This year has shaped up to be a banner year for music. The ups and the downs are enough to keep even the most passive fan engaged. What caught my attention earlier this summer was the Poster Children’s announcement that they were going on tour for the first time in 10 years in celebration of the 25th anniversary of their third album ‘Daisychain Reaction,’ and with that a vinyl reissue with Lotuspool Records out September 30th.
According to the band, the record has been remastered from the original tapes by Bob Weston and pressed on 180 gram black vinyl. The package will feature a 16-page retro fanzine with a new, exclusive essay by Jon Fine (author of “Your Band Sucks”). And there are three digital bonus tracks from 1989; unreleased demos of “If You See Kay” and “Where We Live,” in addition to a version of “Where We Live” recorded during the Steve Albini ‘Flower Plower’ sessions.
Good stuff and well deserved for an album which is beloved in indie circles and whose genesis is interesting not to mention rather surprising.
“I was just listening to it [‘Daisychain Reaction’] and the songs on that record are songs from every line-up of the band up to that point,” said founding member, singer and guitarist Rick Valentin. “I’m not really sure why. There’s a song, “Carver’s,” that’s one of the first songs we ever wrote. It’s on ‘Toreador Squat’ (the band’s first album, cassette only released with song listed as “Carver’s of NYC”). There are at least two songs, “If You See Kay” and “Where We Live,” we wrote with Brendan (Gamble, drummer). They’re from ‘Flower Plower’ time and there are songs we did when Jeff (Dempsey, guitarist) and Mike Radar (drummer) were in the band and there are songs when Bob (Rising, drummer) joined. The record is actually a patchwork of songs we didn’t put on ‘Flower Plower’ and songs we wrote after ‘Flower Plower.’ It’s a weird record.”
Fresh off of their second release, 1989’s ‘Flower Plower,’ also engineered by Steve Albini, the Champaign, IL band decamped to Chicago to Albini’s basement to work on demos for ‘Daisychain Reaction.’ They later entered Chicago Recording Company with 14 songs. According to Valentin, when they put the record together they released the demos for several songs they’d done previously were the better versions and they used those.
“If You See Kay” and “Cancer” and, depending on which version you have, “Love” is from the basement,” Valentin laughed. “I’d love to say it was all recorded at the same time in the same studio, but it wasn’t. It doesn’t actually make a lot of sense why it sticks together, looking back.”
As we talk it becomes clear why the album came together as it did. You see, the band worked with both Albini and Ian Burgess on ‘Flower Plower’ in both Albini’s basement and in Chicago Recording Company. They were on familiar ground with a friend when they were ready to make ‘Daisychain Reaction.’ As Valentin put it, they’d “already gone through the freaky big studio thing.”
When asked about Albini’s process versus Burgess’ Valentin is incredibly candid.
“It was fairly similar. They had similar styles. It was about recording the band as if they were playing live, in the moment. It wasn’t purely philosophical either. When you went into the big studio on the weekends that was their downtime, it was cheap and you had to get everything done really quickly. Part of it was an aesthetic punk rock choice and part of it was a time and money thing.”
But with ‘Daisychain Reaction,’ the band noticed a growth in Albini’s abilities and they took full advantage.
“With ‘Flower Plower’ I think his basement studio was pretty new, he was just working out the kinks. By the next time we were back he was much more into cutting up tape. He was doing a lot of tape editing, which was the first time I’d seen that. He’d say, ‘Oh, you know what, why don’t we hack this beginning part and tack it on to here?’ That was mind blowing to me to see it for the first time. We used that a little bit on ‘Daisychain.’”
The album originally came out in 1991 on Minneapolis’ Twin/Tone Records (The Replacements, Soul Asylum) and was later reissued by Reprise in 1992. Valentin has fond memories of their experience with the label.
“(Twin/Tone) were great,” he said. “We loved the label, the people there. There’s one great thing about an independent label and it’s everybody is working their ass off to make sure that people hear the record. If they didn’t, the label falls apart. It’s not like the major label experience where they are more indifferent and don’t care, and you really, really have to fight for anyone to even lift a finger. With an independent label, everyone is fighting. Unfortunately, it was hand to mouth. We’d finished the record and then Rough Trade distribution tanked in the U.S. Twin/Tone didn’t have money for awhile and they delayed the record for a year while they scraped together finances to try to figure out how to press our record, Babes in Toyland, and the Ween record. All those records got delayed because the money disappeared. It’s the classic story, you either have someone who is really enthusiastic but they have no money or someone who has a lot of money but doesn’t care. We’ve seen both sides of that. Rose(Marshack, bassist) and I were just talking about this and in the long run it’s better to have somebody who cares.”
“We did the regular vinyl thing, like people always did and they (Twin/Tone) said they were going to make a CD. I didn’t have a CD player. It was a premium thing. People were still making cassettes mainly. Paul Stark (Twin/Tone co-founder) was the first person I ever saw … him and another guy sitting around a top of the line PC looking at waveforms they’d transferred digitally into this computer. He actually mastered our album for CD. I don’t know what software he was using, it was like the most primitive DIY at the time, and I was a computer guy, I was like, ‘Oh my God! What is this?’ For audio nerds the Twin/Tone vinyl is great, but the CD is a little weird because of some kind of new software. He (Stark, Twin/Tone) was looking to save money too. At the time, a digital master would have been a lot more expensive, but unfortunately it was hard to do on a personal computer.”
And so now, 25 years after it was originally released, the band is embarking on its first tour in a decade. Valentin is looking forward to hitting the road for a very specific reason.
“In the past 10 years we’ve played occasional shows. I’m trying to think of the last time we played more than two shows in a row. That’s the thing about touring. When something goes wrong you always have the next day. You always get another chance, a chance for redemption. That’s what I’m looking forward too, being able to play more than one show in a row.”
But, dear fans, don’t head out expecting to hear the album in full order. It’s not in the cards. The tour is a celebration of the album and the band. In true Poster Kid form they intend to own it.
“This was one of my conditions when I talked to everybody in the band,” Valentin said. “I personally don’t like the ‘play the whole album’ thing. It’s not an absolute that we play everything from the album at every show. We’ll play a lot from ‘Daisychain’ but I’m not going to promise that you’ll come to a show and you’ll see the whole record in its entirety, in order or even mixed up. We may decide not to play certain songs. That, to me, would be antithetic to what we do. Once we played the same song three times in a row because it felt funny and the right thing to do in the moment. But, it’s not like we would ever do that again at any point in our lives. It was just that moment.”
But, rest assured, you’ll get more than you bargained for. The band has started recording new songs with Steve Albini for a 2017 release; some of which could make it into the tour set.
“This is me being a conditional person. In order to keep me from feeling completely … I’m not a nostalgic person … so the condition of us doing this is that we are going to work on new songs. If we’re going to do it again, for me at least, there had to be some new stuff. And I’m well aware that I may be the only person who wants new Poster Children songs but, regardless, I need that element of it to feel like we’re progressing and not trying to create this moment in the past.”
As Valentin debated with himself the merits of bands playing signature albums front to back he kept returning to his initial conclusion.
“Now, I’ll play the devil’s advocate … bands should have permission to experiment like that. I feel bad being a grouchy fan but also totally understand you want to do what you want to do and you don’t want to feel like you have to do what your audience wants. I’m also very aware that, at least with our shows, the audience has to be a part of it. It’s not a one-way conversation. We get it. It’s not me in confession. It’s actually more like a back and forth and I think that’s one of the other things about the ‘play the album in its entirety’ thing that rubs me the wrong way. There’s no surprise, it’s just pure delivery and actually not punk rock at all. It’s like, ‘We’re going to play this perfect document, this precious thing for you and you are going to accept it.’ There are plenty of people that love that kind of stuff, that’s what they want. They want something on a platter. But, people who like our band know that’s not what they get from us.”
Poster Children 2016 Tour Dates:
9/23 Champaign, IL – Pygmalion Festival
9/29 Brooklyn, NY – St. Vitus
9/30 Washington, DC – DC9
10/1 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s
10/2 Boston, MA – Great Scott
10/12 Los Angeles, CA – Echo
10/13 San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
10/14 Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
10/15 Seattle, WA – Barboza
10/16 Vancouver, BC – The Cobalt
11/23 Chicago, IL – Schubas (2 shows)