Formed in 1985, Material Issue was the brainchild of frontman Jim Ellison, who also played guitar, sang lead vocals, and wrote most Material Issue songs. Ellison met Material Issue's bassist Ted Ansani while both were attending Columbia College Chicago in 1986. Drummer Mike Zelenko was found through an ad in the Illinois Entertainer later that year.
In 1987, Material Issue released an EP on their own Big Block Label (so named for the big block engines of the 1970s muscle cars Ellison loved) which operated out of Ellison's bedroom at his parents home in Addison, Illinois. In 1988, "Sixteen Tambourines" appeared on CMJ New Music Report's compilation and CMJ referred to Material Issue's music as a "hooky brand of high-powered psycho-pop". In 1989, they released the single "Renee Remains The Same" which got heavy airplay around Chicago. Over the next two years, the band toured extensively across the Midwest and found time to record what would become their debut album International Pop Overthrow (IPO). The album was a compilation of various demos recorded between roughly 1988-1991 and produced by Jeff Murphy from the Chicago area power pop band Shoes, and recorded at Short Order Recorder, their studio in Zion, IL.
In early 1991, Material Issue broke onto the national scene with their debut album International Pop Overthrow (IPO) which sold over 300,000 copies for Mercury Records. Ironically, their debut video for the single "Diane" appeared on MTV's 120 Minutes in late December 1990 which was the episode of the final appearance of Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson of The Replacements in sort of a fitting segue between the lesser-known music genres of the two decades. Also, Material Issue and The Replacements shared the stage at Taste of Chicago in 1991, which was the swansong for The Replacements. IPO had extensive national airplay with "Valerie Loves Me" and "Diane" and music critic Jae-Ha Kim declared "Simple Minds upstaged by Material Issue".
1992 saw the follow-up to IPO with Destination Universe which was also produced by Jeff Murphy at Short Order Recorder, and included the single "What Girls Want" in addition to ballads such as "Next Big Thing" and "Everything". Material Issue continued to tour heavily across the country in support of both albums. The new album was not as well received by critics as the debut album, nor did it sell as well.
1994 saw the release of Freak City Soundtrack which featured the single "Kim The Waitress" (a cover of The Green Pajamas, written by Jeff Kelly). The band also created a music video for "Kim The Waitress". However, by the time Freak City Soundtrack was released, the momentum they had generated in the previous five years had begun to subside. Freak City sold fewer than 50,000 copies as the Seattle scene and the emergence of ska dominated both mainstream and alternative music markets. Other Chicago acts to break national following Material Issue, such as Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, and Liz Phair, had music more fitting for the times and Material Issue, feeling left behind by their label, parted ways with Mercury in early 1995.
Material Issue continued touring, selling out venues throughout the upper Midwest. In the summer of 1995 the band co-headlined the first Edgefest in Somerset, Wisconsin (named for its sponsor, Minneapolis alternative radio station 93.7 The Edge). In 1995, the group, with Liz Phair, recorded a cover of the Banana Splits’ theme song titled The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana) for the tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, produced by Ralph Sall for MCA Records. Throughout the remainder of 1995 and into 1996, Material Issue had recorded a set of new songs with the intention of shopping them to a new label. However, the band came to a tragic and sudden end when Ellison committed suicide on June 20, 1996 by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage. No one knows for sure what compelled Ellison to end his life but the loss of their record label in 1995 as well as an end to a long term relationship on his 32nd birthday (April 18, 1996) are likely contributors to his decision to commit suicide. A suicide note was found by police, but the contents of that note remain known only to Ellison's family. The recordings from the work done in 1995 and 1996 was released posthumously on Telecommando Americano in 1997 by Rykodisc. Telecommando Americano was the final Material Issue release, and also included the 6-song EP released back in 1987 as a bonus.
The legacy of Material Issue as the consummate 1990s power pop band lives on in the International Pop Overthrow festival that plays in Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago each year. The IPO festival (renamed IPO from Poptopia in the late 90s to honor Material Issue) is the largest showcase of power pop music in the United States and brings in power pop bands from all over the world to showcase what is new in the world of power pop music.
Despite albums receiving extremely positive reviews and reception, Material Issue is often overlooked among music of the era. They are often considered to have reached their climax in a misplaced era. In an era of grunge music, the pop-based Material Issue was ahead of their musical times.
Ted Ansani continues to work in the music business in Chicago and had played bass for several post-Material Issue projects and released his own solo EP in 2000 called Throttle and Pistons - The Ted Ansani Project. He has made several solo appearances in the last few years in and around Chicago and has also played the IPO festival when it has come to Chicago. His website carries the banner of the Material Issue legacy which reminds readers of Material Issue's place in rock history. Ansani is married with three children. His son, Paul, plays bass in his own band, The Break. His other son, Theodore, also plays bass in his own band, The Hustle.
Mike Zelenko continues to play drums and has also played with several post-Material Issue projects. He has drummed for Green, the Darlings and most recently Zelenko has been playing with a new power pop band from Chicago called The Ladies and Gentlemen.
In 2002, the song "Everything", from the Destination Universe album, was covered by the band Stereo Fuse and received moderate airplay on alternative radio.
The Tragically Hip song "Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin' Man", from the album Phantom Power, is a tribute to Ellison.
Australian power pop band the Pyramidiacs also released a tribute song to Ellison, entitled "Jim", on their 1997 album Teeter Totter.
Original drummer Danny Thompson is currently playing for punk rock legends, Face to Face, and metal band the Uprising. Both bands are from southern California. The original bassist, Lance Tawzer, went on to form The Lupins (RCA Records) and wrote a song for the movie Dumb and Dumber; he married Q101 (WKQX) DJ Samantha James and they have two children.
In 2011, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the International Pop Overthrow album, the two surviving members, Mike Zelenko and Ted Ansani, reformed the band under the name Material Reissue. Chicago based singer-songwriter Phil Angotti (who had recorded as The Idea) joined them, filling in for Jim Ellison. The show was part of the International Pop Overthrow festival, named after the album, and took place at the Abbey Pub in Chicago on April 23, 2011. Material Reissue then performed at the Taste of Chicago on June 28, 2011, at Summerfest in Milwaukee on July 8, 2011, and Lincoln Hall on September 17, 2011. They performed in what was billed as their final show ever on December 31 at Reggie's Rock Club.
The IPO album was also re-issued in a 20th Anniversary edition.Eleven Supersonic Hit Explosions (1990) (promo for Int'l Pop Overthrow)
International Pop Overthrow (1991)
Destination Universe (1992)
Freak City Soundtrack (1994)
Telecommando Americano (1997)
Material Issue EP (1987)
Goin' Through Your Purse [Live] (1994)