Oingo Boingo leader has plenty to explain
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
"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."