkill,” that he sang?
EDDIE) I’ve heard the song. I’m not sure what reference you are making?
CA) I’m curious if you’d consider playing that at Wrigley or at any other gigs?
NASH) I’m sure we would find his music much too complex. (laughter) Weren’t all his songs the same, only insert-your-name here?
EDDIE) He did have a bright period where he was very inspirational but it’s one of those things were you can only go on for so long. The troubled, mentally ill genius thing.
NASH) He was a kindred spirit — I kept my distance from him, because you never knew, at the drop of a hat, he could attack you. He wasn’t violent, but he was a big motherfucker. You didn’t want that guy, after a few shots, coming at you. I always kept him at arm’s length.
CA) You’ve kinda been immortalized with the “Pulp Fiction” movie using your version of Neil Diamond’s “Girl You’ll be a Woman Soon.” Was that really a surprise? Didn’t Quentin Tarantino ask for permission?
EDDIE) Yes, we were asked. The surprise was the movie itself. You never expect a song to play such an importance in a thematic role. There’s a million songs in movies, but this was really like front and center. That was the surprise.
CA) And you guys have met Neil Diamond?
EDDIE) Indeed. I think he’s on tour right now. We first met him way back, originally after it happened. The song (“Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon”) wasn’t as well known in the States. It was a minor hit in Europe. He was smiling. Like you asked us about the kids — everyone wants to connect with the younger generation. That’s what Neil told us back in 1994. If you think about it, if he’s still at it, why not Urge?
CA) Maybe one day a younger band will cover one of your songs?
NASH) Or cover our cover of Girl. That would be interesting.
Urge Overkill plays Chicago August 29 at Wrigley Field along Naked Raygun, Cheap Trick and The Foo Fighters.