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Q & A with Ken Stringfellow – 2000

go.to/Posies, 2000

Comment: Hi Ken: After reading parts of your logs about the making of Amazing Disgrace, I got the impression you are/were a vegetarian. Is there any truth to this? And if so what strategies do you have to deal with people who challenge you about this issue?

Ken: I have been on and off. No one really challenges me–my beliefs don’t require explanation. That’s like defending why you do or don’t believe in God or what kind. You just do or don’t. BTW I do eat fish and occasionally…foie gras. Naughty I know. Hope that didn’t bum you out.

Comment: I was curious if you have any advice for someone who has just started learning how to sing. Any vocal training exercises you recommend or any special secrets you might want to divuldge?

Ken: It’s all about supporting it with breath coming from the diapraghm, for me. That’s much stronger than squeezing things out of your throat. I don’t really do exercises. I should, but, I’m just a bad person I suppose. The best stuff I learned was from my high school choir teacher. More than I could relate in an email, unf.

Comment: Ken, Having been and long time Posies and REM fan, I was wondering if you have had the chance to contribute your songwriting skills or what degree you have had an effect on the songs of REM.

Ken: They write the songs, I am there to contribute complientary instrumental parts and the occasional vocal harmony. I would say they have had more of an influence on how I write then the other way around, by a wide margin. They are after all much more experienced than I. And no, I don’t think that ‘Reveal’ came from ‘Reveal Love’!

Comment: What´s up with all that spitting on stage Ken?

Ken: I found that I feel like I’m choking, pushing all the words out, so it’s easier to free myself by spitting than trying to swallow it and breath in required air at the same time.

Comment: Would you care to compose any film soundtracks? If so, would you have any preference among film directors, and why? What other factors could influence your decision?

Ken: I would love to, I really enjoy making instrumental music, for example, and things that have more scope than a 4 minute song. As for directors… I have a few friends who are looking to make their first films yet that I am very keen to collaborate with. I like a lot of films, a lot of directors, but it really would come down to who I felt real kinship with at a personal level, i think it s a fairly intimate working relationship, as far as the synergy of ideas and feelings etc.

Comment: Hello ken! I collect foreigh children’s story books. so I’d like to know what you read when you were child….. What was your favorite story? Could you recommend me a nice one please?

Ken: My favorite was a collection of 4 tiny books, collectively called “the bunny’s nutshell library”. It’s EXTREMELY sweet, tear-inducingly so. I’m afraid it’s out of print, but I have found lots of copies online, and I bought a nearly immaculate one. The author is Robert Kraus, and it was published by Harper & Row.

Comment: One of my favourite Posie songs is Apology, so it was interesting to hear your first draft of the song on the box set. Personnally I thought that the original version of the song was really good aswell. Did you decided that the song needed re-writing or was it re-written because Jon wanted some of the action?

Ken: It just stalled in its original incarnation. I never really finished it, and then Jon asked if he could take some elements and rewrite it. We did that from time to time

Comment: i have concluded from past interviews and dairy entries{making of Amazing Disgrace},that you are a fan of film. Could you please list your top ten movies of all time?

Ken: I don’t do top tens. However, some films that I have been watchin and re-watching lately include “lawrence of arabia”, “A zeed & two noughts”, “fitzcarraldo”, and, of course, “Caddyshack”.

Comment: Hi Ken. Just a question about equipment – specifically, guitars. After seeing you at the Starfish Room Show in May, I noticed you had not once used any of your Thinlines and Jon, none of his SG’s. I know that at any past shows over the six years I had seen you guys live and watched videos etc., you guys had ALWAYS used your Thinlines and SG’s and only on a few occasions did I notice Jon with a Gibson hollowbody which he usually used in “Coming Right Along.” I was just wondering if there is a specific reason for the sudden drastic change. Did you guys use those guitars specifically as sort of a trademark for the Posies when you were, you know, together-together? Was it a major label induced decision in the past? Just curious.

Ken: Well, the truth is, my Thinlines were pretty beat up by the end of the Posies, and after taking a long break, I wanted to try something new. As for Jon, I’m not sure what the thought process is there, but probably similar reasons exist. I really like the sound of the Danelectro pickups…

Comment: Having seen one of your solo performances I perceived a different level of emotion – or maybe just a different type of emotion – coming from you, as compared with posies shows. What is it like for you to play those songs of yours live vs. posies material? And finally, where does the stuff you’ve been doing with REM fit in?

Ken: Where does it fit in? THat’s more of a scheduling question, really! But, there are different feelings I am experiencing when Playing those different repertoires, and at the same time, there is a universal feeling of freedom associated with the cessation of the thinking part of the brain, and relinquishing control to the intuitive/feeling part of the brain, that occurs when I really get into a piece of music, be it mine or someone else’s. A lot of times I couldn’t tell you what it was like after it happens, because all those conscious mechanisms are turned off. It happens in the moment, and it’s gone.

Comment: I loved your article in “The Stranger” about the terrors of the early ’90s mosh pit and lack of etiquette therein. What’s happened to your journalistic career since then, i.e., have you published anything lately?

Ken: I didn’t really have a career, I’m solely a musician. I have done the occasional record review, and of course, lots of bios for the Posies etc. and the houston party webisite text.

Comment: I have tape a dgc rep sent me called Eclipse. Many others refer to that version of Frosting as Eclipsed. I have to say I liked the ordering of putting “Coming Right Along” first. Was it eclipse or eclipsed? What is your favorite song you’ve written?

Ken: Eclipse was a working title at one point…and, with my songs, I don’t tend to have a universal favorite. I get bored with some after playing them a lot, but if I shelf them for awhile, they seem fresh again.

Comment: Your upcoming album “Touched” is amazing. Can you tell me about your plans for the launch of the new album. And, how come Saltine turned into Ken Stringfellow? And why did you decide to make the album so mellow because the songs where kind of loud when Saltine performed them?

Ken: Pretty much for the reason you stated. I felt things in Saltine were a little one-dimensional, so I decided to end the band and make my own album. As far as the plans go, it comes out in September, and I hope to go on tour. There is the possibility of more REM promo this fall, as mentioned on the REM website, in which case I will fit in dates in the US & Europe whenever possible.

Comment: Who would win a race between the Batmobile and the General Lee?

Ken: I imagine it would depend on which streets it was held on…on a conventional track, I would have to put my money with the jet-powered Batmobile, unless the driver was called to solve some crime midway or something.

Comment: do you think your friendship with Jon has anything in common with the relation between jason lee and ben affleck in kevin smith’s movie “chasing amy”?

Ken: It’s more “Jules” than “Jim”. Or something like that.

Comment: Throughout your career you have gone through quite a few looks. From the quasi Jellyfish-look of Dear 23 to dress wearing bad ass punk-rocker on Amazing Disgrace. While Jon these days seems to have settled for the Johnny Cash-look (i.e. all black) your look is ever changing. When you were here in Sweden in November last year you looked like someone you could trust with grandma’s fortune, and then I saw you on MTV for the REM concert in Köln, and you had really orange hair. So I guess my question to you is: What are your thoughts on clothes/hairstyles/looks in reference to music? Do the two have to get along, is one thing a reflection of the other? Does pink hair and nail polish make you rock like a crack-smokin’ bad-ass or is it the other way around?

Ken: I haven’t really thought about it that way–the symbology of what I wear, versus what I play, etc. But I think there’s some truth to the concept that changing my looks is like putting on a costume, which in a way liberates me from having to be the “same old me”–in other words, like an ancient ritual mask would do, I am freeing my soul to channel other souls, personalities, behaviors, etc.

Comment: Ken! When you bring in a song to the band, if someone is playing something you feel is inappropriate to the song (say the bass player is filling up too much space), how do you get it fixed without bruising egos or squashing others’ fun?

Ken: Well, it’s easy now–there isn’t much of a band to discuss things wth–in the Posies, it’s just Jon & I, and we give each other a lot of freedom at this point; in my situation, it’s just me–i have no one to argue with but myself! I think the main issue is communication– and trust. Everyone has to trust that when someone makes a suggestion, that it’s coming from a place above and beyond ego. And, playing with people whose tastes you share or at least believe in is huge part of the equation as well.

Comment: I could have many friends through the Internet at this one year. Of course, without the Internet, I couldn’t receive your mail and do the label with Koji. Some Japanese net friends like CDs like Posies, Saltine, Death cab, Pedro and OHB which I recommended…I use the Internet even for my job as well…It became important with my life. What kind of position is the Internet in for you?

Ken: I use it every day…to keep in touch with all the projects and coordinators of projects in my life…send notes to friends…but it’s great for CDs…like when I was writing some lyrics the other day and I wanted to know how to pronounce a certain word and make sure I was using it the correct way…and the Encarta dictionary has soundfiles for all the words…and I will of course use yahoo! directions for the whole US Posies tour

Comment: What was the last record you bought?

Ken: I bought ‘Elvis Presley: the Number One Hits’ at a Wal Mart. I felt that was appropriate.

Comment: I heard that you were the fan of the British bands such as The Cure in your childhood… What were your favourite the British bands/artists except for the band? And, what is your favourite the British bands/artists in the 90’s and 00’s? (My latest cup of tea are Badly Drawn Boy, Doves, Alfie, Travis and the Clientele… do you know them?)

Ken: I couldn’t list them all…of course I love the Fabs. and the Fannies. The Zombies of course. Belle and Sebastian. And of course the Steamkings. I also love very much the reocrdings of the Flatmates…but cannot find them on CD…I know that ‘Love and Death’ a compilation of all their singles was released by Subway Org. UK…but can’t find it…if anyone can find one for me I would gladly purchase it or trade from them! BTW I don’t know any of those bands you mentioned.

Comment: Well, Japanese fans wonder why you wore a dress and make up at the Posies’ shows…

Ken: My motives were mysterious…I think it was for fun.

Comment: About the acoustic show, I like it because it makes the outline of melody clear. It’s important that a melody is good for me. But, it’s certain that there is a person who prefer the electric show to the acoustic show. (Of course I like electric show as well.) How are you thinking about a difference in those shows as an artist? And, how are you thinking about it as an audience?

Ken: As an artist I love playing acoustic shows because of the subtlety and gracefulness involved. Of course an electric show is fun. I like to watch performances that are artisitcally aligned with the true intentions of the artist–if an artist is playing an electric show because they feel that no one would listen to their acoustic show, then they are out of alignment. In the end, I believe in being versatile and adopting different guises to serve your muse. But always staying true to the inspiration

Comment: When Michael introduced you in the live in Hamburg (Up tour), he said like “Ken transported by air with FedEx from Chicago”. Did you really go to there from Chicago at that time? Or, is it his wrong guess?

Ken: I believe he was joking. About what exactly, I cannot remember.

Comment: From now on, whom do you want to work with?

Ken: As a producer, writer, songwriter, player, etc. If I’m not doing my own music, I am starting to be very selective with whom I work. I only want to work with people I feel are ready to benefit from some direction. I think that really inexperienced artists need time to develop on their own, and the assistance of a good producer will be overwhelming for them if they don’t have some established musical convictions. But for myself I want to work as a producer because I really enjoy creatively interacting with musicians. I have also really been enjoying being a composer, I have been doing work for film and corporate clients, and have been given free reign to create whatever I felt like, which has been fantastic. I think I have done some of my most avant garde and interesting work for clients about whom it would be easy to conclude that they would be conservative (i.e. Nike, Sun Microsystems, etc.)

Comment: Who would you like to play you in the biographical film?

Ken: I think Hilary Swank would be perfect.

Comment: As for the record which you bought for the first time?

Ken: It was “Discovery” by ELO, in 1979 I think.

Comment: What colour is your present hair?

Ken: i’m due for a re-dye–it’s shaggy brown black and bleach.

Comment: What is a favourite colour?

Ken: I love the blues and greens.

Comment: The sound which you like? The sound which is distasteful you?

Ken: There’s nothing better than rain on the roof or the proximity of the sea. There’s nothing worse than hi pitched mechanical hums (like from TVs–a lot of people don’t notice these but I can’t help it)

Comment: Where is a favourite place / country?

Ken: I think every place has things to offer. I like to go to new places and discover these things firsthand as much as possible. I have spent much time in Spain, and that is a place and people I feel a lot of love for.

Comment: And how was Japan for you?

Ken: It was a fantastic place to visit. I went there twice in 1994. Seems like a long time ago. I think Japan has a very unique culture, and has managed to maintain this despite an appreciation for the cultures of Europe, America etc. So it was interesting to go to a place like that and see how a modern society can evolve to incorporate such different traditions. I repsect the Japanese culture for being able to keep old traditions alongside the ultimate in modernity. I would love a return visit someday.

Comment: What do you think to be like America (American life)?

Ken: The most obvious thing to compare American life with Eruopean or Japanese life, for example, is a question of space. Americans are used to growing up with a lot of room to spread out, and things made here are often bigger (cars, to cite one obvious example) to express that addiction Americans have to the concepts of space and privacy.

Comment: Whom of the artist / painter do you like?

Ken: There are many. klimt and schiele and much of the early 20th century Viennese artisits are among my favorites. In Seattle, there is a photograhper/designer/etc., Bootsy Holler, of whom I am very fond.

Comment: What do you take when you go to the uninhabited island?

Ken: I have trouble answering these kind of questions. Of course I would take Pony, (the dog) but not if I was going by myself. That would be unfair.

Comment: What do you choose if you do when you can become an animal?

Ken: Love selflessly. Like dogs do.

Comment: What did you want to be in your childhood?

Ken: I wanted to tap dance. I never learned, though.

Comment: What do you choose if one wish is realised?

Ken: That I can always take care of myslef and those closest to me.

Comment: Or, what is your “great ambition”?

Ken: Not to work, only to play.

Comment: Is your computer MAC / WIN? Or? What do you often use a computer for?

Ken: I have a PowerBook G3 in my office (I’m writing on it now…) I do email, office work, bookkeeping etc. on it. In my studio I have a desktop G3 which I use to run ProTools and other audio related software.

Comment: I heard that you are a vegetarian… Why are you vegetarian?

Ken: I just stopped enjoying meat a few years ago.

Comment: We (the companies of the site) love “sweet things” (foods). Do you like “sweet things”?

Ken: I don’t really like candy..I like cakes and cookies…but I don’t have a real sweet tooth.

Comment: What do you remember with the word of “SWEET”?

Ken: I think my favorite expression of a feeling is bittersweet…the tragicomic…

Comment: First, when I knew The Orange Humble Band, I thought why you joined in this band only as a vocalist… But, it was big pleasure for me, because I’m a fan of the Someloves about since1986. Did you know about Darryl’s works before you joined in? And, how do you think of his works except for OHB?

Ken: Brad Shepard from the Hoodoo Gurus gave me a copy of the Someloves ‘Melt’ single a few years back, which I enjoyed. But that’s all I knew. I also liked the Lime Spiders, but didn’t even know Darryl was in the band!

Comment: Why did he take notice to you? (Of course, you are a great vocalist.) And what is the reason why you accepted that you became their vocalist?

Ken: You know, I’m not sure. I know he likes Big Star a lot, and perhaps he heard about me playing with Big Star. I know he was familiar with _Frosting on the Beater_ when I met him to initially talk about doing the record.

Comment: Did recording of the first album, it proceed without problem? A feeling which I receive from that album is very friendly indeed.

Ken: My part was easy! I wasn’t there for the rest. I just came in and sang 8 hours a day for 10 days or so. It was very much a discipline, like martial arts for the mind and throat, I believe. Not work, not play, but an exercise. It was very good for my mind!

Comment: I knew that you have a talent more than I understood it so far by this album. I mean… I think the way that you in it sing to be more various than your works until the then. Was Darryl a dictator about your part? Or, did he respect “thought toward the melody of yours” most?

Ken: Darryl had a very clear vision about what he wanted. The melody was very much presented in a way that left little room for interpretation or improvisation. My main contributions were tone and intensity.

Comment: Actually, the first album was praised by the many people who could know it, you know… Did you think that this project would catch such praise after that? And, did this happening give you/your own project any influences?

Ken: OHB is in a separate world from my own work, but it was very encouraging to get praise for just being a singer. It did add to my confidence as a vocalist.

Comment: This time, the recording of your part was done in Memphis. Right? Were all the second album done in there? How was it done?

Ken: All the recording was done in Memphis, at Ardent Studios, where Big Star, REM, Replacements, Led Zeppelin etc. have all recorded. A great studio. I think it was done all at once, as opposed to the fisrt album, which was started in Australia, and much later worked on in North Carolina, and I think some other things were done here and there. Although, I think some of the mixing for this album was done at Mitch Easter’s studio in North Carolina.

Comment: I haven’t listened to the second album yet. Is sound different from the former stuff? Or, is it on the same way?

Ken: I think the sound quality is better, and the ‘band’ is fantastic. Plus, all these great musicians like Jody Stephens, Spooner Oldham, Jim dickinson… it’s a pretty heavy lineup. The sound is more… solid this time around.

Comment: I don’t know about Spooner Oldham and Jim dickinson… Where did they come from?

Ken: Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham wrote and produced the music of the Box Tops, and wrote other great 60s/70s songs as well. Spooner has played piano with Neil Young over the years, on and off. Jim Dickinson produced Big Star, Mudhoney, etc…plus played piano for the Rolling Stones among other things!

Comment: Does OHB never do a show?

Ken: Now, I can’t say this will happen for sure but there is a proposal to play some acoustic dates in conjunction with some proposed acoustic dates that Jon Auer & I are considering doing in November or December this year, in Australia. We will see if it can happen. It would be fun to do once!

Comment: What kind of person is Mr Mather honestly? It seems very much that he is a gentleman.

Ken: Yes, I would concur. He is a very nice and generous man. Very sincere…and fanatical about what he is doing.

Comment: I don’t know about Spooner Oldham and Jim dickinson… Where did they come from?

Ken: Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham wrote and produced the music of the Box Tops, and wrote other great 60s/70s songs as well. Spooner has played piano with Neil Young over the years, on and off. Jim Dickinson produced Big Star, Mudhoney, etc…plus played piano for the Rolling Stones among other things!

Comment: It isn’t listening to Australian pop very much in Japan. Even with the core pop fans… It’s probably a big reason not to know widely without those Japanese editions. Does it seem that the situation of America are a little better than Japan for OZ-pop?

Ken: Probably not. Probably worse, because we’re farther away! Even a very popular band in OZ like You Am I are barely known here.