The Poster Children

an interview with Matt, Rick, and Rose of the Poster Children
by Ted Offensive
November 2016

the Poster Children

the Poster Children

The Poster Children are back!

By this, I mean they have re-released their iconic, “Daisy Chain Reaction” album In October on vinyl, and are touring in support of it.  Additionally they are back in the studio with that record’s producer, the legendary Steve Albini to record new material.

The brief tour included four cities on the east coast, and five out west.  Following this, they will play in Cincinnati on the 19th and Columbus, OH on the 20th, before 2 gigs in Chicago on the 23rd of November at Schuba’s.  Then they go back into the studio to write and record more music.

This is good news to many who have been enjoying their music over the last two plus decades.  They actually formed in 1987 in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.  At their core have always been Rick and Rose, with Rick’s brother Jim joining the band after the Daisy Chain Reaction record.  They have enjoyed the services of seven different drummers before gaining Matt in 2001, but have maintained a remarkably steady, catchy rock sound across all of them.

I caught up with them across the information super driveway between and after their swings through both the east and west coasts.  I asked them about music, and not music, perspective and the moment.  What follows is a view into a very friendly, unpretentious rock band, and quite possibly, why they have been able to keep giving great music for so long.

Maximum Ink: So are you guys back in the old familiar van from the tour video you did years ago?  If so, is it kind of like putting on a pair of old comfortable shoes? 
We don’t have the old van anymore but the van we rented for the tour turned out to be a newer version of the model we had back in the day so it wasn’t that different- just a fancier radio and USB ports! We did kind of fall back into our old patterns- Jim mostly drove, I sat in the passenger seat, Rose and Matt were in the second row and Jimmie the sound guy (along with Matt’s brother Tony out west) in the back row. I think the big difference was that we now can communicate with the outside world while we’re in the van. In the past there was much more reading going on, now we’re all on our phones.

MI: Do you maintain friendships in any of these towns over the years…sort of the old punk rock network?
Oh my god yes! There were old friends at every town; the band who played with us, Kudgel, in Boston had opened for us 15 years ago. Mike from Steel Pole Bath Tub was at the show in SF. Ian MacKaye from Fugazi, Kim Coletta from Jawbox came to the show in DC. Jay Robbins played with us. People had moved from Champaign or anywhere else and were popping up in other towns, telling us about their former lives in previous towns. People were flying from other cities to see us; and in some cases, driving up the coast with us to watch every show.

MI: It occurs to me, touring as adults (so to speak), do you find that your impressions of these places has changed, and frankly does it change how you approach gigs in those towns?
For me, I am having much more fun now on this tour. Little mistakes don’t matter as much to me; I’m just so happy to be able to tour once again. I’m more able to look at the “big picture” of where we fit in, what is important about the indie / punk scene now. These songs that we are playing, from Daisy Chain Reaction, were born around the same time as the People’s Internet, at the same time as we were becoming able to take charge of our communications with fans. It’s fun to come back to these places and play these songs now, and see how much meaning they still have.
Matt: It was like being warped back to your younger self and seeing the old you that you forgot was standing next to you. That isn’t meant to sound deep, but Rose is right in that the “fun” is there as you aren’t out to conquer the world. You’re there to provide some entertainment and we’re all super happy being on stage playing some fun music. Heck, I’m still a fan of the band as the “newest” member that’s been in the band 15 years!  You start to realize that live music is exactly that…live. It can change a bit from night to night.

MI: Anything interesting happen on the road back to the east coast?
Rick:  We planned on taking a train into New York City to see the 9/11 memorial the morning of our show but unfortunately that was the day of the Hoboken crash, so we wound up driving to Asbury Park instead and got to play classic pinball at the Silverball Museum. I got to revisit the Captain Fantastic, Evel Knievel and KISS pinball machines of my childhood!

MI: 4 straight nights in the big cities starting in NY, DC, Philly then Boston.  What was it like starting off with the biggie?  Did the momentum build across the nights?  Any stories or particular differences between the cities?
Oddly enough, in the past, New York wasn’t always the biggest crowd for us on the East Coast- Philly, DC and Boston were often better towns for us. This time around though, NY was great- we were a little worried about playing on a Thursday night since, like us, a lot of our fans are older and have kids and a rock show on a school night is tough but the turnout was great! We definitely built up some steam as we went along- I think the Philadelphia show wound up being the most manic. The neat thing about the Boston show was that we got to play again with the band Kudgel, who we had played with in Boston almost exactly 25 years earlier.

MI: When I drive between the west coast and Midwest….there’s a lot of there, there, as once was said.  So much space.  Any thoughts from all that driving…favorite spots, etc.?  
Rose: Unfortunately, due to our jobs and time constraints, we had to fly out to the west coast, so we couldn’t do my absolute favorite which is driving through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to LA. But we flew to LA but then drove up the coast to Vancouver and back. I *LOVE* that drive! Although I didn’t do most of it; but I think I talked the entire time, to keep everyone awake and happy. (HAHA). My favorite parts are when you notice that it’s all dark green shrubs, or you notice it’s all brown mountains, or you notice all of the sudden that it’s all tan grassy hills, or you begin to notice the pine forest. I also love the aquifers and all the machinery along I-5. It seems so desolate and beautiful!

Actually, I love every drive. I love the road. I think I’m a terrible pain in the ass because I notice everything; I point out everything, every tree standing individually on a prairie, every new body of water, every sunset, every golden color that sets on every landscape, every new cloud formation. I probably drive everyone crazy, but I expect they take some solace in knowing someone else in the van is so ecstatic.

I made us stop in the Pistachio Capital of the world, Avenal, CA, for Mexican food. There I had a drink that I’d never had before; it was boiled hibiscus petals. There were not a lot of vegan options at that restaurant.

On the way back from Vancouver, Jim and I were driving the van, and we stopped in Eugene, OR for vegan food at this little vegan diner; it seemed like there was no one in town at all. The insane monsoon-lette that had been pounding the northwest during our shows had just dissipated. The sun was shining bright mirrors on puddles. We had chick’n fried vegan hamburgers and really good coffee.

MI: So you flew into LA, then drove up to SF to one of my favorite clubs in the Bottom of the Hill.  So, you are all tuned up and a little rested from the rest between coasts, did the sets come off as well as I imagine?
I was really looking forward to SF and it did not disappoint. What I was amazed at was how everyone seemed to notice how excited and happy we all were to play. Everyone was so complimentary. For me, I just kind of have a switch that goes on when we start playing; I can’t really feel being tired. I get so worked up on the stage, and it’s so fun for me to be up there with the rest of these guys (Rick, Jim, Matt). The bands that played with us were fantastic in SF; it was especially fun to see Conan and band. And we got to tour Adobe; I wanted to call this the “Show us your Labs” tour - we were invited to tour Facebook too but we did not get to SF in time. I’m dying to go over there next time. It’s so much fun to combine our “tech / science” lives with our touring life - the first time we ever came to San Francisco, we were invited to tour SRI and see a virtual reality headset! That had to have been very early 1990s!

The dates where a whirlwind, but even seeing the cities from the van and then playing at a very cool club like Bottom of the Hill was something different for everyone after all of these years. I have a good friend I met in Chicago that now lives there in addition to a cousin that is there so it was like a mini tour to see old friends and family. The venue did not disappoint.

MI: A ton of driving later you arrive in Portland, a different beast from California, then up to Seattle.  Any impressions?
We were crazy for Portland. The hotel and club we stayed and played at were stunning. The guys loved the Star Wars / log cabin decor in Doug Fir - we were going to have a lightsaber battle on the steps! The Jupiter Hotel, attached to Doug Fir, is a boutique hotel converted from a mid-century motor lodge, but so hip and gorgeous. There is an attached restaurant where we ate all our hipstery meals. Collectively we bought a bunch of Doug Fir t-shirts and patches. Everyone was SO nice there, and everything was so perfect. The crowd was incredible.

Matt: I must say that the drive from San Francisco to Portland was killer. I didn’t even drive once, but sitting in that van for hours on end trying to sleep a bit was the true test of a return to touring. You feel like you’re sleeping for a minute, then it’s another gas station to pick something up quick, then back out there in this weird state of not-so-awake and half sleep. The club Doug Fir was a huge payoff upon our arrival. I have never seen anything so neat with a hotel, restaurant, and venue all in the same place. One of my favorite spots for sure.

MI: Vancouver’s awesome!  Did the brothers Wright (NoMeansNo) come to the show?  Did you stay a day extra?
Unfortunately, none of these things occurred. Bummer! Maybe next time.

Rose: I loved playing at the Cobalt in Vancouver. It was previously a strip-bar, I heard, and it was old, wooden, and grimy. The best thing was that I had some teaching work to do; I’m a professor of Arts Technology at Illinois State University, and I’m still teaching this semester! So I needed to create a computer programming podcast that night for my students; so I set up my computer on one of the tables with poles where I figured the women would have stripped in the past, and created a video showing my students how to program object-oriented java programs.

MI: Speaking of old comfortable shoes, and of currently working with Albini again…Does the recent work inform your perspective on performing these older great songs?  Some of the songs like ‘Space Gun and Water seem like some of your more expansive work, creating their own world in a wall of sound.  Does performing these songs differ experientially from performing shorter more economous songs like ‘Want It’ and ‘IYSKay’?  Is economous even a word?
Rick: We’ve always played a mix of older songs on tour but this year we went back and listened to Daisychain Reaction in depth because we were remastering and reissuing it and we re-learned and rehearsed all the songs on the record, some of which we hadn’t played live since 1991. What struck me about the songs is exactly what you pointed out- some are “epic” at 5 or more minutes long and some are under 3 minutes- it’s a strange combination but for some reason it works. That insight definitely informed the new songs we’re writing and recording- there’s a mix of epics and short blasts. And working with Steve again really brought us back to our early approach of playing the songs completely live in the studio rather than the later approach of recording basic tracks then overdubbing additional guitars.

MI: You have about a month until Chicago, are you back in the studio with Steve?  Do or did you come up with any ideas, a riff or an impression (lyric-wise) on the road.
We came up with “speaking riffs” on the road. Like Poetry. I don’t think they’ll make it into songs. There is a poem called, “Aleppo. Got It.” We also sang a lot of songs on the road but they weren’t ours. Matt, Anthony (our Band Biologist) and I can do an amazing rendition of Christopher Cross’s “Arthur’s Theme.”

Matt: It was a short time on the road so no new songs written there although there were a few interesting nuggets that came out of soundchecks.  We’re so excited about the first six songs that are “in the can” with Steve Albini already and this definitely won’t be rushed. We’re taking our time a bit to promote the re-release of Daisychain Reaction and re-introducing the band, but we are playing one of the new songs on the road that seems to get a good reaction. 

MI: Speaking of the road, and even being 15 years in the band is this Matt’s first extensive touring with band?  If so, any impressions from him?
No, I toured with the band when we went out with the Breeders ages ago. Driving around and knowing there are people waiting to see us at the next stop is wild. Ultra-fulfilling and fun! I can’t believe so many people still remembered us!  It takes a day or two to get into the groove of that schedule. Beware of the late night diner after the gig when you feel you have to stuff your face and then waking up thinking “I shouldn’t have done that.”  I’ll take the coleslaw please.

It is well known that all of the Poster Children’s previous drummers have been lost to spontaneous immolation, making Matt your longest tenured drummer (better hydration?) Stylistically, do you find it challenging going between the “Keith Moon-ish” style (Bob Rising) on Daisy Chain Reaction and Howie Kantoff’s more spare, but also intricate, style on the later albums? How would you describe your own approach as you move forward with the new recordings?
I was a fan first and foremost of Poster Children so learning all of the songs initially was really fun especially to cop some of those riffs from prior drummers in the band.  Sure, some of it was challenging, but that’s the best part. When you hear something and it makes you stop and think, “whoa, how did he do that?” I love that. You slow it down, listen to it a 1,000 times and eventually put it all together. The music keeps you on your toes when playing it in this band!

My own approach is less of “does this sound like a Poster Children beat or song” vs. “I think this sounds the most interesting even if I was listening to it”  I feel like I overplay like crazy in this band, but it suits the intensity of what we’re doing. It a fine line between big drum riffs and overplaying vs. letting the song be something that you want to listen to over and over. Nobody whistles drum riffs and fills!! LOL…..except other drummers.
The intensity of a live set with this band is 1,000 times more demanding than a typical gig from any other band I’ve played with. 60-75 minutes on stage with this band and I feel like my arms are going to fall off so it’s all about pacing a bit and and not tightening up too much. I will be creating a dummer’s boot camp for Pkids gigs. It’s a 6 hour warm up session that will be part of my next drum clinic (hey-o!).

MI: The Poster Children’s recording legacy has an incredibly consistent quality of song writing, notably done collaboratively. One thing anyone who has been in a band knows is that the drummer changes how songs come out. being the other half of the rhythm section, how have these changes changed your approach over the years? How nice has it been to have Matt for the last 15 years?
It has been wonderful! I have always loved all our other drummers, it’s been a great honor to play with such talented individuals over the past, almost 30 years! - and it’s really bewildering to me all the compliments our rhythm section receives - I know the drummers are all fantastic, but I’m not a trained percussionist, so it’s always a big honor to me when as a team, we get so much respect. The guitarists are also a big part; Rick and Jim don’t play many lead guitar parts, so they are also a big part of the rhythm.

As far as how my approach has changed; my playing has to fit in with the guitar parts as well as the drums, and a lot of the time it’s more of a challenge trying to make sure my bass part doesn’t conflict with what Rick is trying to sing. So it’s always a balance between the guitar parts and the drums, and writing bass parts to go along with the drums is always a lot less constraining than fitting in with the guitars and the singing, that’s for sure.

How nice has it been to have Matt in the band?
These past 15 years are absolutely the funnest I’ve ever had in the band! Matt continuously cracks me up, on stage and off - he’s brilliant, and he’s got the greatest sense of humor! He’s also a pretty intense businessman, so whether he’s in the van doing his business webinars, conference calls, or - my favorite activity of his - highlighting sentences in business magazines - or onstage, joking around musically; he’s so much fun to be around. You can see onstage; he’s always making faces and we have these inside, musical jokes; I’ve had fans come up and comment that we are so much fun to watch because we look like we’re having the best time. So it’s really been a dream. The other day, in fact, he reminded us that he was a huge fan of the band before he’d even been in the band - something I had totally forgotten about. He’s just the sweetest guy in the world, and his family is wonderful too. In fact, his brother, Tony Donuts, is our Official Band Biologist; he toured with us on the West Coast. But that’s another story.

MI: Rick and Jim, how has this changed your contributions over the years, and now?
I think there was a long term, not necessarily drummer-specific, move away from songs that started from a guitar riff to our last album (No More Songs About Sleep and Fire) where most of the songs started from drum and bass riffs with guitars added on top. The new songs we’re working on have moved back towards starting from guitar just because we don’t have huge amounts of time to rehearse and improvise like we did in the old days, so Jim and I will share guitar ideas with everyone and then we’ll flesh them during our rehearsals.

MI: Lastly, what is the schedule for the new recording and successive release, if you can share that?
Poster Children:
We have recorded 6 songs at Electrical Audio with Steve Albini and that was a blast -it’s fun coming back to recording with him; we recorded parts of Flower Plower (our first album) and all of Daisy Chain Reaction with him so it’s so nice to be back in the studio with him. We need to write another half of a record and go back and record more, so expect a new album maybe in 2017 or 2018!

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