By David Bauder, Associated Press, 21 August 1996
The great partnerships of rock ‘n’ roll are the exception rather than the rule.
Successful bands are more often led by one visionary. Other members can either hitch on for the ride or, in cases like The Police or Creedence Clearwater Revival, the bands blow apart because of bad feelings.
Longtime friends Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow share songwriting, singing and guitar-playing time with the Seattle-based band the Posies, cult and critical favorites in the U.S. who have achieved more success overseas.
What’s their secret to maintaining a successful partnership?
“Fistfights,” Auer said with a laugh.
Auer and Stringfellow essentially are the Posies, who were born in recording sessions at Auer’s home in Bellingham, Wash., in 1988. They’ve had a revolving door rhythm session, now anchored by bassist Joe Bass and drummer Brian Young.
The two friends are competitive, but have their rules: They try to divide equally the number of songs they write on each album, and share songwriting credits and royalties.
Once thought of as a two-headed monster, the two men have grown into different personalities, songwriting styles and ways of playing the guitar, Stringfellow said.
Stringfellow is the more aggressive, harder rocking musician (“He embraces Green Day culture more than I ever would,” Auer said), while Auer likes to lose himself in more lush and secretive songs.
“There are things that we do that we don’t like,” Stringfellow said. “A lot of times things that I don’t like about Jon’s songs when we start out I grow to like later. It’s just that they’re coming from such a different point of view that I don’t get it at first. I’m sure he would say the same thing about me.”
Like an old married couple, they finish each other’s sentences and steal the punch lines of jokes. And it really annoys them.
While they may like different styles of music, their songwriting focus is similar. “We have a lot of songs that battle between futility and optimism as the driving forces in life,” Stringfellow said.
He considers Precious Moments the quintessential Posies song: It’s a long list of traumatic things that happen and how it’s necessary for life to progress — sort of a rock ‘n’ roll “That’s Life.”
“I tend to write about psychological confusion,” Auer said. “I think I milk failures and being direction-less. It’s almost like a celebration of being a misfit. It comes from years of listening to Smiths records.”
The Posies’ music mines contrast, as well. They like to veer between the cacophonous and gentle, often in the same song.
Their major-label debut, Dear 23 of 1990, burred the rough edges and stressed their melodic sense. It put them completely at odds with the style popular in Seattle, where they had moved, and the rock world in general.
Today, with a more classic pop sensibility coming back into style through bands like Oasis, the Posies are moving in an opposite direction. Their most recent album, Amazing Disgrace, boasts their most aggressive sound on records.
It’s more a question of making a record that approximates how the band sounds live than a stylistic progression, Auer said. At the Posies’ start, they sounded like Squeeze on record and the Replacements live, he said.
“There’s just a ton of heavy metal and punk rock in our backgrounds that never really figured into the picture prominently as far as our records are concerned,” he said. “Maybe now is a good time to show that off a little more.”