Material Issue - Biography

By Marcus Kagler

Every decade has its fair share of critically lauded bands that never broke the mainstream but are continually cited by the mega-bands who did. In the early 90’s, a little trio from Chicago named Material Issue flawlessly married driving punk and infectious pop hooks to miniscule mainstream success. The progenitors of Material Issue’s power pop punk hybrid blossomed into mainstream success throughout the later years of the decade, but Material Issue’s legacy is still mired in relative obscurity. Founded in 1985 as a vehicle for songwriter Jim Ellison’s hook laden pop songs of love and loss, the group was heavily influenced by the likes of Cheap Trick and The Knack. After various line-up changes, Ellison met bassist Ted Ansani at Columbia College Chicago. The duo found drummer Mike Zelenko through an ad placed in the Illinois Entertainer that same year and the three piece began writing new songs, releasing an eponymous debut EP in 1987 on their own Big Block imprint. Always sporting trademark black leather jackets the band spent the next two years developing a powerful live show, cultivating a diehard cult following within the Chicago club scene. Material Issue got a much needed boost in 1989 when their next single, “Renee Remains the Same” received considerable airplay throughout the Chicago area. After signing to the Mercury label they began recording their debut album with producer Jeff Murphy (of  Zion, Illinois power pop royalty Shoes). International Pop Overthrow (1991-Mercury) was an instant alternative success due to the catchy rock pop single, “Valeria Loves Me” and the band toured relentlessly in support of the album.


The group didn’t waste any time getting back into the studio to record a follow up. Released just one year later, Destination Universe (1992-Mercury) mined the same vein as its predecessor and spawned another alternative hit with “What Girls Want” but the album didn’t sell nearly as well. By this time grunge was dominating rock radio and even though Material Issue were critically lauded with a diehard fanbase they still wallowed in alternative obscurity. The band returned with their criminally underrated third full length, Freak City Soundtrack (Mercury) in 1994, but despite critical accolades and the fine pop single, “Kim The Waitress” the album quickly faded from the alternative charts and Mercury quickly dropped the group. Undaunted, the band continued to tour and sell out shows throughout the mid-West. Material Issue finished demoing new material by early 1996 but before they could begin shopping the tracks around to new labels songwriter Jim Ellison committed suicide by inhaling toxic carbon monoxide gas from his moped. Although a suicide note was found by police its contents are only known to the Ellison family. The final unfinished Material Issue album, Telecommando Americano (1997-Rykodisc) was released posthumously in tandem with their rare self-titled EP from 1987.    

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