– interview by Stephanie MacDonald
The Posies were always out of step with their time. Power-pop in the era of grunge, the Seattle band – really, more of a duo, i.e. primary singer/songwriters Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer – still managed to eke out a following with harmony-and-hook-laden albums like Frosting on the Beater and songs such as “Dream All Day” and “Solar Sister”. Currently signed to Rykodisc, The Posies have just released their first album, Blood/Candy, since 2005’s Every Kind of Light.
Guttersnipe correspondent (and power-pop fan) Stephanie MacDonald conducted an email interview with The Posies‘ Stringfellow, who currently resides in Paris (and who has also been a touring member of REM). The band plays Venue tonight (Dec 10) in Vancouver with Brendan Benson (read Stephanie’s interview with Brendan).
SM: You two have a very long-standing and fecund musical partnership, but it has clearly been an open relationship. When did you come to this agreement, and how has it affected the direction the Posies has evolved?
Ken Stringfellow: It’s like a marriage, our relationship, in that’s a long-term partnership. But it’s not a marriage, in the end. There isn’t really an agreement per se to do all the things we do. The Posies is not a job, an obligation, etc. It’s part of our lives, and an important one. But, so are the other things we do – music production, solo things, other bands, other projects, our families, etc. The space we give each other also allows things to stay fresh, and brings new life and ideas in to our band.
SM: Are you competitive with each other, personally or professionally?
KS: We try and keep things as evenly apportioned as possible, to keep any competitive instincts from getting out of hand. So, in theory, yes, in practice, not so much.
SM: The “power pop” sound of Dear 23 and Frosting on the Beater became, well, for some people, a respite from grunge that was really meaningful, and created a lot of really devoted fans. How free do you feel to move away from that lush harmonic sound that set the band apart? In what ways is Blood/Candy different?
KS: I don’t think we’ve moved away from it, I think we’ve just improved it. I think B/C is a very psychedelic-influenced album… the album Dear 23 wanted to be, in some ways. But the lyrical approaches, etc, are so much richer and deeper. Dear 23 was made by kids, really. This album was made by people with developed lives with things to say.
SM: What was the most exciting big festival you’ve played at together? Were there any really horrible ones?
KS: We’ve played some of the biggest – mainstage at Reading, Pukkelpop, Roskilde. “Most” exciting starts to get hard to count. I have a pretty good memory of headlining the warmup night of Benicassim in 2001, off our face on every substance you can think of and a few you can’t, and just laying waste to a velodrome with 6,000 people in it. Our Pukkelpop experience in 2005, was kind of ridiculous. We were still trashed from a great show/party the night before… Matt [Harris, bassist since 2001] literally just collapsed in a drunken heap during one song. We couldn’t stop laughing. It was fun, but I can’t imagine it sounded good. Øya Festival on that same tour was enormous, tho. We destroyed that one. In a good way.
SM: Do you have a division of labour between you in terms of music and lyrics?
KS: No, we generally deliver complete or almost complete songs to the band.
SM: Your first two albums transcended the era in which they were made and remain pretty timeless. Do you feel more influenced by the musical climate and what’s trendy now?
KS: No, I feel it’s become more like what we do. I don’t know if we had an influence on that or not, perhaps we did. I’ve always had my head in what’s going on in contemporary music. I just don’t copy and paste it into my work.
SM: I think The Posies and Brendan Benson are so perfect to tour together, in fact this is pretty much my (and my friends’) dream show. How did this pairing come about? Have you known each other for long?
KS: Not really. We sort of met in 2002 when Brendan supported the Long Winters/Ken Stringfellow tour in Atlanta and Athens. But… Brendan says I was “scary” and he didn’t talk to me. Haha. I’m sure I was. So, we really met this year when Brendan joined the impromptu lineup for the Big Star show in Memphis, that was on the books at the time of Alex [Chilton]’s sudden death in March. This show was already advertised and on sale, taking place in May, and we decided to go ahead with it and make it a kind of tribute to Alex and his music, with special guests playing Brendan’s songs. So, this is when we really got to know each other.
SM: The video for “Dream All Day” is like an awesome shampoo commercial! That’s all I have to say about that.
KS: I’ll have what you’re having. But not ’til after the show.
SM: Does all this fog and rain make you yearn to move back to the Pacific Northwest? It is very good weather to moodily sit inside and write things.
KS: Sorry… not enough enticement. Hahah. I write fine in Paris. We get fog and rain there now and then. But also get other stuff, too.
SM: You seem to be fairly down-to-earth fellows for rock musicians, but is one of you more square? Is one of you secretly depraved, or are you both?
KS: I think. being that these things can be subconscious, that we’d be the last to know. I think we’ve had plenty of square and plenty of Mr. Hyde moments… it’s all in us, each of us… you too, I imagine.
The Posies tour dates: