CHICAGO The Urge may use horns to rev up their already aggressive rock, but don't confuse their third major-label release, Too Much Stereo, with ska.
"Believe me, everyone in the band is a huge ska fan," bassist Karl Grable said after a recent House of Blues show. "But when you see people butcher it over and over, it's like, 'God, you people are killing it.' We're not going to be a part of that. We're going on and trying something else."
On Too Much Stereo, released July 18, the Urge rely on brass as flavoring. Bill Reiter's saxophone peppers singer Steve Ewing's voice on the funky "What Is This" (RealAudio excerpt). Matt Kwiatkowski's trombone provides the smooth groove on "Push on Like Flintstone."
The decade-old St. Louis group, which also includes guitarist Jerry Jost and drummer John Pessoni, has essentially reinvented itself as hard rock's Dave Matthews Band.
"A horn doesn't have to be more prevalent than a guitar," Grable explained. "A lot of times you have these 'I-just-conquered-your-country' horns, like, 'Here comes the chariot.' But we didn't want to fall into that. We could have written a record like the last two in a couple of weeks. But we wanted to try something else. It's a risk, but if I didn't do it, I'd feel like a di--."
The Urge dabble in a variety of styles this time around. "Say a Prayer" (RealAudio excerpt) is an acoustic ballad. "Liar Liar" draws on their '80s new-wave influence.
Too Much More
"Too Much Stereo" (RealAudio excerpt), the album's first single, is a pop ditty with the contagious opening line "Last night was a bitch for me." The group wrote the song in 20 minutes, building on a phrase Ewing jotted down long before writing the new record.
"I was listening to an album and the mix was just huge too big," Ewing said, pulling his long black dreadlocks over his shoulder. "I was thinking, 'Man, there's just too much stereo in this song.' "
But the phrase came to have a deeper meaning.
"My wife and I got into a quarrel, just a regular ol' fight, and I got to thinking that the phrase kind of fit," Ewing said. "We have too much stereo. Too much left and right. Then I started to thinking about other things. There's too much black and white. Too much man and woman. If we can listen to the other person's argument and try to be more understanding, everybody would be able to get along a little better."
"Too Much Stereo" is poised to become the Urge's biggest single to date, eclipsing 1998's "Jump Right In" (RealAudio excerpt), which featured additional vocals from 311's Nick Hexum.
" 'Too Much Stereo' is completely different from anything on modern rock radio right now," said Bobby Hacker, programmer director at KCCQ-FM in Ames, Iowa, which is spinning the single 52 times a week. "It's nice to hear a positive, pop-punk song in the age of rap-rock."
Hack said while other ska-tinged punk groups like No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones have moved away from horn sections, the Urge have continued to reinvent how they use theirs.
"They're so energetic," Hacker said. "It's great."
The Urge have shuffled their lineup several times since Immortal Records re-released their indie hit Receiving the Gift of Flavor in 1996. Between 1998's GGGarth-produced Master of Styles and Too Much Stereo, the group parted with trombone and keyboard player Todd Painter, perhaps as a way to further separate themselves from the ska and reggae sounds they had become known for.
Getting A Feel For The Studio
On the new record, which was produced by veteran Clif Magness (Quincy Jones, Hanson), the Urge focused on developing their songwriting skills and exploring their talents in an offstage environment a daunting task for a group that built its name by touring.
"The road didn't have anything to do with this record," Ewing said. "On the other ones, we came in with the road mentality. We tried to record like we were onstage. On this one, we laid back a little bit and focused on making a record. We tried to squeeze the most out of ourselves as we could."
Magness, who co-wrote some of the songs on Too Much Stereo, was a tremendous help, Ewing said. "Cliff was saying you basically have a road voice and a studio voice, and you kind of have to relearn how to sing and how to get all the candy to come out."
Ewing's voice is the slick fuel that propels the Urge. It's a soulful blend of Marvin Gaye and Prince, executed in combustible Anthony Kiedis-style. Ewing can rap, too, though he rarely shows it.
"You don't have to rap over rock now," Ewing said. "A lot of it is big now, but it's a wave, and something else is going to pop up."
Grable added, "We're not trying to be a Korn [wannabe]. The last thing we want to do is jump on the bandwagon and try to be the next Slipknot."
The Urge are out to conquer a genre all their own.
"Our album is totally new-school," Ewing said. "We've taken rock and rhythm and melody and combined them to create the newest sound there is. There's nothing newer than the Urge."