It’s been 14 years since the now Bloomington-based punk-rock quartet Poster Children has recorded a full-length album.
“You know what’s really funny,” said bassist/vocalist Rose Marshack, “our 14-year-old said, ‘Gee I wonder if I had anything to do with that?'"
He did, as did his younger brother. Marshack and husband Rick Valentin, the band's lead vocalist and lyricist, also returned to higher education during that time and eventually landed as arts technology professors at Illinois State University. But they’ve been itching to get back to Poster Children.
“There is always a desire to record, especially for Rick,” said Marshack. “He is always creating. He even has a new project in the works right now for his other band Thoughts Detecting Machine; he's already done with a new album (his fourth I think) so that will come out after we finish this Poster Children cycle of writing and touring.”
Rick’s brother Jim also plays in another Chicago band, and drummer Matt Friscia is in a number of different bands.
“And I'm involved in Capoeira (music and martial arts) and that takes up a lot of my time. We are always creating,” said Marshack.
But Poster Children fans are thrilled the group that sprang out of the then fertile Champaign-Urbana music scene in the late 1980s—when Valentin and Marshack were computer science students at the University of Illinois—has at last released its ninth full-length album. Valentin said the four members reuniting to play again was like getting back on a bicycle after a long break.
“The big problem is time. For the bulk of the band, the way we wrote music (in the past) was we would get together with scraps of ideas, have a 12-hour rehearsal and hopefully a song would come out of it and then I would put lyrics on top of it,” said Valentin.
As you might guess, 12-hour rehearsals today don’t intersect well with jobs and family that need attention.
“Like hey guys, let’s go into the attic and play some more,” laughed Marshack. “That’s how ‘Daisy Chain Reaction’ was written.”
For this go-round, Valentin said he and brother Jim would flesh out sketches of ideas on guitar before bringing them to Marshack and finally to drummer Friscia for further refinements. One of the exceptions to that formula turned into "Grand Bargain’s" title track, which leads off the album.
“This song just kind of popped up in practice,” said Valentin. “Rose and Matt just started playing, then Jim and I started playing guitar over it and then it became a song.”
It’s a powerful indictment of the current president and capitalism, and a defense of women’s rights and education.
America held hostage day one/A lot of folks woke up without power this morning
It’s every man for himself/And every woman at 70% of the going rate
In the land of the free market/And the home of the wage slave/It's not the robots you need to worry about/It's the corporate human
I am a paid enemy of the state/Guilty in an attempt to educate/To teach is to leech to sell divine/The business of America is business
- "Grand Bargain" by Poster Children
Political commentary on a Poster Children album isn’t new. But is it different in this political climate? Marschack said no. Valentin said he’s always been upset.
“Even in eras where as a progressive you’re supposed to be happy, I might have been a little more angry too. I think what I’ve found is that I get upset about things politically, I write songs about it and then if we enter an era where I’m less upset politically I’ll write songs about relationships,” said Valentin as Marshack laughed.
Musically the song feels like a war zone, what you might imagine would play behind a current movie battle scene.
“I feel like I’m playing a war sometimes when I’m playing bass,” said Marshack. “Matt and I really enjoy playing together and make it a battle I think, though I’m not sure who we are battling.”
“Rose is like classic punk-rock where it’s like aggression,” said Valentin. “And she’s working out her aggression.”
Does that mean she’s angry? She said on stage: Yes.
“I come off with black and blue marks. I was just re-reading my tour diaries and reading where I’m covered with black and blue marks,” said Marshack.
“Hippie Hills” follows “Grand Bargain.” It’s a nostalgic look back on a childhood that upon reflection, may not have been as idyllic as Valentin once thought.
The best years of our lives/Back in better times/A perfect summer world/Perfect boys and girls
The way things never were/Your memories all are blurred
Locked up in a room/From August until June/Feeling lost in the park/Sun is down, getting dark
We’re your friends, where’re your friends?/All alone, ditched again
- "Hippie Hills" by Poster Children
It’s a memory of being a young boy in early 1970s living in suburban Western Springs, Illinois. Valentin says back then the city was underdeveloped, almost like a nature preserve.
“So it’s just remembering that time while taking in an adult perspective where it’s like great things happened, but childhood is not all great stuff, right? People get hurt, they get ditched,” said Valentin.
He said despite that, he has mostly good memories of especially summers, and being outside.
“That’s the one thing I feel is missing when I look at my kids and other kids. You realize they’re not roaming around the neighborhoods, wild, for the whole summer, with no supervision, getting broken bones, lighting things on fire,” he said chuckling. “None of that happens anymore.”
It’s probably not fair to cite “Devil And The Gun” as the standout song on an album packed with politically charged lyrics, but the ongoing debate on how to deal with the rampant gun violence permeating America is once again timely. “Grand Bargain” was released a few months after the Parkland school shooting and now a week after the Sante Fe, Texas, school shooting that killed eight students and two teachers.
The song was written two years ago.
A man is at the door/And there’s nowhere left to run/You can’t ignore/The devil with the gun
He comes to town bearing thoughts and prayers/Sends our children over there/They take out all our enemies
And leaves a hole in the family
This is how they become/The devils with the guns
How we become/The devils with the guns
We have become/The devils with the guns
We all become/The devils with the guns
-"Devil And The Gun" by Poster Children
“That’s the biggest frustration … these mass shooting keep happening. I guess what’s frustrating is that it has become a political situation. To me it’s a human situation where if this amount of violence is happening, you should do something about it. It shouldn’t be about politics, it should be about solving the problem,” said Valentin.
“Grand Bargain” was released on Marshack and Valentin's 22nd wedding anniversary. It's available at various record stores including Waiting Room Records in uptown Normal, as well as store.posterchildren.com. As the band says on its website, you can also “You can stream it on all the streamers.”
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