Since 2005 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who’ve been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place.
I’ve been doing the Secret History of Chicago Music for 17 years, and by now I hear from plenty of folks hoping I might cover their old bands. This can make it easier for me to find and research a subject, but the people who pitch me often misjudge what I cover. Unofficially, I restrict Secret History to artists who got started before the 90s—largely because I was going to shows myself by then, and I just can’t consider that era “history” yet. (I know, I know—1991 was 30 years ago, and I’m fooling myself.)
Founded in Champaign-Urbana in 1988, art-rock band Stark squeak in under the wire. Their bassist, Matt Golosinski, hit me up, and I took the bait—partly because I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1995 (rah rah), and any connection to that scene tends to endear an artist to me. Stark also have ties to other cool and interesting bands—and most important, I like their music!
Matt Golosinski was born in Chicago in 1965 and grew up on the northwest side, near Addison and Cumberland. “Solid middle class, mostly cops, firefighters, city workers,” he says of the old neighborhood. “Some tribal divisions—Polish, Italian, Irish, German. The Irish kids had the best fireworks and would blow up bricks of them in the middle of the street.”
As a lad Golosinski loved classic rock like Supertramp, ELO, and Cheap Trick, though his parents objected to the dirty lyrics. While a student at Gordon Technical High School (near California and Addison, now DePaul College Prep) he got into punk, including UK bands such as the Exploited, 999, Cockney Rejects, and Killing Joke. He also liked the electronic stylings of OMD, early Depeche Mode, and Kraftwerk, and because he spent a lot of time at Medusa’s and Wax Trax! Records, he soaked up industrial sounds from Front 242, Ministry, and Cabaret Voltaire.
Carrying these influences and armed with his bass, Golosinski headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he started a band called Hardcore Barbie with his roommate, trumpeter Rolf Langsjoen, as singer. “I originally put up signs around town seeking like-minded Roxy Music/Iggy/Velvets/Minutemen fans and got called by R.E.M. nerds,” Golosinski jokes. “The guitarist was Darin Strack, who would later have some notoriety as a member of ‘plowpunk’ outfit Sixteen Tons. Drummer Larry Thompson later joined various bands, including Steakdaddy Six (with future Chicago luminary Nick Macri).” Hardcore Barbie never recorded professionally, but they frequently gigged with Lonely Trailer—one of my fave weirdo C-U bands, and still active today.
Stark recorded the demos that make up their long-delayed full-length debut in 1989 and 1990.
Golosinski started his next group after seeing guitarist and singer Chris Rogers in a hardcore punk band on the quad at UIUC. “I liked the sound but it was very intense, and that day at least, I was not strong enough to endure it!” Golosinski recalls. “But I could tell that Chris had great energy, and a very cool style and approach to the music.”
Golosinski and Rogers formed the group Obvious Man. Rogers’s girlfriend at the time organized punk shows in Champaign-Urbana, which helped them get off the ground. “Originally we had a great punk drummer and a singer named Andy Switzky, but the group was not exclusively influenced by hardcore punk,” Golosinski says. “I remember us listening to Saccharine Trust, Minor Threat, Butthole Surfers, et cetera, but Chris also had some prime Yes and King Crimson in his collection.”
After Obvious Man’s original drummer left, they recruited former Poster Children drummer Shannon Drew. Poster Children were one of the better bands in the C-U scene, playing edgy yet melodic fuzz pop that sounded particularly great live—and Drew wasn’t the only veteran of that group to end up in Obvious Man. “Eventually I (mostly) ‘asked’ Andy to leave—he went on to be a founding member of Hum,” Golosinski says. “We recruited Poster Children and ¡Ack-Ack! drummer Brendan Gamble for singer and second guitar.” Hum would of course go on to have great success in the mid-90s with a slightly spacey grunge sound.
With these lineup changes, Obvious Man renamed themselves Stark. At that point the group, which was rehearsing in a martial arts studio near the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, consisted of Shannon Drew (drums), Brendan Gamble (vocals, rhythm guitar), Matt Golosinski (bass), and Chris Rogers (lead guitar, background vocals). When they began gigging in 1988, the scene was exploding, driven by venues such as Trito’s Uptown, Mabel’s, and House of Chin. Major labels were taking an interest in local bands, among them the Didjits, Titanic Love Affair (with Jay Bennett, later of Wilco), the Bowery Boys (with Leroy Bach, also of Wilco), and Last Gentlemen. During that period, big names in “alternative” music toured through C-U frequently, including Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Robert Fripp, and Laurie Anderson.
Stark opened for future rock stars Smashing Pumpkins in ’89 at Trito’s Uptown, when the Pumpkins’ tunes were still relatively psychedelic—Golosinski recalls some great guitar interplay between James Iha and Billy Corgan, as well as some conflict between Corgan and bassist D’Arcy Wretzky. “I remember sitting at the bar with Billy afterward, and he gave me one of their cassette demos with hand-drawn illustrations on the insert,” he says. “He really liked our set and in fact was upset at D’Arcy for flubbing a few notes in a couple songs. I don’t think anyone other than Billy noticed, but he was pretty annoyed with her—to the point where he told me, ‘I need someone like you playing bass for us. You should be in the band.’”
Golosinski wasn’t about to consider leaving Stark, because he thought their music was just as viable as what the Pumpkins were doing. So he talked Corgan out of his grievance with Wretzky. “Billy grudgingly relented over a beer or two and agreed to stick with D’Arcy,” Golosinski says. “Incidentally, I sold that demo cassette on eBay circa 1996 for $800!”
Stark didn’t last long—they split in 1991—and in that short lifetime they didn’t release any music formally. They did record and circulate two demos, though, so it’s still possible to hear what they sounded like. “Steve Shields, the singer of ¡Ack-Ack! and later Steve Pride & His Blood Kin (with Jay Bennett and Don Gerard, later mayor of Champaign), produced both demos,” says Golosinski. The band had moved to a house on Main Street in Urbana, a few blocks east of downtown, where they rehearsed and recorded in the basement.
“We squeezed into a corner and would occasionally see some mice down there from the small field next door,” Golosinski remembers. “Our studio was down there in a separate room, and Brendan took out a sizable loan to finance and buy all the equipment. He had worked for several years as a recording engineer, so while our setup was relatively modest, Brendan really knew a thing or two—certainly about recording drums.”
The tapes from these sessions eventually found their way into the closet of ¡Ack-Ack! guitarist Henry Frayne, who would go on to play with Gerard in the Moon Seven Times and in a project with Gamble called Lanterna. “I don’t know exactly how the tapes got into Henry’s closet, but it may be partly down to Frayne being a huge fan and something of an archivist,” Golosinski says.
Those recordings were recently rehabilitated, and Stark posted them to Bandcamp as a self-titled album in September 2021. Their sound balances postpunk (Golosinski’s throbbing bass), sophisticated new-wave pop (Gamble’s subtle guitar flourishes and lyrics), and straight-up pop-rock (Drew’s snappy drumming). “Stark is a bit of a paradox,” Golosinski says. “Bold, yet fragile. Aggressive, yet melodic and introspective. Broadly, you might consider it ‘fractured art rock.’”
Maybe Stark could’ve been the next Japan or Orange Juice, but they would’ve needed to stay together longer than three years to do it. “Unfortunately, the seed of the band’s demise lies with me,” Golosinski says. “I felt I needed to sever the ties with C-U life before it dragged me down—the scene was getting too heavy for me, and I was ‘recreating’ more than was healthy. I also didn’t think lugging 60-pound amps down rickety club stairs at 2 AM sounded like a professional path with a reliable retirement plan, so in a foggy kind of panic I fled C-U for Chicago.”
When Golosinski quit, it didn’t immediately end Stark, but he’s still sorry he left the way he did. “Not my finest moment, and one I regret, mainly for not being a proper friend, but also because I destabilized what had been a promising band,” he says. “In fact, we had been in contact with Columbia Records, which had interest in our work. The band did carry on for a year or so after my departure, recording as a trio with Brendan taking over on bass. As Rogers told me, the energy kind of dissipated at that point and the band decided to call it a day.”
Golosinski now works as a director of research communications at Northwestern University. Rogers had jobs at several marquee tech companies, and he’s since retired. Drew is a respiratory therapist in the Champaign-Urbana area. Gamble has held several staff positions at UIUC, including in music engineering, and in 2002 he released the solo album Heartless Moon, which features a version of the Stark song “Now.”
Stark’s long-delayed album consists of remixed and mastered material originally from the band’s two demos, recorded in their basement studio in 1989 and ’90. “The fragile analog multitracks were carefully stabilized (baked at Tape Farm) and transferred to digital,” Golosinski says. “Rogers mixed and produced the material in his Berkeley studio, with a tremendous amount of feedback from Drew and I.” Stark maintain a website at starkband.org, and their music is available via Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Music as well as Bandcamp.
The radio version of the Secret History of Chicago Music airs on Outside the Loop on WGN Radio 720 AM, Saturdays at 5 AM with host Mike Stephen. Past shows are archived here.