A Pocketful of Posies – 1996
by Peter Bagge & Eric Reynolds, Fizz Magazine (#7), 1996
Along with being Seattle’s most underappreciated band, the Posies are also one of the most curious. Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer are supremely talented songwriters, musicians, singers, and producers. Their melodic skills are second to none in contemporary rock/pop – coupled with their dramatic guitar hooks, there’s absoutely no reason the Posies shouldn’t be million-plus sellers. But they aren’t. They are on Geffen; however, and have just released their third major-label effort. And it’s their most potent album to date:Amazing Disgrace features the smooth pop that fans of their first album [PopLlama’s Failure] have come to expect as well as crunchy guitar rock that would impress fans of Husker Du’s early efforts (one song, “Grant Hart,” confirms the influence). Although a few old school punks – for fear of admitting that musicianship should be as appreciated as simple rage – would ever go out of their way to cite the Posies as a favorite; we have a sneaking suspicion that, in fact, EVERYBODY loves the Posies, but as individuals we don’t want to be the first to admit it. Enter Peter Bragge and Eric Reynolds, Seattle cartoonists and bandmates in the Action Suits, who have been championing the Posies’ cause for years and caught up with them just prior to the release of Amazing Disgrace to talk about, well, lots of goofy shit.
Fizz: Is it [the tape] going? … It’s going
Ken: We should do a voice introduction for the transcriber.
Jon: I’m Jon…
Ken: (affecting high-pitched, femme voice) I’m Ken!
Fizz: Ken has fuscia hair, as you can tell by his voice.
Brian: You’ll hear it on the tape – it’s so fucking loud.
Fizz: What we wanted to talk about first, before Joe has to leave, is talk about YES, and how much YES – circa 1972 – influenced this record.
Joe: I… I don’t know, I just really…
Ken: Did you have any fights with Nick [producer of Amazing Disgrace] over the Chris Squire bass tone of the distorted, high-end bass? What was he into?
Joe: Paul McCartney.
Ken: Oh yeah, we had a little tiff over Paul McCartney.
Joe: I had to say to Nick, because he kept talking about the Beatles, “Look, this isn’t a Beatles album, and I’m not Paul McCartney.”
Fizz: It’s a YES album!
Brian: That was actually the day Joe quit smoking.
Brian: Yeah, and Nick says, “Look, Joe…”
Joe: “… I’ll go out and buy you a pack of cigarettes.” (laughs) Anyway, I don’t know if Yes has had that much influence on the bass. As much as that kind of music influenced me, I don’t consider myself a prog rock bassist. I don’t think I play like Chris Squier, or any of those cats from the prog rock era. I’m kind of a melodic bass player.
Fizz: Chris Squier and Paul McCartney had something in common: they both played very tightly with the drums. It was like note for note.
Brian and Joe: We do that.
Fizz: Well, there you go. It’s come full circle.
Brian: It’s kind of interesting. Everybody in the band seems to have this deep, hidden-away progressive rock influences. It doesn’t necessarily come out in the finished music, though.
Joe: But it puts a smile on our face. It’s not like we sit there and go, “All right, now we’re going to play some serious music.”
Fizz: You’re not supposed to acknowledge publically your progressive rock influences, you know.
Jon: Well, in that case, Starship Trooper is one of the top ten recordings of all time.
Brian: Jon, you’re not supposed to…
Jon: Oh. (laughs)
Joe: When I first moved to Seattle, I would respond to Rocket ads for bass players, and they’d ask what I was into. And I’d tell em, “Blah, blah, blah,” and then I’d say, “And YES,” and then “click!” – they’d hang up on me.
Ken: Is that what we did?
Joe: No. It’s always so uncool to be a prog rock fan. I read a Red Hot Chilli Peppers interview once…
Fizz: They fessed up?
Joe: Yeah, Flea and the leader singer said they used to listen to a lot of that music.
Ken: So if you admit you like prog you can be as cool as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Joe: I consider myself a progressive because when I was in high school, everybody listened to AC/DC, Thin Lizzy… basic rock. I was listening to what I considered at the time alternative music, which was this prog rock stuff.
Fizz: When I was in high school people called me a faggot and wanted to beat me up because I listened to progressive rock.
Joe: I think it made me a better player. I was working out more intricate basslines than the (monotone) “do-do-do-do-do” AC/DC lines.
Fizz: Have you guys ever recorded at Avast Studios?
Jon: Oh yeah. Stuart’s [Hallerman, Avast owner] a good friend.
Fizz: He told me that at the time he opened Avast, the bands he recorded – like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam – turned him onto a whole new kind of music. And I said, “Like what?” And he said, “Like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.” (laughs) I asked what he was into before that, and I thought he was going to say the punkest of punk rock, but he said jazz rock and progressive rock!
Ken: It’s pervasive as hell, isn’t it? Jazz rock is the kind of thing that I just can’t figure out at all. I have one Mahavishnu Orchestra record that’s okay, but it doesn’t even sound jazz to me.
Fizz: Is that a George Martin record?
Ken: No. He did a record for them?
Jon: He didn’t do “Henry Mountain Flame,” did he?
Fizz: I can’t remember. It was when they had, like, 50 members in the band, and he had Billy Cobham.
Ken: Billy Corgan? … “A very young Billy Corgan…”
Fizz: So who’s this Nick guy who produced your record?
Ken: He’s an asshole.
Fizz: Is he that English guy?
Brian: He lives in Australia.
Ken: Yeah, did you meet him?
Fizz: The skinny English guy with all the Johnny Rotten anecdotes…
Jon: (In British accent) “I just love punk.”
Fizz: Eric and I came over to Bad Animals to listen to you guys that day…
Ken: That’s right. He’s funny.
Fizz: He controlled himself in the studio, but then I saw him later on at a bar or something…
Ken: Maybe at the Sub Pop party?
Fizz: Yeah, that was it.
Ken: Yeah, we left him on his own that day. He came back and said, “I met a lot of fans; I really feel I’ve made a connection here. Now, I don’t drink very often, but I…”
Fizz: Why’d you hire him?
Ken: He was cheap (laughs). One guy who we were going to work with quit at the last minute, and we saw Nick’s resume – we were going through a lot of producer resumes – we didn’t know who the fuck we were going to get. Nick’s looked interesting. He’d done so much new wave and dark goth stuff like Killing Joke that we had to have him, because it totally came from left field.
Fizz: How come you don’t just produce yourselves?
Jon: We should. I’d like to.
Fizz: You’d save a lot of money.
Ken: We’d make a lot of money. “So you want to get this guy for 60 grand? We’ll do it each for 40.” That’s ten grand each!
Fizz: Would you get paid for that?
Ken: We’ll use nom de nobs.
Jon: We’re going to produce the next record ourselves.
Fizz: Using “nom de nobs”?
Fizz: Are you kidding me? Does that work?
Ken: Oh yeah. And there’s a producer card you can get that gives you a 50 percent discount on any compact disc at any Tower Records.
Fizz: (laughs) O-okayy…
Brian: There really is.
Jon: “Insert laugh track here.”
Ken: We haven’t seen it yet, but Terry told us that since we produced our first record, we get the “producer record.” Still don’t know how to get one, though. He said he’d get it for us.
Jon: I think Terry’s using them.
Fizz: When this interview comes out, it’ll remind him.
Ken: “D’oh! The producer card!” He’s used both mine and Jon’s producer card to get CDs for free – 50% each card.
Fizz: You guys have produced other bands.
Jon: And Failure [the Posies’ first LP], too. It’s weird, we have a heavy hand in everything we do – we don’t get led around by the producer, but we don’t get the credit on the record because the contract says we have to have a name producer.
Fizz: A name producer gets a big chunk of dough up front –
Jon: And points and all that shit.
Ken: The contractual agreements amaze me. Don Fleming had Instant Mayhem Productions, and the contract insisted very specifically how the wording was, down to including the trademark symbol.
Jon: It has to be on the CD, the booklet, the ads…
Ken: Fucking prima donnas. (laughs)
Fizz: When I asked you how much the Posies spend on a record, and then I ask Kim [Warnick, Ken’s wife and bass player for the Fastbacks] how much the Fastbacks spend, you spend ten times as much money.
Ken: But we sell ten times as many records. It’s all meaningless.
Jon: It’s meaningful.
Ken: It’s the same cost per record. If we spend a million dollars, we’ll sell a million records. It breaks perfectly even, everytime. Except Failure. We spent no money on Failure and sold some, so we made money on that one.
Jon: It’s nearing the 20,000 mark.
Fizz: I haven’t heard the new record; I wish I had before doing the interview. Does it remind you specifically of any of the others?
Jon: Everybody seems to think it’s way different. They think it’s a lot more aggressive or whatnot. But I’d go as far as to say that there’s some songs that are very much like old Posies. The last song on the record came from a demo we made during Dear 23. The demo is actually on one of the tracks of the song. This record has more contrast than the others. Failure is super pop, Dear 23 is very lush, and Frosting On The Beater has a very definable sound running all the way through it. This one sort of jumps all over the map. It’s got the stuff the 13-year-old girls will like, as well as the 16-year-old headbangers. Which, in this day and age, doesn’t hurt, you know.
Ken: Now we just have to break into the 12-year-old market.
Fizz: So you told me at one point that the theme of the next Posies album would be, “Baby, baby, baby…”
Ken: Not this one, the next one.
Fizz: I asked you why don’t you put out a record every year, and you said, “If we did that, every song would be ‘Ooh, baby, baby, baby!'” It’ll be like an Afghan Whigs record.
Jon: Is there a lot of that on the new Afghan Whigs record?
Fizz: In a good way, yeah.
Jon: They can get away with that; he’s [Greg Dulli, Whigs’ lead singer] pretty macho.
Ken: I think the next record should totally be, “Oh god, oh baby.” We’ll call it, The Posies in Black. It’ll be one step ahead of Back in Black. It will be like what happened before they went back in black.
Fizz: But it would have to be The Posies Back In Black, because you used to wear black.
Ken: Well, we wore black outfits, but…
Fizz: The Posies in Black, Again.
Ken: Still in Black.
Jon: Are you a fan of our old goth look, Pete?
Fizz: The guy who inks my comic book used to work at Kinko’s, and he told me that you guys used to come in with your “Cure look.”
Ken: Well, he probably had the Kinko’s look goin’ on. We’ll call it a draw.
Fizz: I told Jim, “The Posies are good,” and he says, “Yeah, they’re good, they’re good, but…” “But what?” “They’ve got that Cure look, man!”
Ken: That gained us a legion of goth fans. We used to get letters saying, “I really love you guys and the Cure and Love & Rockets, Skinny Puppy…”
Fizz: Cathy, the publisher of Fizz, has a wedding photo where she and her husband look all punked out, but Cathy says, “No, no, it’s goth.” A totally goth wedding.
Jon: Man, I’d love to have a goth wedding.
Fizz: So I think the smartest thing to do is go back to black.
Ken: Yeah. You know, the colored hair is totally apropos to goth. The hair doesn’t have to be black, as long as evertything else is, except for the white face makeup. Clown white.
Fizz: So Brian, what band were you in before you were in the Posies?
Brian: Oooh. I actually used to play in a circus band.
Fizz: You toured with a circus?
Fizz: So lots of drum rolls.
Fizz: So tell us a story.
Brian: It was the Ringling Bros. Circus. There was a lot of weird shit. It’s a really cool place to hang out; it’s kind of the environment where it seems like all the weirdos from every corner of the earth join just to be part of something. Kind of like Seattle, really. I did it for two summers.
Fizz: What did the drummer say just before they kicked him out of the group?
Ken: “Hey, I got these lyrics…”
Fizz: That’s right! “I wrote a song.”
Brian: There’s a web page devoted to drummer jokes. I’ve heard em all.
Ken: My favorite one is, “How many drummers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
Fizz: How many?
Ken: One – if the roadie sets up the ladder, unscrews the lightbulb… (everybody moans, realizing where this goes)
Fizz: What do you call a guy who hangs out with musicians? … A drummer.
Ken: Ooh! That’s a harsh one!
Jon: What’s the stripper do with her asshole before she goes to work?
Fizz: Drops him off at band practice. Stuart [at Avast] told me one the other day: A guy’s being toured through the deepest, darkest jungle. They hear drumming, and the guy gets worried, but the guide says, “Don’t worry, it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem. But if you hear the drums stop, it’s time to worry.” The guy asks why, and the guide says, “Bass solo.” (mild chuckles)
Joe: How do you know when your singer’s at the door? You don’t, because he can’t find the key, and he doesn’t know where to come in.
Ken: Ouch – how do you know when your drummer’s at the door?
Ken: The knock speeds up. (yet another groan) How about the beat bum – remember the Beat Bug?
Jon: The Beat Bug!
Ken: Mike Musburger [former Posies drummer, current Fastbacks drummer] had this thing called the Beat Bug that sits on your snare drum. You hit it, and it times the time in between the snareheads; it tells you what tempo you’re at so you can keep it consistent. ‘Cause god knows, if you go from 80 to 81, that’s bad.
Fizz: It is bad.
Ken: He’s never heard the end of the Beat Bug.
Fizz: It’s not very punk.
Ken: The Fastbacks come up with a new name for him every tour, because he’s always got some new little idiosyncracy. He was “Beat Bug” for a while and then he’s “Tube Top” because he’s in that band and now they have a little poem they tell about him – “Fastbacks, Posies, Love Battery, Flop… something, something, Beat Bug, Hot Tub, Tube Top…” – it’s a whole poem.
Fizz: Tube Top opened for the Muffs and the Fastbacks the other night. And Mike drummer for both bands [Fastbacks and Tube Top].
Ken: Mike’s great.
Fizz: I got really smashed at Sundance [the film festival where the Fastbacks played], and I think I got on his nerves.
Fizz: We got into a big argument over whose band was the kings of pussy rock, Tube Top or the Action Suits. He’d never heard us; we’d never heard them. It was two against one, and he finally gave up. “All right, you wanna be the kings of pussy rock, fine, you’re the kings of pussy rock.” Later that night, Eric was talking to Eddie Vedder, and he told me to talk to Vedder, because he was a friendly enough guy and knew of my comics. I did, and naturally I just talked about myself (laughs). I told him I was Peter Bagge… he had to sit and listen to me jabber drunkenly about myself for a while. Anyway, I could see Musburger out of the corner of my eye, shaking his head, thinking, “You ass-kisser.” So naturally, I said, “Hey Eddie, have you ever met Mike Musburger?” (laughs) Mike just cringed. (more laughs)
Brian: Does Eddie not like Mike?
Ken: No, I think Mike just would hate to appear to be fawning or sycophantic. Unike any of us, who would do it in a heartbeat.
Fizz: I’ve got to take a pee. You ask some questions, Eric. [Eric talking now] But I didn’t bring any questions.
Jon: We don’t need no stinkin’ questions. Let’s just bullshit.
Fizz: I know! Cheap Trick! How did that happen [Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen appear on one of the songs from Amazing Disgrace]?
Ken: We put the guitar in Rick’s lap…
Jon: … and told Robin we’d buy him a pack of smokes.
Brian: We were actually kind of nervous to ask them to play. We almost got Bun E. [Carlos, the drummer] and Tom [Peterson, the bassist], too.
Fizz: That would’ve been fun.
Ken: You want us to ask you some questions?
Jon: How many days of growth is that [referring to Eric’s stubble]?
Fizz: A few days.
Ken: You a blade man?
Fizz: As opposed to electric? Yeah. And you?
Ken: I can use one disposable razor for up to two months. Life is good.
Fizz: Did you boys shave before you sang the National Anthem at the Mariners game last year?
Ken: Oh yeah, but you’d have never been able to see it.
Jon: We’re gonna do that again!
Ken: May 12th, against Kansas City… what is their team called?
Fizz: So you’re a big ball fan, Ken?
(somebody says Royals)
Ken: Oh yeah, them.