Exit The Dragon
October 1995: O.J. Simpson is found not guilty of murder in a trial that gave â€˜media saturationâ€™ a new meaning. Separtists in the massive Canadian province of Quebec nearly succeed in breaking apart the country, losing a referendum by less than 1 percent. And a Chicago hard-rock outfit quietly release â€˜Exit The Dragonâ€™.
Sure, one could be forgiven for not remembering the release of Urge Overkillâ€™s fifth full-length album with stirring admiration. But put it in a historical context; â€˜Exit The Dragonâ€™ turned out to be an important rock record of the â€˜90s. The 14 largely dark tracks werenâ€™t just the last that Urge Overkill would release for then major player Geffen Records; â€˜Exit The Dragonâ€™ was the last record Urge Overkill would end up releasing for 16 years.
As Eddie Roeser, vocalist/ guitarist and founding member of Urge Overkill notes, it was a different time, one that he still doesnâ€™t look back on with a sense of regret. â€œWe were very fortunate to have benefitted from the time when labels had a lot of money,â€ says Roeser, on the phone from his Chicago home. â€œIf you were a priority, it was a good life. If you werenâ€™t on a label or didnâ€™t have a cheerleader, it was a rough time. There was no way to tell what was going to happen, but we did have a good relationship when we were on Geffen. They were the bandâ€™s biggest cheerleaders. Things might not have worked out for the best, but we have no complaints about them. They didnâ€™t prioritise our last record with them, â€˜Exit The Dragonâ€™. And that happened, and it hurt us.â€
Unfortunately, being dropped by Geffen wasnâ€™t the only hurdle Urge Overkill had to jump over. In-fighting began, and then-member Johnny â€˜Blackie Onassisâ€™ Rowan was nabbed with charges of drug possession not long after the band parted ways. A sense of disappointment surrounded the band, considering Urge Overkill had at one point opened for the two stalwarts of the â€˜90s rock movement â€” Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Always seemingly on the verge of stardom, when asked about how the drugs affected the bandâ€™s relationship with Geffen, Roeser gives genuine insight.
â€œThere had been some serious heat around the people pushing Nirvana to keep working, even though those close to (Kurt Cobain) knew he had these horrible problems. They wanted them to tour the world and keep the machine running. Any rumours of any kind of drug activity with any band became an issue. We had some very public problems with drugs and Blackie, in our band. So they were just not going to have anything to do with us. And that hurt us.â€
But rock and roll, the timeless and durable artform that it is, canâ€™t be held down. Roeser and the rest of Urge Overkill returned in 2011 with â€˜Rock & Roll Submarineâ€™, a loose but still punishing listen. And for Roeser, the timing couldnâ€™t have been better. â€œWe had discussions with different labels and stuff. But I think in hindsight, we made the right choice. I think we got it right in terms of this record and timing. It might have taken a while, but it came out at the right time. We got with the right people, and weâ€™re very happy about that. Now with our own imprint, weâ€™re ready to go.â€
Roeser continues to expand on the albumâ€™s sound, hinting that while they had ideas about how they wanted â€˜Rock & Roll Submarineâ€™ to sound, they still left a lot to chance.
â€œBefore we started working on (â€˜Rock & Roll Submarine) we had this idea of it being a very polished record with a very tight concept. And it was going to be more direct, not so loose and shambled. We envisioned one thing, and it just wasnâ€™t happening that way. The stuff we like was all over the map. We looked into a few labels but we never got a ton of money to make this big, heavily produced record. We kind of made it on a shoestring. Itâ€™s a collection of tracks from the last six years. There were some songs that we knew were going to be on there, but they still took shape on their own. We thought weâ€™d have a more focused idea, but I guess thatâ€™s not what weâ€™re about.â€
It says something about the inner-workings of Urge Overkill that theyâ€™re still figuring things out. What the band went through in the â€˜90s would have been enough to turn many musicians off the industry for good. But Roeser doesnâ€™t sound convinced. â€œWe had some early conceptions of fame, but things never really work out that way. Maybe we realised this wasnâ€™t going to be our last record by any means.â€
Urge Overkill play The Zoo March 9. â€˜Rock & Roll Submarineâ€™ is out now.