Life Swapping – 2001

By Alison M. Rosen, Orange County Weekly, 2001

Of the six songs on 6 1/2, his most recent EP of cover songs, pop craftsman Jon Auer thinks he best likes his version of Ween’s “Baby Bitch.”

“I don’t know — I just relate so much to that song,” he says before discussing the dissolution of his nine-year marriage. “Baby Bitch,” a song about a shattered relationship, manages to make the line “Fuck you, you stinkin’ ass ho” sound beautiful. But the song’s not entirely vitriolic. Well, maybe it is. But in Auer’s hands, it’s vitriolic in that semi-deadpan, bittersweet, nostalgic, gut-wrenching pop kind of way.

Which is Auer’s forte, really. It’s the reason his cover of Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” comes off as haunting and beautiful (and somehow surreal) instead of dancey and cheesy and Madonna-y. The Seattle resident, known for his work in oft-celebrated jangly pop group the Posies (who’ve repeatedly broken up and gotten back together and broken up again and now appear to be back together once more), claims there wasn’t any sort of “grand motivation” behind his releasing an album of cover songs.

“It was just something fun to do,” he says. “I don’t think a lot of people have heard these songs in these incarnations, and I thought it’d be fun to get in the studio for a week and see what I came up with. It’s not anything I would base my career on.” He pauses. “You know, there’s always people who react differently to covers, like, ‘Why would you want to do other people’s songs?’ There’ve been a couple of people who didn’t take it in the spirit it was intended, and I felt like saying, ‘Don’t take it so seriously.’”

Auer plans to record a full-length solo album in February and to try out many of the new songs on his upcoming solo tour (which is not technically solo: he’ll be backed by a band that includes the current Posies drummer).

To detail all the Auer-related releases would be laborious, but what the hell: there was that Posies release in 1988 called Failure and then another in 1990 called Dear 23 and then another in 1993 called Frosting on the Beater, which maybe you own and if you don’t you should because it was one of the most perfect cassettes I owned in the days when I owned cassettes, and then there was 1996’s Amazing Disgrace and then begins the segment of Posies history where they fuck with your mind. Success was released in 1998, and it was supposed to be the last official release because Auer and fellow Posies member Ken Stringfellow were sick of each other. Then they did the last official tour, but somehow, a live recording came out of that — hence, 2000’s Alive Before the Iceberg. Someone then came up with the idea for a Posies box set; meanwhile, Universal wanted to put out a greatest hits album, Dream All Day. Stringfellow and Auer played a benefit show together in 2000 and then came another album — this time unplugged — called In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Plugging In. Then they didn’t get back together, but they did — or something like that — and the EP Nice Cheekbones and a Ph.D. was recently released.

Then there’s his solo work and the other bands Auer plays in with various ex-members of the Posies, and it’s probably worth mentioning that Auer and Stringfellow now play in Big Star as well.

“It’s so nice being able to go back and forth between all these different bands,” says Auer. “It’s almost like having an open relationship — it never gets stale.”