Tuesday, February 26, 2019
The Inside Scoop: How I Single-Handedly Got Material Issue Back Together!
When I was writing for Popdose in 2007, I had the good fortune of interviewing both bassist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko for an in-depth article on Material Issue. While I had gotten to know Jim Ellison by him showing up at my gigs, his suicide in 1996 stunned not only his bandmates, but anyone else who'd come to know Ellison as a coinstant THE biggest self promoter on a scene full of ambitious self-promoters.
"Power pop guys don't go out that way", we muttered, trying to make sense of it all.
This interview was a great excuse to converse with a couple members of one of my favorite bands, but it wasn't going to be all rainbows and lollipops, At some point, the subject would have to turn to Ellison and the gigantic hole he left in a lot of people's lives.
At some point in each interview, which was conducted separately, I casually broached the subject of a Material Issue reunion. After all, bigger bands than them have found ways to move past the sudden death of a key member. In speaking to both Mike and Ted, the response was an emphatic "The only way the band gets back together is with Jim and that ain't happening."
As a fan of the band, I wasn't exactly nostalgic for seeing someone other than Ellison front the band, but it was a question I knew the fans reading the article would want asked.
A year or so later, I decided to move back to the Windy City after a decade in L.A. and found myself itching to waste valuable amounts of time and money by putting a new live band together.
Just for shits and giggles, I called Mike and Ted within a couple weeks of one another and asked if they were available and up for playing in my band. After sending them the songs and then waited for them to say "Yay" or "Nay", Mike was the first to sign on.
Between Zelenko and the guitarist I'd also hired, my thinking was that I had enough of a band to start booking gigs around town. A couple of tasty opening slots were fast approaching and I was still without a bass player. To take my mind of things, I took in a Dandy Warhols show.
Walking out of the venue after the show, I checked my phone and saw that I had missed a call. The voice message was from Ted Ansani. "Got the songs down, ready to play."
I hadn't told Ted that Zelenko was playing drums, nor had I informed Mike that I had approached Ted about playing bass. My thinking was that since we were all professionals, I'd treat that first rehearsal like any of the dozens before it: The new line-up meets when the new line-up meets.
After all, I wasn't trying to reform Material Issue, yet the only thing I could hear in my mind was what they'd each said during the Popdose interview:
"The only way the band gets back together is with Jim and that ain't happening."
The day of our first rehearsal finally arrives and I accidentally show up to my guitar player's practice space on-time. I walk in to find that Ted has beat me by twenty minutes. The only one missing is Mike.
Since I play drums a bit, I get behind the kit and we stumble through a couple tunes when the door to the practice space swings open and a guy carrying a bike, a cymbal bag, and some sticks comes down the steps into the basement where we are set up.
Mike does that look, scoping the room, the players, and does a double-take.
"Ted, is that you?"
"Holy shit," Ted replied, "Hey Mike, long time no see."
And that was pretty much it. Ten minutes later, we'd learned our first song together.
What made those times so great, though, was the fact that Mike would stick around after rehearsal with the guitarist, also a huge Material Issue fan, and talk about Jim and the MI days over a bottle or two of adult beverages.
Sure, we played a few gigs, too, but being there to hear one of the best damn drummers to come out Chicago speak frankly about his experiences in the band was like locking a kid in a candy store.
A few years later, BOOM, Mike and Ted begin playing out as Material Re-Issue.