Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of the Posies talk about fame, Shatner and Big Star
The Posies (due tonight at The Gothic Theatre) had the good fortune -- or bad, depending on your perspective -- of being a non-grunge rock band in Seattle that came into its own during the era when, for far too many people, "alternative" became synonymous with "grunge."
The band, lead by Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer, would have been a noteworthy act in any era. Its brand of power pop struck a chord with discerning listeners. Although the Posies never quite gained the notoriety as some of the other Pacific Northwest outfits, not being part of the whole grunge thing also meant that The Posies remained largely untouched by the backlash against "alternative" music in the mid '90s.
In 1993 -- the same year that Frosting on the Beater, a bona fide modern power pop classic was released -- Stringfellow and Auer joined Big Star for that band's return to favor. For seventeen years, until Alex Chilton's death on March 17, 2010, Stringfellow and Auer got to be a part of a band that had come to be a big influence on the early days of The Posies.
After some extended breaks to work on music as solo artists, the pair returned this year with Blood/Candy sounding as solid as ever. We had the opportunity to speak with Stringfellow and Auer about their history, their various projects and the new record.
Westword: What do you like about living in France, and what do you miss most about the USA while you're there and vice versa?
Ken Stringfellow: Wow, well I have to say that first off that I don't get homesick for the U.S. at all. I know that sounds terrible, but I was born in the USA and I've lived here until a few years ago, and I'm well familiar with things here, and I feel like I've got what I was going to get out of this culture and felt like I should start learning about a few other cultural aspects beyond what I get out of touring and visiting places briefly.
I love living in Europe, and I love living in France. I've got a great family and a great situation in Paris, and Il de Re and I have a really good fan base in Europe, and I'm constantly going and playing different places from Lithuania to Andorra. It's just wonderful.
When I come to the States, I come to some Mexican joints and barbecue joints, because you can't really get that in France. Other than that, I feel sort of like a familiar visitor when I'm in the states. I've gotten used to buildings being a lot closer together and the coffee being smaller and the polyglot aspect of cosmopolitan Europe.
Being in New York is a little like that too, it's very cosmopolitan: One guy is speaking Arabic and one guy is speaking Ukranian and every person on the street could be from anywhere in the world. But it's still not the same. I miss my family very much, but it's the price to pay for not being as successful as we could be.
We're not a multi-platinum selling band. If there's a reward for being at that level, one of the rewards for not being in the mainstream, we've cultivated our audience and our audience has cultivated us in a way. I'd like to think our audience is a nice mix of erudite and populist in a weird way. That seems like a total paradox, but Radiohead is that kind of music too -- a multiplatinum band that is also challenging.
We don't come off as experimental, and we mix a bit of tradition into what we do with the kinds of structures that we like. We do what we do by choice. We could make an album like Kid A. What interests us is a particular kind of structure, and we mix in sonic experimentation into that mix.
We are melodic, and yet so are half the songs on Young Country 101. Where we experiment the most, in a way, is in how we can tell a story through imagery that is really out there but keep the story moving forward. Whereas, going back to Radiohead, a song like "Everything In Its Right Place," it's fragments that are really intriguing.
We don't really do fragments, we do kind of a more -- not linear path -- but there's a narrative to what we do. I suppose our biggest crusade, as it were, is to convince -- as if people want to be convinced of anything; people come to music often to confirm their prejudices, which is too bad. But if I could say something about our band that I wish everybody would understand is that, you know, don't let the structure fool you.
You have a building like Frank Geary, and it's wild -- it's screaming, "Hey, I'm so wild." Then you have what looks to be a conventional house but it's 100 percent emissions free, and it's full of modern concepts, but when you first look at it, you think, "Oh, that's nice little house." I think our band is a bit like that. It's more modern than the craft that goes into it might lead you to think.