Formed in 1986 in Chicago, Illinois, USA, Urge Overkill are led by National "Nash" Kato (vocals) and his co-vocalist and drumming partner Blackie "Black Caesar" Onassis (b. Johnny Rowan, Chicago, Illinois, USA). The line-up is completed by bass player Eddie "King" Roeser.
They took their name from an old Funkadelic song, and combined the upfront rock riffs of AC/DC with the pop of the Raspberries and Cheap Trick. After releasing a lacklustre debut 12-inch, the STRANGE, I?EP, Urge Overkill went on to record four albums for seminal Chicago punk label Touch & Go Records, and supported Nirvana.
With producers that included Steve Albini and Butch Vig, no one could contest their punk rock credentials. However, such product placement proved misleading. They covered Neil Diamond's "Girl," stating that he was more important to their development than any late '70s band. As they revealed, "We come from the fine tradition of James Brown and the soul bands, for whom looking good was paramount." As if to confirm their lack of sympathy for the growing punk movement Urge Overkill took delight in wearing outlandish ethnic clothes, touring Chicago in an open-top car, with chilled champagne nestling in the boot. They also flew in the face of grunge fashion by filming videos about picnics, yachting and their second most-favoured form of transport ?the horse drawn carriage. Such behaviour won them few friends within the tightly knit Chicago scene, the most public demonstration of their rejection coming from Albini (he cited them as "freakish attention-starved megalomaniacs").
THE SUPERSONIC STORYBOOK saw the band trade in overblown images of Americana, resenting the new austerity which had swept the nation and deprived its teenagers of opportunities for excess ?in particular the band's favoured drug, the hallucinogenic artane. STULL was inspired by a visit to the ghost town of the same name, situated exactly at the mid-point of the US, 40 miles away from Kansas. SATURATION, their debut record for major label Geffen Records, was produced by hip-hop duo the Butcher Brothers, once again revealing a much more gaudy, vaudeville and escapist outlook than other Chicago bands.
Last time we heard from Chicago's Urge Overkill, notorious in the Windy City for their meticulous adherence to the dictum of style over substance and a fondness for gaudy UO medallions and cocktails, the band were in melt-down mode following the disappointing response to their muddled fifth album Exit the Dragon. And while the record was hardly given the big push by their former label, Geffen, in one of Chi-town's favorite pastimes, the wagons started circling, as they had several times during the band's erratic career, and reports indicated that the tipsy trio were on the verge of losing the Urge.
What followed was a typically messy series of overkilling events. A planned tour was canceled, chalked up to the group's desire to "be with family" during the Christmas holidays, with vague assurances from their PR flacks that the barely-charting album would be "re-launched" in the new year. Neither the tour nor the album were ever heard from again. Drummer Blackie Onassis spiraled into a very public battle with heroin, and, finally, a nasty split between singer/guitarist National "Nash" Kato and singer/bassist/guitarist Eddie "King" Roeser, which resulted in Roeser's ousting from the band, completed the career-threatening hat trick. Suddenly, the band, who'd been flying high just a year before, when their 4-year-old cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" became a surprise hit on the Pulp Fiction, looked like goners.
Then, they were the beneficiaries of some very un-Urge-like good luck. Their former Geffen publicist hopped to Sony/550 Music and asked the then two-man band if they wanted to make the jump also. The duo began working on some demos at The Bank, their Shaft-like Chicago recording/chill-out bachelor pad complex, still without a guitarist to replace Roeser, when a tape from Chicago expatriate Nils St. Cyr fell into their laps. St. Cyr, who apparently had both the wardrobe and chops to impress Kato and Onassis, was deemed Urge-worthy and the band signed on the dotted line with 550 Music. A source at 550 said they'd already started working on new material at The Bank for what they hoped would be a late 1997 release.
However, it now appears that the rock and roll entity known as Urge Overkill is a thing of the past. Singer/songwriter Nash Kato had vowed to carry on the proud UO tradition following the 1996 departure of Ed "King" Roeser, but Kato's attempts to move forward musically with smack-addled drummer Blackie Onassis and new guitarist Nils St.Cyr have come to an abrupt end. Kato has just been dropped from 550 Records after submitting a heap of tunes (reportedly enough for a double-album) the label deemed unmarketable. Nash has been seen prowling around his native Chicago, but refuses to give interviews. 550 were unavailable for comment as well.
Roeser, for his part, doesn't speak with Kato ("never," says a close associate) and has gone on with his life, forming Electric Airlines with his brother John. With a solid following already in place back home, Electric Airlines have recorded a 14-song "demo debut" that they may or may not shop around for some kind of record deal, and the group -- equal parts Rolling Stones and Jayhawks -- will have a single in the next round from the illustrious Sub Pop Singles Club. Though his break with Kato certainly runs deeper than the right to Urge's name, Roeser was matter-of-fact about the issue in a recent interview with Chicago Sun Times music critic Jim DeRogatis.
"Let me put it diplomatically," Roeser told the paper. "To [continue on as Urge Overkill] would be a grave infringement of many copyright laws. They can't legally do it. It's not something that I sanction."
As for Blackie, whose heroin dependency was a major factor in Roeser's decision to part ways, by all accounts numerous attempts to clean him up have failed, he's currently out in Los Angeles doing non-musical things. There was some speculation that Nash may attempt to release the rejected UO tunes himself, but no one is willing to confirm or deny anything.
This speculation was finally confirmed, and in April, 2000, Nash Kato released "Debutante." His first and only solo album to date. And so the Urge legacy continues.....