By Roger Hillis, 23 July 2004
Multi-instrumentalist Ken Stringfellow has a busy, busy schedule these days.
The co-leader of Seattle powerpop band the Posies, who will play songs from his third solo album at a free concert at Dogfish Head on Wednesday, is also a member of the reconstituted Big Star. Oh, and he’s also been the regular touring keyboardist for alt-icons R.E.M. for nearly a decade.
So which of these four projects is his priority?
“I don’t know what it says about me, but everything’s a priority,” said Stringfellow, calling from a cellphone while trying to navigate the Massachussetts Turnpike on Wednesday. He was en route to Boston after having played two shows in one day in New York City Tuesday.
“That’s kind of the vibe,” Stringfellow said. “There’s never just a show at night. In the daytime I’m either doing press or a radio show or an in-store (record store appearance).”
Stringfellow’s latest solo album, “Soft Commands,” was released nationally July 13, and he is supporting it with a 16-date summer outing which kicked off Friday in Wisconsin. He is performing solo, accompanying himself on piano, and, occasionally, guitar.
Is it strange to alternate R.E.M. stadium concerts with solo club shows? “Variety is where it’s at for me,” Stringfellow said. “R.E.M. still plays some small clubs when we’re not in the big rooms. We did a surprise show at the Crocadile Cafe in Seattle. And I’d actually played a lot of big festivals with the Posies. We might not have been the headliners, but we played multi-band festivals in front of 40,000 to 50,000 people.”
Stringfellow is visible in R.E.M.’s latest concert DVD, “A Perfect Square,” which was filmed at a 2003 concert in Germany. The group will release a new studio album in the fall, accompanied by another tour.
“Whenever R.E.M.’s done, I’ll be working with Big Star again,” Stringfellow said.
Big Star, led by Alex Chilton, was a cult favorite in the 1970s. Stringfellow and his Posies co-hort, Jon Auer, were invited to join the reunited band, which recently hit the studio. “We made a record which is almost done. It doesn’t quite exist yet,” Stringfellow said. “We’ve calculated that we’ve actually had this lineup of the band together longer than the original band was together. We also played a concert in front of 12,000 people with the Shins and the late Elliott Smith, and we figured that’s more people than ever saw the original Big Star live during its entire existance.”
While in Chicago July 30-31, Stringfellow will rejoin his Posies bandmates for a performance in Wicker Park. “There won’t be any rehearsal,” Stringfellow said. “We’re going to wing it.”
Stringfellow and Auer have played together in the Posies since 1987. The band hit the radio airwaves in the grungey mid-’90s with the “Frosting on the Beater” album, which contained the hit single “Dream All Day.” An unreleased song from that album, “Going, Going Gone,” was featured on the soundtrack to the movie “Reality Bites.”
“We changed record labels after that, and I guess musical tastes were changing, too,” he said. The Posies disbanded, but later regrouped in an on-again, off-again capacity.
When not touring, Stringfellow splits his time between homes in Seattle and Paris, France with his wife and their baby.