Poster Kids Carry Their Own Amps

ATN Chicago correspondent Gil Kaufman reports: There's something

slightly odd about the Poster Children, or Poster Kids, as their fans

prefer. They sound great as they go through the paces of a sound check

before a recent gig at the Metro in Chicago, so that's not it. Bassist

Rose Marshack is snapping her fiery head of curly red hair back and

forth as if trying to separate it from her torso and lead singer and

guitarist Rick Valentin is strumming amiably and singing in a just

sub-performance yelp. Maybe its the way they tune and haul their own

instruments just like the two, non-major label opening bands do. Or

maybe its because instead of the usual block-hogging tour bus, they

arrived in a neat white Econoline van stuffed to the gills with

equipment and T-shirts. As it turns out, the Kids are all right, they

just do it their own way.

"We love all those SST bands and that ideology," says a sweaty

Marshack after the sound check. "What those bands were about was what

punk rock was all about. You can do this all yourself. You can get

into your van and travel all around, you don't need any help from

anybody else, you can sell your own T-shirts, you can move across the

country in your van playing for $50 a night and sleeping on people's

floors. We still do that. That's what it means to us. Even though

we're on a major label now. We still completely exist to do that same

thing that we started."

In fact, if you check out an interactive tour diary the Kids posted on

the Internet recently (they encourage fans to contact them at

http://www.prairienet.org/posterkids/), they give a complete run-down on

their stripped-down rock 'n' roll lifestyle. It reads in part: "We

have no roadies. We meet people at our shows and sleep on their

floors. We eat Taco Bell. Sometimes we stop at funny roadside

attractions." If the power of punk really is making a comeback, the

Kids surely embody the spirit, without resorting to hackneyed rooster

mohawks and tattooed overkill.

This might lead some to think that the Kids just don't get it. What

about the guitar techs, the lighting guys, the corporate weasels that

are supposed to make things easier once a band makes it on to a major

label? According to Valentin and Marshack, the only tour support they

have is from the kids at the shows they play. "We played with 7

Seconds on one of our first shows," says Marshack backstage,

surrounded by fruit and water, the only amenities the Kids ask for in

their rider. "Kevin Seconds was standing right in front of us while we

played and just dancing around. There was nobody else there because we

were first out of three and I had never seen anything like that

before. And I thought 'Oh, that's positive punk, that's the coolest

thing in the world.'"

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That positive vibe permeates their capacity all-ages show later that

evening, where almost every moshing kid has a T-shirt in hand and the

band takes a moment to congratulate their sixth drummer Howie Kantoff

on his record-breaking two-year anniversary with the band and to thank

their folks for coming out to the show. Instead of looking punk, the

Kids act like punks by putting on a high-energy, low-dough show for

the young crowd and treating them to a fist-pumping display wherein

Marshack slings and smacks her bass like it was a rabid ferret

attacking her hand and Valentin slices at his guitar as if he were

grating cheese to augment a convenience store pizza.

Valentin says the Kids eschew major label tour-support money because

it just seems like common sense to him that if you're going on tour

and you're not making enough money to afford a tour bus, you shouldn't

have one. The reserved, almost shy frontman adds that, "If you spend a

million dollars of the record label's money, they're going to want a

million dollar band. If you're not a million dollar band you're going

to part ways very quickly. You'll be sitting there after being on a

tour with a tour bus, dumped off a label, back home and jumping back

into a van to go on tour again. I think a lot of bands just can't

handle that."

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Marshack agrees and adds, "I was thinking it about it today as I was

sitting on the edge of the stage changing my strings wondering how

many other bands that play here actually change their strings and how

many of them have guitar techs. I thought, 'What a crazy thing a

guitar tech is,' I can't imagine hiring somebody else out to take care

of my instrument."

Valentin says he doesn't have a problem with a huge stadium band

having a tour bus and a guitar tech, but, "when we play with a band

that's making $200 bucks a night just like we are and they're driving

up in a bus and they have the tour manager, they have a sound guy, a

lighting engineer, a guitar tech, you're basically saying, this band

has no sense of reality."

One of the benefits of major label largesse that the Kids did take

advantage of was some extra time to work on their new, high-spirit CD

Junior Citizen (Sire/Reprise). Valentin says that for the first

time they recorded track-by-track, instead of going in and recording

the equivalent of 5-10 live shows and picking the best material to put

on an album. "I don't feel like we got a lot of pressure to perform.

I've never been happy with our recordings, so we wanted to make sure

that this was where we got something we could live with," he says of

the record, as pure a blend of pop sensibilities and punk attitudes as

they've recorded.

And, jumping in almost before Valentin finishes his sentence,

something that happens a lot with this pair, Marshack adds, "The weird

thing about this label is that they don't seem to care at all what you

put out. If you make a really great record with a couple of songs that

they think they can push to radio and stuff, they say, 'Great we can

push these songs to radio.' But if you make a record with no singles,

they're just like, 'Cool, here's a record, we'll put it out.'"

Valentin chimes in immediately, "They support us defiantly. They let

us do things the way we want. They don't ever come to you and say,

'C'mon we need a single.' We like that. We know we can make the record

we want and there's absolutely no pressure at all."