2005, by David Chu, New Beats
Ken Stringfellow remembers his last days as the singer/guitarist of the power pop band the Posies that culminated in their final show in San Francisco in 1998. “The situation for the last two years of our lives was very negative,” he says. “It was almost like going to a job, and music should never be that. Or it’s like to going to a dinner with a dysfunctional family. A total Meet the Fockers nightmare.”
Fortunately for him and his longtime musical partner, guitarist/singer Jon Auer, the separation only turned out to be just a much-needed break. Over the next couple of years, the two performed together again occasionally and rededicated themselves to making music together.
Now the Seattle based-band are back with a new album Every Kind of Light (Rykodisc), and augmented by a new rhythm section, bassist Matt Harris and drummer Darius Minwalla. Stringfellow is clearly energized with the Posies new lease on life and personnel. “The band sort of died and rebirthed itself with two new people,” he says. “We like playing with each other. It was such an easy and a fun thing to do. It wasn’t easy and fun back in the old days.”
The Posies emerged from the-then thriving early ’90s alternative music scene in Seattle that brought Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. But the Posies, whose main core has always been Stringfellow and Auer, differed slightly from their punk and grunge peers-their sound, while certainly had its explosive moments, drew more on the melodic side of Big Star, the Beatles, and the Hollies. Signed to Geffen Records in 1989, the group would release melodic rock albums such as Dear 23, Frosting on the Beater (containing the popular single “Dream All Day”), and Amazing Disgrace. The group also contributed the song “Going Going Gone” to the Reality Bites film soundtrack in 1994. Their final studio album before their initial break-up in 1998 was ironically called Success.
With the new Every Kind of Light, the Posies sound like they haven’t missed a beat despite the long hiatus between recording-a track like “Conversations” is another gem to the band’s catalog. That’s is also clearly the case on impacting rockers such as I Guess Your Right, “I Finally Found a Jungle I Like,” “All in a Day’s Work,” and the punkish fireballling “Second Time Around.” “We play very frenetic and high energy,” explains Stringfellow. “The fact of the matter is we made the record live in the studio and added a few sprinkles on top. We wrote a song everyday for 12 days. That was to capture sort of our spontaneity and live charm that was not really accessible before.”
What some people might also not be able to pick upon the first listen of Light is the political and social commentary on some tracks such as the bluesy “Could He Treat You Better” (the ‘he’ in the song referring to President Bush), the piano-laden “That Don’t Fly,” and the ironic “It’s Great to Be Here Again,” which is not about the group’s reunion but feelings about America post September 11. “Part of the record for me is a break up album,” says Stringfellow, who lives part-time in France. “I’m sort of breaking up with my own culture. I woke up one day and didn’t really know my neighbors anymore. I feel morelike of a foreigner in my own country everyday.”
Then he deadpans, “I really thought there was a very good chance John Kerry would be elected President last year. Then I was sort of like, ‘I wondered if half our record is going to be like totally obsolete?’ But it wasn’t the case, unfortunately.”
The commentary hasn’t dampened some of Light’s lovely melodic tracks such as the torch-like ballad “Last Crawl” and the gorgeous and sunny “Love Comes.” “It’s upbeat, isn’t it?” asks Stringellow about the latter. “It was fun to make. That’s part of the exuberance of recording us live together that is really shining through. We probably just made the song ten minutes before we recorded it.”
It had been a particularly busy time for Stringfellow and Auer in the last year; in addition to writing and recording the new Posies album, the two have also contributed their talents to the upcoming new album by Big Star, their first in 30 years. The two Posies had played with original Big Star members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens dating back to their 1993 reunion at the University of Missouri (it was their cover versions of Big Star’s “Feel” and ex-member Chris Bell’s “I Am the Cosmos” that earned them the invitation to join the band). For Stringfellow, performing with his heroes is still a privilege and an honor. “Playing the old songs in that context-it felt like we were helping carrying on that legacy,” he says. To me I felt like ‘God, should we be really doing this?’ Because I love playing music with them so much, it was sort of worth breaking that spell a bit.”
The Posies are currently on tour, and there has been no official announcement of Big Star doing any shows. For Stringfellow, playing again as the Posies is a chance to not only catch up with their faithful following but to reestablish themselves to a new audience. “My expectations are to present ourselves unabashedly, step up to the mike, and just celebrate the fact we survived,” he says. “No matter what happens, if one person or a million people hear this record, we made it. We worked out a way to play these songs, which is very satisfying.
“I think if people who has never seen us will be really bowled over by the amount of energy that comes off from us playing onstage. [The record] is a great souvenir from spending time together last year. After that, we’re gonna tour and see what happen.”
A lot of trends of come and gone during and after the Posies’ career, not to mention several personnel changes within the band. Bur the one remaining constant for the Posies has always been the musical chemistry between Auer and Stringfellow-a relationship that dates back to 1983 in Bellingham, Washington.”It’s something sort of mysterious to me,” Stringfellow muses about their partnership. “Our musical connection is just there. We have a way of communicating without words-just by being around each other. If I didn’t see Jon for ten years from this day, if we were going to dinner together, it might be awkward. If we were to walk to the stage without having seen each other, our musicality would pick up right where we left off. I don’t have any other musical relationship like that.”