by John Benson, Cleveland Scene, 17 August 2000
During a casual open mic night at a Seattle club this past January, former Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were slated to perform separately on the same bill. But the promoter urged the two to take the stage and play a few acoustic numbers together, and since a Posies live disc (Alive Before the Iceberg) and greatest-hits album (Dream All Day) had recently been released, they obliged. What they experienced was nothing short of a rejuvenation. Having started out as an acoustic act, the two rediscovered the chemistry they had when they first played together over a decade ago.
“I think having a rock band is of course really fun, and you can really do some sonic things that are quite intense and very viscerally moving,” Stringfellow says during a phone interview from his Seattle home. “And I think that playing our songs that way was kind of a safe route for us to go. But I think there is a certain thing going acoustically that works at a whole different level. You don’t have the same visceral impact of a loud band, but I think it has a different kind of emotional presentation. You can get into the feeling of the songs more deeply, because they’re not masked by any kind of noise.
“I think Jon and I have this good musical sensibility, and, should we dare say, a talent?” he continues. “And I think [our] talent is that we sing together really well [and that’s] something you just can’t make up. It’s hard to do, and I don’t even think I could have made it up with anybody else, because Jon and I just did it from the beginning quite naturally.”
After the successful acoustic reunion, the duo quickly recorded a February show for the unplugged release In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Plugging In. In addition, both members are recording solo albums. Auer’s disc is still in the works, but Stringfellow hopes to have his Saltine project out sometime early next year. He’s currently shopping labels. While discussing Saltine, Stringfellow talks with enthusiasm about the record he just finished recording with producer Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Velvet Crush) in North Carolina.
“I don’t think it [Saltine] is like a hugely unrecognizable change from the Posies,” he says. “There are differences, but those come from me just being free to go off on my own style. My focus is always about very melodic, kind of sensitive music, and I think I maybe made that more extreme in this case. There are certain things about the Posies where, because of the level I was at age-wise, maturity-wise, experience-wise, maybe, I had some inhibitions about certain things. On this particular record, it’s very inhibition free. I think this record is a lot more intimate than I allowed myself to get on the Posies’ records, because the Posies’ records were designed to be big. The thoughts and the lyrics are very intimate, very much a picture of very vulnerable places in our minds, but the music was made to support that and not make it too extreme in that direction.”
The Posies started out in the late ’80s as an acoustic, coffeehouse project of singer-guitarist Auer and singer-guitarist Stringfellow, who was an occasional producer for Sub Pop Records. Within a few years they added a band and released Failure, which led to a Geffen recording contract. Their major label debut came in 1990 with Dear 23. While Cobain’s angst brought the spotlight to the region, the Posies escaped being pigeonholed as another grunge band from Seattle.
By the time their 1993 album Frosting the Beater was released, the band had matured. While earlier material was poppier, with Frosting the Beater, widely considered their best effort, the band used fuzzed-out, expansive guitar sounds, and wrote more introspectively. A perfect example of this is the track “Dream All Day.” Its edgy pop groove and disillusioned lyrics (“I’ve got a lot of thoughts/I’ve got a lot of plans/I’ve lost a lot of sleep trying to understand”) made the Posies the alternative to the alternative scene. Mainstream success still eluded the band, which released two more albums, Amazing Disgrace and Success, before running out of steam in 1998. Stringfellow says the band split up because it didn’t want to become an indie version of a classic rock outfit.
“You know, Foghat is like one of those bands where there are like three different versions, all of different members, and each one has one original member, and they’re touring around long past the point anyone really cares,” he says. “They’ve become very far removed from their original ideals. It was certainly something we wanted to avoid. We didn’t want to be out there doing it just for the money or something.”
During their time apart, Auer worked on a solo album released only in Europe, while Stringfellow started playing part-time with R.E.M. (he toured with the band in 1999 and is currently working on its next disc) and recorded a solo album. After a decade together and a few years apart, Stringfellow and Auer appear to be comfortable with their renewed energy and their rediscovered bond in the acoustic Posies. Maybe their reunion was inevitable; however, future projects and tours are still uncertain.
“I think being tired of someone is less severe than you might think,” explains Stringfellow. “Obviously, Jon and I spending 24 hours a day together, driving around the country in the past for years on end, without any other outlet for our creativity — I think that was something like ‘Please, I need a vacation.’ And we got one. So, now there’s just less at stake in a way. We’ve all managed to go out and do other things. Everything is much more relaxed. The future I really don’t know. We’re not really planning anything. This is just something to do for fun. And because all of these records came out this year, it’s a way to maximize that and support them. And I don’t think there is going to be another year in our career where a ‘Best of,’ a box set, and two live albums come out in the course of one year. So this is kind of a unique time for us, and it’s appropriate to capitalize on it, but we’re not going to turn around next year and do it again.”