Material Issue was one of Chicago and alternative pop’s brightest stars in the 1990s when singer Jim Ellison couldn’t take it anymore.
The man behind songs like “Valerie Loves Me” and “Diane” committed suicide when Material Issue was on the cusp of superstardom.
The band will be remembered early next year when “Out of Time: The Material Issue Story” hits screens. It tells the story of the group, which searched for its identity in the gritty world of rock in the early 1990s. The documentary stars original band members Mike Zelenko and Ted Ansani, along with Gilby Clarke, Matt Pinfield, Steve Albini, Rick Nielsen and Mike Chapman. “Out of Time” debuts interviews with Ellison’s family.
“The story is so interesting,” producer/director Balin Schneider says.
“This band who’s on this path toward stardom, and everything was going alright, but for some unknown reason never made that leap of other bands at the same time. Maybe their sound was not correct for the time, when you had bands like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Nirvana at the forefront.”
Material Issue channeled bands of the 1960s in the 1990s with twinges of what was to come: Green Day.
“They are a very similar band to Material Issue,” Schneider says. “Green Day became superstars, though.”
At 90 minutes, “Out of Time” will emphasize the third album that Ellison was alive to see: “Freak City Soundtrack,” which was produced by Chapman.
“The record was one of their best, but for some reason, a lot of reasons, Jim committed suicide,” Schneider says. “That record just didn’t sell. It had some of Jim’s best songs. A lot of the film focuses on that era and some of Jim’s suicide.”
Schneider is a latecomer to Material Issue, as he was born in 2000. He discovered the band and pondered why they weren’t more popular. Material Issue had all the trappings: a photogenic lead singer, relentlessly hooky songs and major label backing.
“I was like, ‘Wow, there’s someone who’s committed suicide and can’t tell their own story,’” he adds. “This story needed to be told so more people know about how important their music was to Chicago and a lot of people. I really wanted to explore that story, because it’s very important that people hear them. Their music means a lot to a lot of people.”