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The Return of the Posies

Posted by November 7th, 2005 No Comments »

Ken found the cabernet savignon a little presumptious.NadaMucho.com Interview – The Posies
By Tyson Lynn
Q&A With Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow

Bellingham has birthed no finer sons than Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow.

For over 17 years, these two have made spectacular music together, apart, and, in many different iterations, as The Posies. It is under that name that Stringfellow and Auer return to the musical scene on their 2005 world-wide tour.

The Posies released their debut from Auer’s Bellingham home in 1988. Entitled Failure, it was soon picked up by the Seattle indie Pop Llama, which led to a deal with Geffen. The boys, just barely old enough to drink at this point, added the first of many drummers and bassists to their line-up, and recorded and released their major-label debut Dear 23 in 1990.

Their ’93 release, Frosting on the Beater, found them a place on college radio and on top ten lists, even as the band again cycled its bassist.

Over the next three years, the band toured, and wrote material for their next album. When Amazing Disgrace finally dropped, The Posies had another new rhythm section, making the count three bassists and two drummers. Although the press loved the album, the sales were poor, and Geffen ended up dropping the band. Rather than surrender, The Posies returned to their original label, Pop Llama, for their official swan song, 1998’s Success.

Then they called it quits. Kind of. Stringfellow and Auer still performed together occasionally, and both worked as sidemen in the revitalized Big Star. They found current bassist and drummer, Matt Harris and Darius Minwalla respectively, in 2001, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the band headed into the studio to write, produce, and record a new album in 21 days.

Ken found the cabernet savignon a little presumptious.NadaMucho.com Interview – The Posies
By Tyson Lynn
Q&A With Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow

Bellingham has birthed no finer sons than Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow.

For over 17 years, these two have made spectacular music together, apart, and, in many different iterations, as The Posies. It is under that name that Stringfellow and Auer return to the musical scene on their 2005 world-wide tour.

The Posies released their debut from Auer’s Bellingham home in 1988. Entitled Failure, it was soon picked up by the Seattle indie Pop Llama, which led to a deal with Geffen. The boys, just barely old enough to drink at this point, added the first of many drummers and bassists to their line-up, and recorded and released their major-label debut Dear 23 in 1990.

Their ’93 release, Frosting on the Beater, found them a place on college radio and on top ten lists, even as the band again cycled its bassist.

Over the next three years, the band toured, and wrote material for their next album. When Amazing Disgrace finally dropped, The Posies had another new rhythm section, making the count three bassists and two drummers. Although the press loved the album, the sales were poor, and Geffen ended up dropping the band. Rather than surrender, The Posies returned to their original label, Pop Llama, for their official swan song, 1998’s Success.

Then they called it quits. Kind of. Stringfellow and Auer still performed together occasionally, and both worked as sidemen in the revitalized Big Star. They found current bassist and drummer, Matt Harris and Darius Minwalla respectively, in 2001, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the band headed into the studio to write, produce, and record a new album in 21 days.

NadaMucho caught up with Stringfellow and Auer by cell phone traveling to their next gig.

NadaMucho: I was really surprised, first off, that you were the one to call me to set up the interview

Ken Stringfellow: I’m acting as the tour manager, so at some point we have to coordinate exactly when we can do some things. At some point, the band member has to say ‘Yes, I can do it at this time,’ and if that’s the case, then it just makes sense to call back instead of calling someone to call someone.

NM: Why the Posies now?

KS: It was the thing to do. It’s something that’s been part of my life for a long time. The only reason it didn’t happen is because it wasn’t a good situation at some points, and it wasn’t working. It’s something I’d rather have in my life working than not. It took that long to repair the damage of the earlier time.

NM: How was it working as a four-piece in this iteration of the Posies versus working as a duo or by yourself?

KS: Brilliant, I think. There’s really something to be experienced in playing with a full band that’s working well. It’s really impossible to get from anything else. It’s one of those things where the sum is greater than its parts, as they say, better than I said it. But you really get lifted up with a great deal of energy. There’s good energy if I play by myself, or if Jon and I play, but when the four us play together and it goes well, then it, as Robert Goulet would say, really takes off.

NM: You brought on Matt Harris (bass) and Darius Minwalla (drums). Where’d you find them?

KS: Jon met Darius at…actually, you can ask him about that. I’ll let Jon describe it. We met Matt at SXSW one year and we had lots of mutual friends and we were looking for someone to play bass for us, and lo and behold, there he was.

NM: Was there any kind of audition process, or did you pick these guys and toss them in?

KS: No, no, man. It doesn’t really work like that. A) We got lucky. B) Jon and Darius became friends and have played together for quite a long time before we all played together. With Matt, it became obvious that if he wanted to do it, he’d be the guy for the job.

NM: Now was there any period of acclimation, a getting comfortable period in playing with each other?

KS: Yeah, it took a while. Even though everybody’s a great musician and a decent person, it still took a while to get to know each other and build that chemistry. I think working together and having challenges would be appropriate bonding experiences, whatever they might be. In general, it didn’t take that long for us to play well together, but it did take some time. Musical and personal chemistry, in my experience, are always related. You can play good music with someone you don’t along with, but you just won’t want to be around them to develop much with it.

NM: You guys just released a new album, Every Kind of Light. How do you feel about it?

KS: I really think the record is something great, especially considering we hadn’t made anything together before and we made it in pretty exceptional circumstances. Writing everything all at once, with nothing substantial prepared, everything recorded live in the studio with an improvised nature.

Considering that, I think it’s amazing. I think if we did something again, it’d be a lot better. I’ve had time to sit around and see the album’s flaws, but that’s true of anything that I do.

NM: It was reported that most everything was a first or second take. Do you look back now and say “If only we had done that third take”?

KS: We did do third takes, we just didn’t use them. (laughs) Those were just the ones that felt right. Because of the way we were recording, it seemed to benefit us to continue that spontaneous feel. Those felt the best. I don’t think we’d do a record the same way in the future.

NM: Are you already making plans for another record?

KS: Our plans are very loose. Our tour is long enough and evolved enough that planning anything after that is futile. We’ll regroup after a while.

NM: On the record, there’s a fair bit that’s political lyrically. What prompted that?

KS: It’s not really political. Maybe it is. I don’t know. It’s just observations about the country I live/lived in, a society I’ve been part of all my life. Just looking at things that have happened as of late, and the changes we’ve gone through the years and wondering how that makes me feel, and trying to say how that makes me feel.

NM: From what I’ve seen, the critical response to the album has been a little bit off. Not quite as positive as some of your previous releases. But how has the live response, the audience response been?

KS: I want to respond to the first part of your statement. The critical response has been across the board with excellent reviews, some not-so-excellent reviews, and I’d like to point out the time of release of any of our records, the response has always been quite varied, and it’s only in hindsight that people say that our records are quote/unquote classics. What we do is very different and it’s a little bit hard for people to get their heads around sometimes, especially writers who listen to the record once and have to write a review of it. So, I won’t agree that in every
case, the critical response has been poor, because we have gotten some excellent
reviews. Having responded to that, as far as the reaction from everybody else, I will say that people have been really happy to hear new songs live and people really enjoy the record. It’s as simple as that really. But I really can’t say critical response has been lukewarm all the way across, because that’s not true, and I wouldn’t want you to put that in your article, because it wouldn’t be a fact.

NM: You’re playing the 21st, the Wild Buffalo, up in Bellingham. I know you’ve played your hometown many times, but is it ever weird to do that homecoming show?

KS: No. It’ll be great, although it’ll be the end of our tour. Our North American tour. I think we’ll be really on fire. It’s better to do that than come up for a one-off in Bellingham. Coming at the end of the tour, I think we’ll be playing our best. I think we’ll be really excited to play.

NM: Where do you go after?

KS: We go to Europe, the following Monday we leave, and then we have 47 shows there over the next couple months.

NM: I know you live in France, so are you getting used to the inter-continental flights?

KS: It’s been the reality of my life for about 12 years. Even when I wasn’t living there, I was touring there about half the time.

At this point, Ken Stringfellow handed the phone to Jon Auer, and the interview continued.

JA: Good morning.

NM: Good morning, Mr. Auer. How you doing?

JA: Excellent, actually. Surprisingly excellent.

NM: You say “surprisingly.” I’m guessing you’re in the middle of your tour?

JA: I’d estimate, this is a rough estimation, that we are in month three of about seven months of touring.

NM: That’ll take a toll on a person.

JA: It does, but it’s a toll that’s worth taking, considering that I get to do what I love for a job. It might sound a tad bit cliche to say that. Maybe it is, maybe it is because it’s true. Anytime I get to the point on the road where I think it’s too much, I remind myself that “Hey, you could be digging the proverbial ditch for a living.” This is really, as far as jobs go, this is the ultimate.

NM: Now you’ve toured solo, worked as a duo, how does it feel to work in a four piece where it’s more or less equal?

JA: It’s an experience that you’re just not going to get any other way than by doing it with four people. It becomes more chemical at that point. To be honest, I really enjoy working as a solo artist because you get to do everything you want to do when you want to do it, how you want to do it, where you want to do it, and a band is basically art by committee. It’s plan making by committee. Here’s what I believe about bands: I think, even at its most harmonious, most bands have an undercurrent of some kind of tension. You’re bringing together people with tremendous egos, who are hopefully very talented to go along with those egos, and you’re putting them in a small box with four wheels and taking them around the world together for longs stretches of time. You do the math. I think it’s hard enough going on vacation with your family, much less going on the road with four other people. It’s just so amazing. I’m going on about this, but I was thinking
about it the other day, how playing in a band and being on the road together can be so euphoric and the next minute be the hardest thing in the world. There’s a lot of peaks and valleys. It ends up evening out to more peaks than valleys for sure, but it can be a very combustible situation to be sure.

NM: In this iteration of the Posies, you brought on Matt Harris and Darius Minwalla. Where’d you find these guys?

JA: I heard you talking about Ken about Darius, and I just realized this. I actually truly met Darius the very day I returned home from what was to be the final tour of the Posies, back in 1998. We had spent three months in Europe, and we were going to do a US tour, but we decided to call the band quits and cancel the US tour. I spent a couple weeks in Stockholm, Sweden, and I came home, and literally got back from the airport, went to my place, and walked up to Broadway, and Darius was the local prince of this coffee cart he worked at, and we started up a conversation, had a few beers after he got off work, and started jamming that day. We’ve played together ever since. I never put two and two together until today, but, literally, the day I got back from what was to be the last Posies tour, I met Darius. He and I really hit it off, we had an instant rapport. He played in my solo band before we did the Posies, I took him to Spain, and a couple small US tours. When it came time to reform the Posies as a rock act, I just put him in there as a guy I thought would be perfect for the job, and it couldn’t have been a better fit.

NM: Was there any kind of transition period, in moving from a solo act to a full out band?

JA: There’s a huge transition period. It’s one thing to play together, it’s another to sound like a band. It’s funny, on this US tour that we’re on now, I’ve come to look at like paid rehearsal for us to come together and get better. It’s something you can’t fake, you can’t fake that musical rapport. You have to breed it and nurture it and let it grow. The only way to do that is by doing it. It’s funny too, because people like “Oh, the Posies 2005. They’re back after seven years. What have they been doing for seven years?”

Well, actually, the band sort of played together in 2001, and we’ve done a fair amount of playing together before this leg of touring that we’re doing for this record, but it was never really consistent enough to get on what is known as a roll in the business. And now we really are. It’s interesting, and I don’t know if I should reveal this, we did a month and a half in Europe before we came to the States. And now we’re doing the States. Europe was wonderful and the States has been kind of hit or miss, as far as attendance and whatnot. I’m having to look at the States as the ultimate bonding experience. We just played 20 of 25 shows in a row with no days off. We average an in-store, a radio appearance, and a show every one of those 25 days, with a few exceptions here and there, and we average 300 miles of driving every day too. My next day off is in Boise, Idaho. The last one was in Birmingham, Alabama. And I’ve been to New York, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Minneapolis, etc., etc. in the interim. So I Would call this tour the ultimate bonding experience.

NM: The fact that none of you guys have cracked yet is impressive.

JA: Well, funny you should mention that. (laughs) I’ve had to do some damage control today, but we won’t get into that. (laughs) It’s all good, I’m just kinda fucking with you. Again, I have to look at it like “Why are we out here?” And I’ve realized that a lot of it is has to do with the fact that this is the time to really become the band we talked about being the last four years we’ve been playing together. This is where we get to play together, get to be together, get to put on a good show every night regardless of the circumstances. We always make the most of whatever we have, no matter where we are. I’m sure Theodore Roosevelt, or whomever I’m paraphrasing, would be very proud of us too. Thanks, Teddy.

NM: You’ve mentioned that it’s been pretty hit or miss, whereas in Europe, it was rather spectacular. When it has been a hit, how has the audience response been?

JA: People are totally into the shows. Have you seen the Posies live lately?

NM: I haven’t had the chance.

JA: You really should come down if you can. People at the end of interviews always ask, “If there’s one thing you could add to this interview, what would it be?” And I always say “Come see us live.” There are people that would probably hate us on record that would probably adore us live because you have to admire the energy we put into it. Whether it’s 30 people, 300 people, 3,000, or 30,000, you’re basically going to get the same show. We figure, “Why come all this way to play a bad show?” If we’re there, and we took the time, and people who want to hear us showed up, no matter how many people there are, we’re always going to play as good as we can and go the extra mile for ourselves and for everybody who wants to participate in what we’re doing. That being said, if I might add something to this. I feel like an idiot sometimes because so often in the states I find myself having the conversation with people where they’re like, “Why aren’t there more people
at the show? I wonder what happened.” And I find myself saying, “Yeah, you know it’s really weird, because we were just in Europe, and we played some of our biggest headlining shows ever (which we did), to big crowds (which there were).” I can’t tell you how many times, from people who don’t know the Posies that well, say “Yeah, you did.” Or “Yeah, yeah, you’re big in Europe.” I just had my 36th birthday in New York at the Bowery Ballroom, a fantastic venue. It was great, I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday. My wife came out, and a friend of hers gave me a shirt for my birthday, And I opened it up and on it said: “In Europe they know me. Jon Auer.com” It was a shirt from my website, but it made me feel kinda ridiculous. It’s like trying to tell your parents that I do this for a living, and I am successful at it, but then they come to your shows and they wonder how you’re making a living. But I assure you, we do very well in Europe. It’s tough, I’d like to do better in the States than we’re doing. I read a magazine called Pollstar recently, looking for some consolation and trying to find some understanding instead of turning to the Bible like I usually do. Just kidding. I read Pollstar, which is the bible of touring anyway, and I was amazed to see how low attendance was for most shows. Obviously there are things now that are super hot and that everyone is going to, but there are many incredibly respected artists, and, actually, many commercially successful artists that just aren’t drawing people into concerts right now.

Record sales are down, too, thanks to…you have to bring the internet and the burning of CDs into the equation. It’s really affecting everyone. Even when we play in-stores, we play six-seven songs. Back in the flush days of the business, the record store would typically give you a few free records for doing the in-store. Now, they give you a ten percent discount if you’re lucky, because they can’t afford to give away the records. Because people are burning them. People aren’t buying them. It’s an interesting place, and it’s amazing how different it is to play five years after the Posies doing a small tour of the states back in 2001, it’s amazing how many people are vying for the marketplace. Blah blah blah. I’m just going off on a tangent now. I just had my coffee.

NM: It’s all right. You’re caffeinated. You’re up and able for an interview this morning.

JA: I need to get this out, man. I need to vent it.

NM: I understand. You hail from Bellingham, the Pacific Northwest. So why is it that you think you don’t hit as well in the states as you do in Europe?

JA: There are pockets that we hit very well in the States. I’m not trying to say our whole tour, please don’t take it like that. I’m just saying it’s weird to go to Oslo and play to 1200 people and then go to San Francisco and play to 200, when four years ago you were playing to 400. One thing I think is true: in Europe, more of the youth are actually in tune to things that aren’t considered youth-culture kind of acts. They go beyond what is of the moment and embrace things with history. I’m 36 now and I’m in a position where I can that we’re a band with a lot of history, and we are – we’ve been together for long time. It’s bizarre at the same time to be at that point and realize that. For instance, those shows I mentioned in Europe where we have a lot of people, I see a tremendous amount of old people and young people. It’s weird, it’s almost like some of the stuff got passed on to the younger generation that isn’t being passed on, or maybe just not cared about, here in the States. I don’t know. Your guess as is good as mine. I don’t know why it is the way that it is, and I’m not complaining too much, because we’re still doing well in the States. It’s not like we’re doing horrible. I don’t mind going to Europe. Beautiful country, fantastic food, fantastic people. Exotic locales, that’s all great. I wonder if we’re having to pay our dues in America right now because people forget a little faster here. They’re onto the next thing, and I think our country is very obsessed with in with the new, out with the old, and Europe, like I said, embraces history, and they appreciate it. They celebrate it.

NM: You’ve got your hometown gig coming up. Do you get a little twinge when it comes to playing your hometown?

JA: No, I’m past the point of that. When Bellingham is happening, it’s fantastic. I’m looking forward to playing the Wild Buffalo, and hopefully a lot of friends will come out, and my parents like to stay in, so it’ll be nice to see them at a rock show. Hey, there’s one thing I heard you talking to Ken about, and I wanted to address a little bit too, and that’s the new record. I honestly feel, that when a band reforms like we did and makes a record, it’s a risky proposition at best. What surprised me about making Every Kind of Light was how much fun it was to make and how, even though we had a limited amount of time, we were really able to dig deep and pull something out of us that didn’t sound like we were pandering to our past, yet it still had enough of what people might expect and or enjoy of the Posies, from the Posies, to satisfy long-term fans. I heard Ken say something about hearing the flaws in it, and I have to agree. When you’re given the situation of making 12 songs in 12 days, and those are the 12 songs you have to use on the record, it doesn’t leave much room for improvement by having more material. But that being said, I think it’s all pretty good stuff, but some of it is right up there with the best we ever did. One – “Conversations,” the second song on the record – has really hit a nerve, struck a chord, however you want to put it, and it just fits right in. It feels like a continuation, but also looks forward to what can happen next. Maybe this is an excellent transition record, but I think this is something good.

NM: Are you looking forward to another record, or are you just focused on the touring?

JA: You know how I look at my life? I look at it five months ahead. I look back every once in a while for a little reflection, but most of the time I live in the present and plan…I don’t think you can plan more than five months ahead. We were supposed to play New Orleans on this tour, and, lo and behold here comes the hurricane that reeks horrible devastation, and I don’t think anyone saw that coming. It’s just a futile exercise to plan too far ahead. If you asked me, “Do I think it will happen?” I think it will. And if you ask me, “Would I like it to happen?” Even in the middle of 25 shows in a row on the road in a box with wheels, I’d have to say yes.
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