Whenever They Call You "Friend": Urge vs. Touch and Go
The ongoing feud between Urge Overkill and their former partners in crime--producer Steve Albini and Touch and Go Records nicely illustrates the intense pressures that independent bands and labels are feeling as the majors embrace what was once the most uncommercial music imaginable. On the one side: an uncompromising, ambitious, and talented band that has never hidden its desire to sell records. On the other: principled and hard-line defenders of the indie-record way of life.
Hitsville is currently in the process of profiling Urge for Request magazine on the eve of its bombshell debut, Saturation, on Geffen. I asked Albini why he'd fallen out with the people he describes as having been his best friends for ten years. "I have to admit," he says, "that my hatred of them is slightly irrational, in that special way that you feel hatred when people who were once good friends turn into pieces of shit." Urge, he says, are "scheming, careerist, and manipulative."
Asked for specifics, Albini provided two. "On the last record I worked with them on [Supersonic Storybook], they took advantage of a deal I got them on studio time. [The record was recorded after hours at the tony Chicago Recording Company studios downtown.] The amount of time they said they needed to make the record turned out to be a lie. That got the studio mad at me, and ended up costing other bands that came after them money."
The second was how the band left its former label, Touch and Go, the nationally respected purveyor of underground noise rock by the likes of the Butthole Surfers, Albini's own Big Black and Rapeman, local outfits like the Didjits and the Jesus Lizard, and lots of others. "They overspent on promotion money [for Storybook] under the guise that they would still be on Touch and Go in the future," Albini charges. "They just wanted to be successful and they used the advantages of being on an independent label and the vagaries of contracts in that world to use friends to their own advantage." Specifically, he says the group made its last record with the label (Stull, which Albini pronounces as "stool") an EP, rather than a full album, and watered it down with already recorded material.
Touch and Go's Corey Rusk had this to say: "Urge and Touch and Go's differences have been fully resolved. We had some disagreements when they left, because the manner they did it in was quite unethical."
How do the fancifully named members of the power trio respond? The studio-time greediness the band cheerfully cops to: "That's true," assents Nash Kato, laughing. "That's classic Urge! But the result was Storybook! I mean, come on." (Storybook's considered to be one of the best records to have come out of the Chicago underground.)
"King" Roeser: "As a producer, it's his job to be [watching that]. He was pissed off at us, but he could. have said, 'OK, I'm going home now.' He was getting upset, and we were yelling at each other, but..."
Kato: "The whole time, he never said, 'Look, we can't be doing this.'"
"We sort of did screw up his relationship with them," Roeser concedes.
Albini and Rusk's remarks about the Touch and Go contractual dispute, however, set Overkill off:
Blackie O.: "'Stool'? What about Rapeman's Pud?" (Albini's first Rapeman album was an EP called Budd.)
Roeser: "He didn't want to work with a band that wanted things a certain way--"
Kato: "That wanted to make it."
Blackie: "There are people in this life who do not want you to succeed, who to the day they die are going to hate your guts cause you have something they don't."
Roeser: "I'll tell you who's ethically questionable, right now: We didn't have a contract. We were on a tour in England after Storybook, and we had a chance to do this video promotion thing. It ended up being silly, but at the time we needed all the help we could get. It was going to cost a thousand dollars, big deal. Corey's such a cheap bastard. He called me up and said, 'I'm only going to do it if you do another record Touch and Go.' It was a verbal agreement to do another record, which we did, Stull."
Blackie: "The second-best EP for the year in the Village Voice."
Roeser: "And because it was an EP, do you know what he wanted to do? He threatened to fuck our career entirely up with Geffen.
He was going to sue us for a hundred thousand dollars, more money than we'd ever fucking seen in our lives. He thought that Geffen would pay him a hundred thousand dollars. Which stopped our record in its tracks for a few months. He was fucking with our career. He has a business, he has a life, he has everything. All we had was our music. We had nothing, and he was ready to see us fall. That's what a greedy fucking pig he is. That's the truth, that's what happened. They are not going to occupy the moral high ground on this."
Says Rusk in response: "I don't recall mentioning a figure of what I was going to sue them for. It was the first time a Touch and Go band had ever owed us an album. It was a special exception, based on something extra we did for them. I didn't want to stop them from going to Geffen; I just wanted to be fully reimbursed for what I'd spent."
Milly's Orchid Show impresario Brigid Murphy was diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive form of lymphatic-system cancer, on April 23. The 28-year-old Murphy reports that an unpleasant series of tests-including a spinal tap and another that sampled her bone marrow--show that the potentially fatal disease is relatively contained; but she's facing a year of chemotherapy and some radiation therapy as well. Hitsville sends best wishes.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Josh Miller.