An Avenue Of Expression – 2000
By Emerson Dameron, Flagpole, 23 August 2000
In the now closed annals of ’90s American power-pop, few if any bands amassed a catalogue with the harmonic and emotional resonance of The Posies. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow started making an unfashionably tuneful noise in the heart of Seattle’s grunge phase in the early part of the decade. The two went on to crank up the distortion and flesh out their songwriting a bit more with each consecutive album. The pair packed their music with more layers of contemplative sadness, agonizing heartbreak and defiant joy than most of those who at the time were thought of as their contemporaries (The Greenberry Woods, anyone? The Wondermints?) could’ve imagined had they stuck it out into 2010. The band registered only minor popular success (“Dream All Day” and “Solar Sister” were hits on MTV’s graveyard shift, and they’re apparently monumental rock stars in Germany), but the Top 40 probably never deserved such rich confections anyway. The Posies showed every sign of cashing in by 1998: the liner notes to that year’s Success LP closed with an emphatic “Goodnight!” As it stands, they’ll no doubt be revered by a passionate cult that continues to burgeon over the next few decades. Hey, “Big Star of the ’90s” ain’t such a bad epitaph, is it?
But hold on a second. It looks like The Posies are still animate and playing in this very town. Well, at least we get Auer and Stringfellow, who are touring behind In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Plugging In, a new platter on the Casa label that bravely and successfully resurrects the “live acoustic” concept from its mid-’90s grave. Fortunately, it gave this reporter an excuse to rap with Jon Auer:
Flagpole: So, Mr. Auer, is the band back together, or is this just the wreath on the coffin?
Jon Auer: Well, you probably don’t know, Ken and I started the band ourselves around the time of Failure; so, not to get all new-agey, but it’s kinda full-circle. It only came about because somebody suggested doing a show, and it ended up being recorded. It came out really good [generally speaking]. So, we had a lot of fun. It’s been wonderful.
FP: I wanted to bring up the “unplugged” format, ’cause a lot of people still associate that with MTV. It took a certain amount of balls to resurrect that format.
JA: The greatest thing is that we can fuck around with stuff under that format. It really just depends on whether we can follow each other that night or not. With me and Ken, it really is, to use a cliché, like riding a bicycle. We did an abrupt two days rehearsal for this whole thing, and about all we did was run through every song we knew. The shows have all gone awesome.
FP: So you guys write the songs separately?
JA: Nope. Pretty much, whoever sung it, that’s who wrote it.
FP: It’s always going to sound different after each band member gets a hold of it anyway… another thing I wanted to ask: looking back on all the records, which is the one you feel most comfortable listening to?
JA: That would have to be Success.
FP: Which would you be least likely to pull out?
JA: Dear 23. It’s weird… at the time, I thought Dear 23 was exactly what we wanted. Hearing it now, it’s weird that there’s something we would’ve wanted. I’m kind of like, “Wow, where did I hear that?” at this point. I really like the songs on it; I just don’t like the way we dressed them up, I guess.
FP: I guess that leads elliptically into the next question: A lot of your lyrical content, that which sets you apart from other “power pop” bands… In one way or another, I think most of the lyrics deal with Emotional Starvation. Thoughts that aren’t really addressed in actual conversation. Cutting off the blood in relationships. As someone who’s catalogued this phenomenon for a while, you got any advice for the young folk unable to communicate?
JA: Giving advice isn’t one of my strong points, but I would say that the one thing that’s really helped me, in my life, is that I have an avenue of expression. It’s an effective way to get things out of your system and deal with things in your own head. You’ve got a puzzle in your head, and when you put it down, you figure out where the pieces fit.