By Linda Laban, Pandemonium, 1997
It’s late when Ken Stringfellow contacts us. Well, it’s only eight in the evening for Pandemonium but for Ken it is four in the morning. The guitarist, singer, and song writer of Seattle based pop band The Posies is in Granada, Spain producing an album for a Spanish pop band called Cecilia Ann. Maybe the jetlag is perking his system at unusual hours, like it tends to do.
Ken’s co-singer, guitarist, and song writer in the Posies, Jon Auer is away from home too. He is on a US tour with his new band Lucky Me, with which Jon just finished recording an album that is due on Revolution records in May, and proving even harder to get a hold of.
So, with a brand new Posies record, nattily if cynically titled Success released on Seattle indie Popllama in mid-February, what the heck is going on with these veteran popsters? Just why are they on different continents? Pandemonium gets the skinny from Ken via email of all things. Still as we are already familiar with his chatty, affable, if a little cautious, voice already, it’s not such a cold, impersonal format. And, you know what? He’s not a bad typist, is Ken.
Pandemonium: It was rather late last night when we first got hold of you.
Ken: I was up all night last night. It’s 6:30 pm now as I write and I have only been up for an hour or so.
Pandemonium: Is it raining because it sure as hell is here in Seattle.
Ken: I would have to go outside to tell you that. [Thinks: must be in windowless room, familiar to many recording studios].
Pandemonium: Well, you must be heading back here in a couple of weeks because you have shows to play, right?
Ken: I will be heading back just in time to play the record release show in Seattle, at the Crocodile Cafe, on Feb. 12. [And in time to play an instore at Cellophane Square at 5pm that day].
Pandemonium: Are these just in Seattle or will you be playing elsewhere?
Ken: After that I have a (probably) solo performance at the Crocodile on March 1, part of a benefit for the Tibetan Rights Campaign, which I am involved with. After that I will be heading to Europe for a tour with Chariot (group comprised of me, Pat Fear from White Flag, Javier Escovedo from the Zeros, and on the record that’s coming out, Brian Young (Posies drummer). I think Jason Finn (formerly of…) will be with us for the tour). Other than that I think both Big Star and the Minus 5 have shows coming up.
Pandemonium: Yeah, you are indeed on the Croc schedule for the Tibetan Rights show. How are you involved with that?
Ken: My cousin has been into the Tibetan cause for some time, and he got me into it when he asked me to make some music for a PSA he was making for the Int’l Campaign for Tibet. Through the making of the video I found out about what has happened/is happening to Tibet and the Tibetan people/culture, and I just kept involved with the local group and doing things with the connections I’ve made etc. There is a new PSA that is intended to be shown as a trailer before the various Tibet-orientedfilms that are coming out or have come out recently; I did the music again, and the piece involves soundbite testimonials from Harrison Ford, Goldie Hawn, Alanis M., etc., etc. I helped get it to Martin Scorcese thru connections of mine…that’s the kind of thing I do…plus spread the word, give money…help put together/play at benefits…whatever I can do.
Pandemonium: Which label is the Chariot record coming out on? What kind of music is it? Have you played shows together?
Ken: It’s coming out first on Munster Records in Spain. There’s a little of everything. We started with a country rock concept (as all great albums do?) and quickly digressed. We have yet to play live, 2 members live in LA and there’s no record out. Our first gigs will be our tour of Spain in march.
Pandemonium: And are these your final shows as the Posies?
Ken: I have no idea. It is all we have planned.
Pandemonium: Seattle bands are dropping like flies: first Soundgarden, the Presidents, and now you guys. You have spent a big chunk of your lives as a Posie. It must feel a bit weird. What brought about the split and how do you feel about it?
Ken: Well, there’s no split yet. We are just seeing how things go.
Pandemonium: [Are you sure?] The press release sent out with Success does read that that will be the final Posies album. Now I know that nothing can be so definite and I can see how you and Jon could and should work together in the future (the new music is totally fabulous, as good if not better than ever) but is it to all intents and purposes “a” (if not “the”) final Posies album? As in, no plans to tour it; record another, etc.
Ken: Yeah, ‘a’ final Posies album is an appropriate description. We have no plans to tour, but I think there is the intention of trying to take advantage of offers that come our way. I also believe that if a label wants to release the album outside the US, they will expect us to come over for at least one tour. And I don’t think anyone has a problem with that, other than the usual scheduling ones. And, I hope Jon & I always do things together, at least play acoustic shows and stuff like that.
Pandemonium: Is Brian [Young, Posies drummer) busy with Fountains of Wayne?
Ken: Now he’s with Adam Schlesinger’s other band, Ivy–this is the band Adam has had since before FOW. Their LP, Apartment Life is really good (even tho’ Bri didn’t play on it).
Pandemonium: I spoke to your manager earlier last year and he told me about the split with Geffen. Without bitching, they did mess up the marketing of Amazing Disgrace? It seems hard to believe they missed so many opportunities for hit singles there. How do you feel about it?
Ken: They definitely missed a lot of opportunities. I never thought we were uncommercial in any way. Nor did we put any effort into being salable, but I think we have a very appealing sound. At this point, I can sit back and watch the highlights of hindsight but I don’t really see the point. Here’s to the Future.
Pandemonium: Did it have something to do with the Posies splitting? Were you disillusioned?
Ken: Please see the above two answers! I am very un-jaded.
Pandemonium: So knowing that this was your final album, how did it feel to sit down and write Success with Jon?
Ken: It just felt normal. We were doing an album, like we do every couple of years. This was more assembled at the last minute, but basically, the same old deal.
Pandemonium: Listening to how well the songs came out, it sounds like it must have been a great experience.
Ken: I think we enjoyed ourselves as much, if not more than we did making the other albums. Very mellow and open and experimental atmosphere. It’s the same lineup as Amazing Disgrace. First time we’ve made two in a row with the same guys. I think it really allowed us to make serious musical progress, having so much mutual musical vocabulary between the four of us. Kudos to Joe Skyward and Brian Young. They played some incredible shit on the record.
Pandemonium: Is that how you did your first album Failure too?
Ken: Well, Failure “was” Jon & I. Recorded at Jon’s home studio on weekends and holidays, 10 years ago. We were very inexperienced and only had a rudimentary musical vocabulary. It’s almost more impressive considering how little we knew and how cool it turned out.
Pandemonium: Isn’t it bloody funny how things turn out?
Ken: In some ways. Sometimes it’s just bloody.
Pandemonium: So Jon is off with Lucky Me? Have you heard their stuff? Whaddya think? Go on, be honest.
Ken: Honestly–he probably would never have heard of Lucky Me if I didn’t insist we take them on the 2nd half of the Amazing D. US tour. I had been going to their shows for months before that. So I was already a fan.
Pandemonium: What are your plans, for the near future at least?
Ken: Other than the stuff I already mentioned, I will be doing more production gigs, writing and playing for whoever feels like it/I feel like. There’s also Saltine which is Brian and my project. We have a track coming out on a My Records comp. soon. Then there’s the unfinished Twin Princess album. I have so much to do.