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Take Heart, Posies Fans: Stringfellow’s Saltine Should Satisfy – 1999

By Bradley Bambarger, Billboard Magazine, 13 November 1999

High atop the personal hit parades of many power-pop connoisseurs rest the late, lamented Posies. In consolation for Posies’ principals Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer having parted ways, fans at least can look forward to their individual efforts–and Stringfellow already has a great new single on the way and an album in the works from his new group, Saltine.

As a raison d’etre for Saltine, Stringfellow says the band “aims to make music that has both a real depth of feeling and a certain level of craft. A lot of the recent developments have made musicians more liberated, like affordable home-studio technology and easier self-distribution and Internet promotion. But they’ve also inadvertently caused a lot of music-making to be too casual, cheapened even.

“In the indie-rock world, there is such a fear of being pompous that people lose their sense of ambition,” Stringfellow adds. “But we really want to craft our records, to take the time and care to give them a sense of sonic identity.”

An evolutionary desire to craft live-wire but studio-savvy pop can be heard on the way from the Posies’ 1988 homemade debut, “Failure,” to last year’s swan song, “Success” (both on indie PopLlama). In between, the Seattle-based group issued three progressively harder-rocking albums via DGC/Geffen: the rococo “Dear 23,” the bittersweet classic “Frosting On The Beater,” and the edgy, ambitious “Amazing Disgrace” (Billboard, March 16, 1996).

Saltine’s single “Reveal Love” (backed with “Find Yourself Alone”) picks up where ‘Amazing Disgrace” left off, with a melding of six-string vigor and melodic pop bliss. Saltine–vocalist/guitarist Stringfellow, guitarist/vocalist Blake Wescott, bassist John Haslip, and drummer Paul Mumaw–recorded the single at Seattle’s Spectre Studios, with production by Stringfellow and Wescott. The songs were written by Stringfellow and published by Soft Rebellion Songs (BMI).

“Reveal Love”/”Find Yourself Alone” is due in early November in the U.S. from the band’s own Casa label. The 7-inch will be available soon via the Web sites casarecordingco.com and saltine.net, in addition to various indie retailers in about a dozen cities across the country (with wider distribution under discussion).

Earlier this fall, “Reveal Love” was released by Popt! in the U.K. In Spain, where Saltine just returned from a six-date tour, the Houston Party label issued the “Reveal Love” 7-inch (with the alternate Bside “Your Love Won’t Be Denied”), as well as a CD EP that also includes the fine extra track “Any Sign At All.”

Prior to touring Spain, Saltine played packed club gigs in New York and Portland, Ore. (The band is booked in the U.S. by Meggean Ward of Chicago-based Conduit Booking; it’s casting about for European agents.) This winter, the quartet goes into its newly outfitted Seattle studio to record its full-length debut, planned for spring release.

Reprising the theme of craft, Stringfellow says, “It’s getting rare to find records these days that are more than just a bunch of songs. It’s the difference between, say, an early Beach Boys LP and ‘Pet Sounds.’ That’s an ideal for us, as are albums like Blur’s ‘Parklife’ or Belle & Sebastian’s ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister.’ Maybe the Posies came closest with ‘Frosting On The Beater.’ We want to create a rich, rewarding album-length experience.”

Stringfellow and Wescott have honed their production partnership not only on the Saltine single but by helming Damien Jurado’s recent Sub Pop album, “Rehearsals For Departure,” among other projects. Stringfellow has also been busy playing and recording as an adjunct member of R.E.M., touring the world with the band and appearing on its upcoming soundtrack to “Man On The Moon.”

Auer, the other erstwhile Posie, has been playing gigs around the Northwest with his new band, and Stringfellow has revisited their association via one-off gigs in the new-model Big Star, whose pioneering power-pop sound was such a formative influence on the Posies and scores of their peers.

Stringfellow and Auer have played assorted shows with original Big Star members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens for several years, releasing a rough gem of a live album with them on Zoo/RCA in ’93. Despite many entreaties for a Big Star studio album with new Chilton songs, Stringfellow says it doesn’t look likely.

But good news for Posies fans is that Stringfellow says two retrospectives of the band’s work are under discussion. One would be a best-of album from DGC/Universal and the other a four-disc set from Colorado indie Not Lame Records featuring rare non-album tracks along with demos and other previously unreleased material. That’s not to mention a live disc, “Alive Before The Iceberg,” that has just been issued by Houston Party in Spain, with U.S. release pending.