Sometimes the problem with dreams of rock stardom is that they come true — because, like all lamp-rubbing genie tales, the "coming true" part can materialize in ways that make the whole wish seem ill-conceived in the first place. For Chicago hook-heavy crew Urge Overkill, who come to T.T. the Bear's on July 9, years spent assuming the posture of rock gods were scant preparation for the real thing. Especially since — once the stakes got real — the small-time disappointments and hijinks of their lean days turned into major disappointments and life-threatening, friendship-destroying fuck-ups.
HAVANA HOLIDAY “We had to get away from it, we needed a break, not just from the band but from the music business and everything that goes with it,” says Urge Overkill’s Nash Kato (left).
Nathan "Nash Kato" Kaatrud and Ed "King" Roeser are in a far better place — musically and personally — in 2011 than they
have been in a long time. In part it's because they have a slamming new UO record, Rock & Roll Submarine (Redeye Label) that is finally resuscitating interest in the band (the current line-up also includes Mike "Hadji" Hodgkiss on bass and drummer Brian "Bonn" Quast). But mostly it's because, after having weathered the brutal disappointment and acrimony that followed the band's mid-'90s drug-fueled meltdown, they are back together as songwriters, rockers, and friends.
"At the time, after Urge," explains Roeser, "I was like, 'Shit, man, I was in a great band, and it's probably not going to happen twice.' And then it took a number of years — it was categorically impossible to play with this other person, and then that changed." Nash, chiming in on the same phone call, agrees: "It was just 'game over.' We had to get away from it, we needed a break, not just from the band but from the music business and everything that goes with it. Maybe we could have manned up and toughed through it, but it could have been disastrous — and one of us could not be here talking to you."
What's remarkable about the band's late -90s nadir is that if we take the time machine to just a scant five years before, Urge Overkill were on top of the world. After years slugging it out in indie-land, morphing from an Albini-esque noise band to a full-on rock machine, their world started to change. Accolades for 1991's Supersonic Storybook turned into a major-label bidding war, resulting in opening slots on Nirvana's Nevermind tour and Pearl Jam's Vs tour, all part of the ramp-up to the Geffen release of what was surely to be one of 1993's biggest albums, Saturation.
The high hopes were warranted: Saturation is filled front-to-back with radio-ready missiles that avoid the woe-is-me bullshit that hampers most early-'90s rock. Lead single "Sister Havana" piled up catchy riffs, tight rock action, and dramatic arena-ready hooks; "Positive Bleeding" oozed charisma and bounce; and "Bottle of Fur" poured a strong cocktail of dapper nonchalance mixed with classic-rock heft. It didn't hurt that Urge had a striking image — suits and ties with often-matching UO gold medallions. They cloaked their rock in a narrative of band-as-suave-playboys, a refreshing antidote to the then-prevailing alt-lumberjack nation.