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The CHIRP Blog

Clarence Ewing: The Million Year Trip writesA Conversation With Ken Stringfellow of The Posies

Jon Auer (l.) and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies (photo from City Winery Web site)

The Posies have been around the world and back again. Formed by Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer in Bellingham, WA during the 1980s-90s creative tidal wave of west coast rock music, the band enjoys a well-earned repuation for their records, their outstanding live shows, and a spirit of collaboration with musical peers and newcomers. The story continnues as they visit select US cities on their 30th Anniversary Tour.

On Wednesday, January 31st, CHIRP Radio welcomes Ken and Jon to City Winery where they will take the stage and perform songs from The Posies' entire catalog. Prior to the event, CHIRP was able to ask Ken some questions about himself and the band.

You’re now entering your fourth decade of making music. For the benefit of our social media world, sum all that up in one or two sentences.

I come from very humble origins, and I've been gifted the world, and music has been the interface. It's a miraculous substance.

When you two first got together and made your first recording Failure, did you feel like you were going to be in it for the long haul? If you weren’t making music all this time, what do you think you would have been doing with yourselves?

I can say that I had no other vision of myself than as a musician. Not "I wanted to be" a musician "someday" but even at that time, age 18 when I started the Posies, that I would describe myself "as a musician". Did I know where it would lead? No. Did it matter? No. But it was part of my being, down to my DNA (quite literally, I would find out later). I will say I always had interests in history, in the natural sciences... I have the lonely temperament that suits a writer, a composer, or an academic researcher... and with my love of exploration, I could imagine myself as a botanist or biologist out in the field. BUT... music was first and foremost, calling me onward, propelling me forward, informing my choices, always.

Yours is a band that goes outside the mainstream when it comes to staging shows. What’s the weirdest place The Posies have ever performed?

Well, I think what you mean to refer to is that we did the touring for our last album in non-club environments--we found places that had never hosted shows before -- be they churches, houses, after hours retail, whatever, and set up real bona fide rock shows in them. And it was a great experience for us and the audience alike --each show was totally unique. Having said that, some the weirdest places we've ever played are clubs. I can remember playing this club called Sinbad's in Cheektowaga NY, that is to say, outside of Buffalo... complete with Aladdin's castle turrets, etc,... where there was *indoor* volleyball, on a sand pitch, *in* the club, *while* we were playing. You can't make this stuff up. Doing things differently, uniquely, didn't make things weirder. "Normal" people -- who are too repressed to express themselves freely -- are always weirder than the supposed bohemians, who are free to express themselves as they actually are.

The band’s 1990s catalog will be released this year on Ominvore Records. What would you recommend to someone just discovering the Posies as, not necessarily the best album, but the best introduction to the band?

Coming to see us live, of course. Hearing Jon & I sing together, be it w a full band or as a duo like we're doing at City Winery this month, is I think our most unique asset. We've been singing together so long, even several years before the Posies were formed, that we really kind of operate as one organism or mechanism when we're on stage together.

Do you spend any time in the Northwest U.S. nowadays? Seems like a lot of people have been moving there in the last few years. Do you think that’s a good or bad development culturally and/or musically?

Well, I have family and friends there, having lived in the Northwest for 25 years, so I'm there as often as possible. The Northwest had always been off the beaten path, until the tech boom and the music boom made Seattle the center of cultural reference points in the '90s. Being off the beaten path gave Seattle a creative edge. It still has that legacy. The exponential rise of Amazon and a whole new imported worker class, who have so much wealth and power... it's changed the flavor of Seattle, that's for sure. Portland, Bellingham... they're still 'real' to me...for sure the creative center of the US music scene is Portland for now. I think Seattle has priced its creative class out, much like New York.

Word is you might be working on a new album soon. Do you have any thoughts on what you’re going to do with it? Should Posies fans expect similarities to previous efforts, or perhaps some radical departures?

We will be concentrating on the new album after this year -- this year it's about celebrating the 30 years of music we've made, sharing that music with our fans around the globe, and putting a bookend on that. I will say our last album was quite a change up from the previous ones, so we haven't been accused by anyone of repeating ourselves. 

The Posies are no strangers to Europe, touring-wise. What are the big differences between performing on that side of the Atlantic vs. stateside?

Well, there are no tacos to be had, really, in Europe. A disaster! You know, the differences between audiences are less dramatic than you might think. In continental Europe, there are lot of state subsidized venues which means they can treat your show more like a high culture event than a beer-selling bonus, that is, they can afford to *lose* money on your show... which means you have often better basic conditions. In the states you have more space, and less rules and regulations, so you can do something like we did for the last album, and invent a touring concept from scratch that's totally outside the normal way of doing business. As long as you report it to the IRS, you can make money in any number of ways in the US.

Are there any artists/band in particular who have your musical attention right now?

Ha! I just discovered a decade -old pile of unlistened to CDs in my Paris apartment; and there's this French band the Leeds that are just amazing. Check out their Pandora's Box album... it's so sassy. For fans of ... the Vaselines, Belle & Sebastian... they really are more Scottish than French, but yet here they were under my nose all this time.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to the youngers out there who are starting out in the music industry?

Don't listen to advice. Honestly! Everyone will try and talk you out of your dream. Everyone. Your best friends. Your family. Dynamic change is scary for people that are close to you, as it calls into question why *they* aren't dynamically changing. Just don't give a rat's ass about what anyone thinks about what *your* destiny should look like.

What does 2018 look like for the band and for yourselves?

We start the year with this run of duo shows in the US;  in the spring, when the re-releases start to drop, we will be on the road with as a full band with our 1993 'Frosting on the Beater' lineup -- Mike Musburger and Dave Fox in the US; we'll be taking that tour to Europe later in the year. In the meantime up until the re-releases we'll be pushing the Pledge Campaign. In between those big items, I'm always at work between my two studios in France and Seattle on various soundtracks, production work, and other musical projects and collaborations... and, because I don't lie and you can look it up, I will turn 50 this fall.




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Categorized: Interviews

Topics: city winery, ken stringfellow, the posies

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