Summer 2000, by Matt Dornan, Comes With A Smile #5
Whilst Jon Auer is a block away buying American cigarettes I’m trying to educate the Pixies T-shirt wearing punter in Portobello Road’s Duke of Wellington. “He looks like a rock star,’ he’d said as Auer left the pub. “He is,” I replied. “That’s Jon Auer of The Posies.””The Posers?” “No, The Posies,” I say holding up the handful of albums for which Auer, along with Ken Stringfellow and a rotating rhythm section, is responsible. No glimmer of recognition from our supposedly enlightened “music fan”. It’s all so indicative of the success that steadfastly refused to embrace Auer and his band. An hour earlier he’d performed a solo in-store set that, boasting such masterpieces as Throwaway, Apology and Dream All Day, confirmed his place as a songwriter, singer and musician of the highest calibre.
With the ironically titled Success (1998), The Posies announced their demise as a unit. Auer’s growing dissatisfaction eventually led to the split, one that will have broken many a heart, this writer’s included. A legacy of five stunning albums and an abundance of B-side material would normally suffice but the much delayed release of a four CD box-set of previously unavailable tracks, demos and live takes should, hopefully, satisfy those of us for whom The Posies music has meant so much. Then there’s the multiple side-projects and offshoots to consider. Plus there’s a Jon Auer solo album in the works. As good a place as any to start.
“I’ve been working on it basically all winter,” he tells me. “The Posies did their last European tour and, ever since then, I’ve been at home in my studio working on it. I’ve got about twenty songs; I’ve really put a lot into it.”
You’ve said it was inspired by the break-up of both the band and your marriage.
“Yeah, a lot of things. It was a big cycle and a lot of things ended. As cliché as it might sound, with the millennium and all that, life is changing in drastic ways and I couldn’t help but notice that. It’s just what came out. I’ve spent a lot of time writing – more than I ever have; cause to be honest, with The Posies, I never worked at it, it just happened. I’m really happy.”
On his solo album, Ken covered Alex Chilton’s Take Care and it struck me that he was addressing the song to you in light of the split.
“It’s funny; you could say that about almost every Posies song; that an element of it was written about each other. He told me once that he wrote You’re The Beautiful One for me when I wanted to quit the band a long time ago. You could almost read any song we wrote as to be to each other. We weren’t like a typical couple of guys. We were really sensitive fellas growing up. We went to choir together; we learned to sing together. That’s why we’re so similar. But, as we got older, we realised that there’s a lot of differences too.”
Given the longevity of the friendship, was the split amicable or something that you really didn’t want to happen?
“I think Ken didn’t want it to happen more than me because, for him, just being in a band and playing shows … as long as that was going it didn’t matter how people felt emotionally. For me, I gave it more than my fair shot. I did Amazing Disgrace, I even said “let’s do one more record’ – Success – and that was probably way beyond what I should have put up with. But I felt I owed myself and my friends, you know?”
Success includes some old songs – Grow, Start A Life, Every Bitter Drop. Was it important to get these songs out? Did you view Success as your swansong?
“Absolutely. It was like “let’s just take twelve songs, some of them old, some of them new and do the versions that we want to do.’ The new stuff I’m writing is the first record that won’t have leftovers.
Tell me what you can about the proposed box-set.
“We decided that we’re gonna use as much stuff as possible that’s not been heard before. You wouldn’t believe how much shit there is. I finally went through all my dusty tape boxes. It’s gonna be tough to decide. There must be, between Ken and I, ten or eleven songs that people haven’t heard at all. The rest will be really cool demos where you get to hear where it came from and Ken and I will write the liner notes explaining ever song. It’ll be a nice document.
It’s probably a source of frustration to you, but the unwillingness of a part of your fan base to accept the “non-pop’ side of the band – those that wanted Dear 24, 25 and 26 – meant that parts of Amazing Disgrace were dismissed. Songs like Ontario, Everybody Is A Fucking Liar and Broken Record.
“It depends who you’re talking to. When Frosting On The Beater came out Kerrang! magazine made it number 16 for the year. There’s people who love the light pop and I’ve met more Goth girls who write me letters saying “I’ve cried to Coming Right Along more times than you know.’ Or How She Lied By Living. The thing about The Posies that makes us so good is that it’s a mixed bag. It’s only pisses me off when people say I must love The Shoes or The Raspberries more than any other band and how could I possibly like Iron Maiden or Motley Crüe? I love 70s rock as much as I like anything. I like jazz as much as I like anything. I’m a musician, I like music. There’s all these cliques around power-pop that I’ve found and the only annoying thing about that is that they won’t embrace another part of what we do, like you said. It’s just as exclusive as people saying they don’t like pop music because they like rap.
Is the Big Star tribute ever coming out?
“Hopefully. We did a great version of What’s Going Ahn. I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. There’s a new Big Star song that Ken and I actually wrote with Jody and Alex that’ll be on there too.”
And a Big Star studio record?
“I wouldn’t be surprised; I’d be there in a second. Alex would have to be into it. The truth of the matter is he’s one of the greatest guitar players and the greatest singers and one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met, really. But he’d rather go read a book than deal with the Big Star hype, you know?”
The industry hasn’t been kind to the quality pop market in recent times (Aimee Mann and Jason Falkner spring to mind.) You’ve also talked of a lack of support from Geffen.
“They wouldn’t even give us five grand to make a video. The problem for us in The Posies, since we’re so diverse and there’s two guys that sing, is they can’t figure out how to be creative with it. I don’t care ’cause I never had a day job but I still get to do what I want to do and I will for as long as I want to work at it. So I’ve got a career. That being said we were just as capricious and unpredictable. We went through three different managers, we had a hard time getting a consensus on things. What I’m trying to say is that the amount of talent that was in The Posies – you don’t find that many bands that have that much talent and it’s really hard to contain that and it’s hard to promote that amount of talent.”
For a band with so much talent are you not bitter that you never got the recognition you deserved?
“No, I’m not. I was jaded for a while but it had nothing to do with not being recognised; it had more to do with dealing with major labels, more to do with a detached lifestyle, dealing with people you didn’t know. But fuck, no man. I’m really lucky; I still get giddy from it. I might be driving in a van in the middle of the night and I might just look around and think “Wow, I’m in the middle of a foreign country on my way to a rock show where people are coming to see me play and I’m getting paid for it.’ I could be digging ditches, that’s my attitude.”
Do you have a favourite Posies record?
“Frosting On The Beater. My favourite tour ever was one of Europe opening for Teenage Fanclub for two months during Frosting. We were young, we were on fire and it was awesome. I couldn’t pick a better time in my life. Except maybe now.”
(At press time, Auer’s album remains unreleased)