Oingo Boingo leader has plenty to explain

G. Brown
Denver Post, 1986.02.19
Oingo Boingo has spent an entire career trying to avoid categorization, although the eight-piece Los Angeles outfit, which performs tonight at the Rainbow Music Hall, will grudgingly answer to the description of a dance band with an onomatopoeic sound and a penchant for morbid humor.
But although the group's pressurized dance rock has gained it enough fans to sell out major venues in the 15,000- to 20,000-seat range on the West Coast, its hammy outlook and glib sound hasn't set well with California critics, who have trashed the offbeat octet since the band's inception.
"We didn't design the band with the concept of making things easy - we knew right from day one we were facing an uphill battle, but it's what we wanted to do," leader Danny Elfman said recently from Los Angeles. "We did two things that are no-nos with the press here. One, we changed from something else - and once you're accepted as something, you're never supposed to change. We had built up a reputation here as the Mystic Knights (a multimedia theatrical aggregation), and when we became a band, they thought it was outrageous. They thought we were selling out, even though that wasn't our motivation by a long shot.
"And secondly, we had no roots. There was a Los Angeles sound in '79, '80, the time we were coming out. And we just didn't fit into that sound. All of the popular band out here that the critics liked were very much rotted in the '60s music and/or traditions - the Go-Gos, X, and even Lone Justice now. I'm not saying that I don't like music rooted like that - but ours wasn't. We had a very irreverent attitude and our presence was very unstreetlike. We have a motto: 'The '60s (stank) the first time around, and the second time is even worse.' Obviously that's an exaggeration, but the point is that we think most people out here look at that era through rose-tinted glasses, as it were.
"Our writing doesn't come out of any particular place or region. My influences would be Kurt Weill, Threepenny Opera - that's probably were I got my dark sense of humor. I grew up on the movies, and I could have gotten those same influences anywhere besides L.A."
But Oingo Boingo's commercial fortunes have brightened lately. The group finally cracked the Top 40 charts with the theme from the movie "Weird Science," which has helped modify its maverick status in the music industry.
"We've always been good at self-propelling ourselves without the monster hit, so it was just another step in breaking down a few more doors," Elfman said.
While Oingo Boingo has toured in the South and made a few excursions to the East Coast, the band has never preformed in the Midwest. They're performing in Colorado for the first time tonight behind "Dead Man's Party," their latest LP. Elfman described the band's current live shows as "energetic - we don't believe in using those heavy-metal stage props. When I see a 'rock 'n' roll production,' it's like watching a Las Vegas show. Part of the reason we switched to being a band is because we wanted to do music that didn't need theatrics to support it."
Elfman retains a strong allegiance to Oingo Boingo, although he released a solo album last year. "My desire to do it was not financial- or career-motivated - it was just a chance to record a backlog of tunes I'd written that I liked; a chance to experiment with slower tempos," he explained. "But I designed it so that there was no solo career - there was no tour, and I divided up the songwriting royalties among the band so that if it was a big hit, they'd all participate."
But Elfman has nurtured a lucrative side vocation - scoring movies and television shows. Offers for his services have poured in since he worked on the film Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
"Scoring is something I intend to keep doing, because it's fulfilling a lifelong ambition," he said. "I idolize Bernard Herrmann. I'm doing little television scores in between film scores because Herrmann did. Television's a wonderful composers' workshop, because you can experiment with small ensembles. That's what I'm doing right now for an 'Alfred Hitchcock' episode - a score for nine pieces, and unusual combination of instruments instead off a full orchestra. It's enormously time-consuming, and doubly so for me - I lack all the classical training you're supposed to have, so I write very slow. But I'm lined up to do Rodney Dangerfield's next movie as well as Emilio Estevez's directorial debut called 'Wisdom.' So my whole year is booked."
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