Poster Children Back In Action
For Poster Children, it's been a long road and over 12 years from "Where We Live" to "Western Springs." The former is one of the band's most powerful songs, from its excellent 1991 album, the Steve Albini-recorded Daisy Chain Reaction. "Western Springs," from the band's forthcoming album, No More Songs About Sleep and Fire, takes its title from the Chicago suburb where band members/brothers Rick and Jim Valentin grew up. In between, Poster Children have recorded a heap of albums (including several on Warner subsidiary Sire Records), toured the world, employed seven different drummers, survived the mid-1990s alterna-craze, and lived to tell about it.
For the uninitiated, Poster Children singer/guitarist Rick Valentin and his wife, bassist/singer Rose Marshack, guitarist Jim Valentin and drummer Matt Friscia are the DIY band for the digital age. Short of booking their tours, the band members, who are based in Chicago and Champaign, Illinois, have long done it all themselves: self-producing many of their records; designing the cover art; programming elaborate multimedia content on their CDs; designing and maintaining an expansive Web site (Rose's tour diaries, the band's videos, and Rick and Rose's weekly "Radio Zero" radio show are highlights); filming and digitizing their own DVD; and driving their inconspicuous white van during a number of cross-country tours.
After releasing several albums on independent labels, in 1992 the band signed to Sire, for which they recorded three albums and an EP. While their own major-label experience wasn't as negative as that of the aforementioned Albini, Rick offered some words of caution during a recent email interview: "I think majors can be a very risky proposition," he wrote. "I've known too many bands that have been crushed by the transition from indie to major. We were lucky enough to be on a major that was interested in developing their artists over time rather than trying to find the one-hit wonder for this month. Unfortunately I don't think that attitude exists in the major-label world anywhere these days."
Though traditionally quite prolific, having released eight albums and a six-song EP from 1988-2000, plus two full albums by side project Salaryman, the band has been somewhat quiet of late. Accounting for the Poster Children's doings during this time, Rick explained, "We did a DVD, but that only counts for about a year. [Drummer] Howie left the band so we had to break in the new guy, Matt. Then we had to write some songs and on top of that, Rose and I both went back to school (yes, just like Rodney Dangerfield), which also ate into our rock time."
Rehearsals and recording also present a small logistical challenge, as Jim and Matt both live in Chicago while Rick and Rose reside several hours south in Champaign.
But Poster Children's period of quiet is coming to an end, with No More Songs About Sleep and Fire slated for release on January 27, 2004. (It's already available for mail order via the band's Web site.) The aggressive album includes a unique feature in the form of an album-length commentary track that plays as a CD-ROM extra, as well as the video for "Western Springs."
Touring behind the album, however, may not happen due to the band's other new "release": Gram Marshack Valentin, born to Rick and Rose last month. "Although people have told me that they've gone on tour with a baby with no trouble, we're going to have to see if that's possible for us," Rick wrote.
Though the song's title suggests otherwise, Rick maintains that the safe suburban home described in "Western Springs" has little to do with the town he grew up in. "I was listening to a lot of Bobby Bare, and he always sings about towns and cities, like 'Abilene,' 'The Streets of Baltimore,' 'That's How I Got to Memphis,' and 'Detroit City'," Rick explained. "So I wanted to have a lyric about a town, and Champaign-Urbana didn't fit rhythmically into the music, so Western Springs it was. I feel like the song is as much about [college town] Champaign as Western Springs."
The group is experiencing some fallout from its time with Sire; several of their albums are currently out of print. "This is one of the best reasons not to sign to a major; they own your records forever and if they don't feel like keeping them in print, they won't," he wrote. "And they won't give them back, just in case the no-name band of 2003 is the Velvet Underground of 2033. However, we've had some discussions with our former label to press up some copies ourselves."
As for the future, Rick is currently anxious to mix the third Salaryman album while continuing on with Poster Children. "I feel like music is always going to be a part of my life, and since three-quarters of the band is related, it's not like we're going to break up," he said. "The band may change, but I don't think we'll ever go away completely. I guess since we've been around for 16 years, we're already a long-term proposition." Steve Gozdecki [Friday, December 12, 2003]