At the beginning
of the year, Ellen Stewart, booking agent, got a call: "Does Poster
Children want to tour with Swervedriver
for six weeks in the US?" The answer was yes, of course, even though
the band had no drummer and the tour was set to start in three weeks. The
call went out for Drummer Number 5 and Steve Albini responded: "The
best drummer in Chicago is Johnny
Machine, he used to be in Precious
Wax Drippings, but they broke up, he should be your drummer." Johnny
definitely had talent in spades and within two weeks the band was ready
to go back on the road. At the 9:30 club in Washington DC, Iain Burgess
dropped into the dressing room and began to complain loudly about the quality
of Swervedriver's set, unfortunately the dressing room walls did not extend
to the ceiling and Swervedriver began to throw insults and food into the
room, not the best way to start a tour but all was soon forgiven. At CBGB's,
Rick and Rose were interviewed by CNN for a report on "grunge rock."
The Boston show was raided by the fire marshall, who decided the club was
overcrowded and wouldn't let any bands play until 100 people left. Two days
later, in Toronto, Danny from Run
Westy Run was behind the drums for Swervedriver's soundcheck, intently
listening to a tape of the band, trying to learn their songs. Apparently
while crossing the border into Canada, Swervedriver's drummer had walked
off the bus, never to return. Danny was flown in to play the next couple
of shows until a permanent replacement was found. In San Francisco, the
two bands played with Live
and all three appeared on 120 Minutes with Dave Kendall. Rick was caught
live on tape making the unfortunate statement: "Grunge? All we know
Once the tour was over, a decision had to be made about a new album. Poster Children were under contract to deliver two more records on Twin/Tone but the label was having problems recovering from the bankruptcy of their distributor Rough Trade. It was obvious that the band needed a new label but the going price for their contract was $75,000, well out of the range of an independent, so that left the majors. After being wined and dined over the previous few months by more than a dozen labels, the band chose Sire Records, a division of Warner Bros. Sire was chosen for it's history (Ramones, Talking Heads, Undertones, Madonna) and the fact that they were one of the few labels who were interested in the band before Nirvana mania hit. Also Warner Brothers had a reputation for allowing bands to develop over time rather than looking for one hit wonders. A contract was signed in April, Daisy Chain Reaction was re-released on Sire and plans were made for a new album.
The spring and early summer were spent writing songs and playing shows. One notable concert was a Detroit radio festival with the Smithereens and Prong. The outdoor arena was the largest venue the band had played at that time. While loading in PC's equipment, the big time roadies joked "I'll take no-name bands for $50." To add to the humiliation, after setting up the amps during soundcheck it was discovered that Rick and Rose's guitar cables weren't long enough to allow them to reach the microphones and everything had to be moved forward. Prong went on first and a group of their fans immediately jumped up and formed a mosh pit in front of the stage. Security (college kids in green polo shirts) couldn't get anyone back into their seats and the promoter, who had never seen slam dancing, began to freak out, thinking a riot had broken out. His solution was to cut the power on Prong and force them off the stage. As a result Prong's fans did riot, storming the stage and destroying equipment. The police department was called and order restored. The promoter cornered Rose and told her: "if anyone gets out of their seats and starts dancing, your set will be over!" With that warning the band took the stage to discover a cordon of Detroit police officers in full riot gear between the stage and the audience. Needless to say the mood was off. Rose dedicated the set to Prong and at the end of a short, angry performance, Rick vaulted his prized Fender Musicmaster into the crowd. It was a long time before Poster Children played another radio festival.
Recording of Tool of the Man began in August. The title came from some graffiti scrawled in the dust on the van during South by Southwest: "Poster Children, Band of the Year, Tool of the Man." Mike McMackin was hired as the producer/engineer because of his work with Bitch Magnet and Codeine. Basic tracks were recorded live at Dreamland, a studio in upstate New York built inside a former church. Vocals and overdubs were recorded in a house on Long Island. The family the house was rented from was supposed to be on vacation but it turned out they were staying in a trailer in the woods next door. The woman of the house stopped by one day and wound up cutting herself badly on a screen. There seemed to be a dark cloud hanging over the sessions. Johnny began doubting his rhythm when Mike had the band play to a click track (an idea very quickly abandoned). Rick lost his voice for a week. The guitars wouldn't stay in tune for a whole song. The sessions were built around the romantic fantasy of escaping to an isolated studio far from home and distractions, allowing all energy to be focused on recording. But in reality everyone just wound up feeling isolated and out of sorts.
With the new record finished, touring resumed. A particularly memorable show was in Lawrence, Kansas opening for Public Enemy. The assumption was, if Sonic Youth could play with Public Enemy, so could Poster Children. This was unfortunately a mistake. The crowd of priviledged, white college kids spent the whole set jeering at the band, urging them to get off the stage. Rick asked for a vote, "Who wants us to stop playing and you can sit here for 45 minutes until Public Enemy comes on?" A mass of hands went up, and Rose exclaimed: "Too bad! You lose! We're still gonna play! Ha!" Regardless of what the kids thought, Public Enemy and their crew were very supportive and thanked the band for playing. A trek through the south was made with Six Finger Satellite. At the Orlando show a fan came up and gave the band a pass to the Kennedy Space Center to watch a Space Shuttle launch. Both bands awoke at the very non-rock hour of 6 AM the next day, piled into the Poster Van and drove to Cape Canaveral. The pass allowed parking within a mile of the launch pad and everyone was treated to a truly astounding sight. Actually, it looked just like the launches on TV, but the sound was literally earthshaking, something that can only be experienced in person. Humbled, both bands left to play their next show realizing no matter how hard they rocked, they could never match the power of the Shuttle.
In a refreshing change of pace, Poster Children ended the year happy and intact.