Few bands ever lusted after rock stardom quite as blatantly as Chicago's Urge Overkill. Although they draped their quest for stardom in a cloak of ironic detachment, it's quite clear the trio members expected that if they acted like stars, they would become stars. For a while, their stylish, retro-'70s outfits, matching medallions, and heavy Cheap Trick homages earned the group a popular following in alternative rock circles. The SuperSonic Storybook and the Stull EP were both underground hits in the early '90s, before alternative rock became big business. Once alternative rock entered the big leagues, it seemed likely that Urge Overkill, with their exceptionally accessible combination of arena rock, power pop, and underground punk, would follow Nirvana to the top of the charts, but mainstream America never quite understood their ironic outlook, embracing the group only after their cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" was used in a key scene in Pulp Fiction. Instead of breaking down the doors to stardom, the song proved to be a breaking point. Exit the Dragon, the first album released after the hit single, was a bomb, receiving little radio or MTV support, and the bandmembers soon fell prey to their widely documented excesses.
Of course, Urge Overkill were always unlikely candidates for rock stardom. The group's core members, Nash Kato (b. Nathan Katruud; occasionally billed as National Kato) and Eddie "King" Roeser, were Midwest suburbanites who met at college in Chicago. Taking their name from a Parliament song, the duo formed Urge Overkill in 1985 with drummer Jack Watt (billed as "the Jaguar") and recorded their debut EP, Strange, I... with Kato's roommate Steve Albini the following year. Neither Strange, I... nor its full-length follow-up, the Albini-produced Jesus Urge Superstar, gained much attention, primarily because the group was attempting to replicate the noise rock aesthetic of so many other Chicago-based acts on Touch & Go Records. However, the Butch Vig-produced Americruiser (1990) featured an improved sound and sense of style, highlighted on the near-college hit "Ticket to LA."
Drummer Blackie Onassis (b. Johnny Rowan) was added to the band prior to the recording of its third album. With Onassis in the band, Urge Overkill landed on their Stonesy fusion of arena rock and punk, as well as their idea to act like stars. The new Urge Overkill were debuted on 1991's The SuperSonic Storybook, which became an underground hit thanks to strong reviews and a slot opening for Nirvana on the American Nevermind tour. Urge hired Kramer to produce the 1992 Stull EP, which featured both "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" and "Goodbye to Guyville," a kiss-off to the Chicago indie rock scene the band had alienated; Liz Phair would later borrow the term for her acclaimed debut album, Exile in Guyville.
Urge Overkill signed to DGC Records in 1992, although they were still contracted to record another album for Touch & Go. Their jump to the majors angered the whole label, particularly their former producer Albini, who publicly attacked the band in several interviews. Still, the band's 1993 major-label debut, Saturation, was greeted with strong reviews upon its summer release. Produced by the Butcher Brothers (Cypress Hill), the album sounded like a sure-fire alternative crossover hit, but only "Sister Havana" earned much airplay. Furthermore, the band began to alienate certain members of the alternative rock community with its constant preening, and a few anti-Urge campaigns were launched in the American indie rock underground.
As the band was preparing to record its follow-up to Saturation, Quentin Tarantino picked the group's cover of "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" for the soundtrack to his unexpected hit Pulp Fiction. On the strength of the movie's success, the song became a hit, seemingly setting the stage for a breakthrough success with 1995's Exit the Dragon. But the success never happened. Scheduled for early summer of 1995, the album didn't appear until the fall, when it was greeted with mixed reviews. The lead single from the album, "The Break," was rather uncommercial, and received little airplay. The group began a tour that fall but it quickly turned disastrous, with opening act Guided by Voices being kicked off amidst much controversy just a few weeks in. A few weeks later, the remaining concerts were canceled altogether and never rescheduled. Toward the end of the year, Blackie Onassis was picked up for heroin possession. No charges were pressed and the incident was kept quiet, but the album was already pronounced dead in the water by the media and DGC.
Urge Overkill spent 1996 in seclusion as they attempted to regroup. By the end of the year, tensions between Nash Kato and Eddie "King" Roeser had escalated, resulting in Roeser's departure from the band. Kato and Onassis continued on as a duo, leaving DGC for 550 Music in early 1997. As the band was preparing its first album for 550 Music, Roeser was replaced with guitarist Nils St. Cyr. However, unhappy with the results, the label soon dropped them, upon which point Urge Overkill disbanded. Nash Kato released his solo debut, Debutante, in early 2000.
The band, this time minus Onassis, reunited for a worldwide tour in 2004 and played the occasional festival or one-off show afterwards. In 2010 the band got serious and hit the recording studio with a renewed sense of purpose. In May of 2011, the new version of Urge, which included Kato and Roeser along with ex-Polvo drummer Bonn Quast and ex-Gaza Strippers bassist Mike "Hadji" Hodgkiss, released its first collection of new studio material in 16 years, Rock & Roll Submarine. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine