It was predicted in November 2016 that barring all else, the incoming White House administration would instigate a new wave of politically motivated punk rock. Re-enter Champaign’s Poster Children with their first album of original material since 2004. The band’s “Grand Bargain!” album pulls no punches while addressing the perceived unraveling of Western society. Topics include governmental abandonment of the common good, class warfare, corporate greed, gun violence and faltering faith in basic decency.
“We are desperately in need of a responsible adult,” sings Rick Valentin during “World’s Insane.” Combined with feral sonics propelled by Rose Marshack’s guttural, growling bass, the music should probably come with a warning label for listeners susceptible to high blood pressure.
Although some of the material points decisively in President Trump’s direction, “Grand Bargain!” isn’t a one-dimensional poison pen letter. “We wrote half this record before the election,” says Valentin. “You want your work to be relevant, but I had mixed feelings. I was hopeful that the record would become irrelevant, because I want the world to be a better place.”
“We were complaining even during the Obama era,” says Marshack with a laugh. “We’ve been angry since 1987.”
“Devil and the Gun” was among the earliest songs written, but it remains woefully germane. “Every generation has its fears,” says Valentin, who with Marshack has sons aged 9 and 14. Both parents are also educators, heightening concerns about school shootings. “I remember being worried about nuclear war, but today’s fear seems so irresponsible of society. We’ve decided that guns are more important than the safety of our children.”
“Grand Bargain!” isn’t all vitriol. During “Hippie Hills,” Valentin remembers youthful exploits with his Schwinn Stingray, double dares and trading cards. “My brother and I grew up in Western Springs,” he says. “Hippie Hills was an undeveloped area where we went, as what they now call free-range children. We would disappear there all day. Kids would ride bikes, break glass, light fires and get hurt, but it’s amazing how free we were. It wasn’t always great, but it was an adventure.”
Alongside teaching, band and family commitments, Marshack is writing her first book. Fifteen years of tour reports (begun before blogging was a thing) provide strong starting points. “It’s part memoir, and part investigation of the ‘90s Midwestern punk scene,” says Marshack. “It begins with pressing [Chicago-based musician and notable recording engineer] Steve Albini’s doorbell to record with him for the first time.” Marshack expects to finish writing this summer.
Poster Children also feature Rick’s brother Jim on guitar, and longtime drummer Matt Friscia. Marshack claims both as her own brothers. “We’re family and we love each other,” she says. “The relationship extends to our audience, too. They’re part of our band.” Those bonds have served Poster Children well, surviving major label tenure with Warner Brothers and grassroots achievements since. “One of our guiding principles was keeping the band intact, even if it wasn’t a performing unit,” says Valentin. “And also, don’t get too big for your britches.”
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.