Formed in 1987 by students at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Poster Children made its reputation through dedication to the DIY spirit and a relentless work ethic. With stints on the Twin/Tone and Warner Brothers labels, the quartet became emblematic of Midwest indie rock. Their thrilling music fused punk, art pop and math rock. Early influences included forward-thinkers like the Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, and Television.
“I discovered English punk rock during my senior year of high school in the Chicago suburbs,” says bassist Rose Marshack. “I started playing by putting on a Billy Bragg album and playing along. It didn’t have a bass, so I could go wherever I wanted.”
“I was getting into visual artists,” says singer/guitarist Rick Valentin. “I found the Velvet Underground’s first record, and bought it because it said ‘Andy Warhol’ on the front.”
The quartet is preparing new material with old collaborator Steve Albini. They’re also touring to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the previous full-length they made with the Chicago-based engineer. 1991’s “Daisychain Reaction” coupled The Sound’s alternately restrained and unhinged aesthetic with Talking Heads’ taut snap. Single “If You See Kay” remains critical for any revival of MTV’s underground showcase 120 Minutes.
“Want It” was a 90-second blast of avarice-mocking abandon. During the adrenalin rush of concerts, blink and you’ll miss its accompanying mortal peril. “It takes like 42 seconds,” says Marshack. “Rick nearly died during that song a couple of times on this tour,” she adds, laughing.
“It gets pretty intense,” says Valentin. “It reminds me of seeing Andy Gill at the Gang of Four reunion. He got so red and sweaty, I thought, ‘He’s going to drop.’ I started talking about it on stage. ‘I may look like I’m about to die, but I’ll be okay.’”
Performances have featured a new song called “Better Than Nothing.” “It’s basically a song about class warfare,” says Valentin. “It’s the idea of being called ungrateful when asking for something better, by someone who’s obscenely rich.”
With guitarist Jim Valentin and drummer Matt Friscia, the band’s tour wraps at Schuba’s on Thanksgiving eve. The last time Poster Children made a national tour, Valentin and Marshack weren’t Arts and Technology professors at Illinois State University. The pair found unconventional ways to cover their day jobs while traveling.
“I had a great time making podcasts for my class,” says Marshack. “I made one in Vancouver in what used to be a strip club. I set up my computer on a table with the pole, and made a class on object-oriented programming where these women used to dance.”
Valentin and Marshack also didn’t have kids waiting at home when supporting 2000’s “DDD.” Older son Gram, who turns 13 this month, was seen running Livestreams during tour rehearsals in September. How cool is it to have punk rockers for parents?
“I think he likes the idea of Livestreaming and getting views more than the idea of us playing in a band,” says Valentin.
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.