Shure Signal Path Podcast: Poster Children
Hear the stories behind the music with the Signal Path podcast.
Tapping a global network of musicians, producers, engineers and other sonic innovators, Shure brings you exclusive interviews with the people shaping the world of audio.
DIY indie rockers Poster Children
For the latest episode, Thomas Banks checked in with Rick Valentin and Rose Marshack from the pioneering US indie band Poster Children.
Formed at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana back in 1987, the group has long been known for its intelligent brand of punk-infused rock and DIY ethic. They have just released their 12th album, which was produced by Chicago-area legend Steve Albini.
In the podcast, Valentin and Marshack discuss how they got started, what's kept them going strong for so long and what it's like to stay an underground favorite for their entire career.
"Every time we got a new drummer, we changed the name. And the last time was Poster Children," explains frontman Valentin.
While they were establishing themselves in the Midwest by playing shows on the weekends, the couple had day jobs working as computer programmers for a flight simulator company.
"We would play in Chicago or Madison or Iowa City on a Friday night," says band bassist Marshack. "Then we would drive up to Minneapolis, which is another five hours away, and play there on Sunday. We'd drive home and park in the lot for work and start programming assembler language on Monday. It was wild."
Long before the internet, the indie musicians were part of a DIY network of bands, clubs, record stores and fanzines.
"Every town had these networks," says Valentin, adding that such scenes still exist. But the web has changed the dynamic dramatically: "Someone from Norway can set up a death metal tour online through that grassroots network."
Having built a solid regional fan base, they were initially reluctant to move to a major record label like the other alternative bands at the time.
"Hüsker Dü had jumped to a major label and it had seemed to ruin them in our perception as indie rockers. And Sonic Youth had jumped to Geffen and it seemed like they were okay, but they didn't become hit superstars," Valentin says.
But Poster Children would soon get swept up in the hysteria following the success of Seattle grunge giants Nirvana just as they were heading out on tour.
"Our tour was going counterclockwise around the United States," explains Marshack.
"By the time we hit New York there were 15 major labels talking to us," adds Valentin. "It was like they were scrambling: 'We have to get more Nirvanas.'"
Small is beautiful
They eventually signed with Sire but never managed to break through to the big time. But decades later, they're totally fine with that.
"We would have liked to have been a hit band. Have millions of people listen to our records," says Valentin. "But we were always realistic that we weren't going to change our band to do that."
Instead they used their advance money to buy computers and recording equipment so they could continue to do things on their own terms.
Now, after re-releasing their seminal work Daisychain Reaction during its 25thanniversary in 2016, the band is back with the new album Grand Bargain!, which was also recorded with the no-nonsense engineer Albini at the helm.
"I don't want to just play old stuff," says Valentin. "The thing about recording with Steve Albini is that he's still doing it like how we did back then in the 90s."
Listen to the full interview with Poster Children and subscribe to Signal Path from the podcast provider of your choice below.