November 24th, 2010
The Posies: An Interview
Reality Bites is generally recognized for its attempt to capture the angst of Gen X, post-college graduation. However, outside of Houston (the movie’s setting), “Reality Bites” is more widely credited for its soundtrack, a mix of alternative rock and nostalgia-hits upon which Gen X grew up. Cameos by Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner and Evan Dando of The Lemonheads and a tribute dance to The Knack’s “My Sharona” made the movie a cult-classic, particularly amongst the era’s modern rock fans. Fittingly, the movie opens with a portion of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part 2“, now a stadium staple, and ends with “Going, Going, Gone” by The Posies in a post-credit scene.
This seems appropriate: book-ending an admittedly catchy tune that has become a rock-pop, muzak cliché played on repeat in stadiums across America with that of an alternative-rock band that had the “fortune” to be at the forefront of the Seattle music scene, only to be passed over by commercial radio. The Posies combined unusual chord progressions with melodies and soon found themselves labeled as having too “pop” a sound to be included in the Grunge wave that crashed Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, STP and Pearl Jam into our homes.
As commercial radio shifted away from The Posies, the core of Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow stayed true to their vision. Their third album, Frosting On The Beater, brought “Dream All Day” which peaked at #4 on the Modern Rock charts. The band found more receptive audiences internationally with subsequent albums setting new sales records.
The Posies last major US tour was in 2000; however fans of The Replacements and REM will appreciate that Alex Chilton apparently recognized The Posies’ talent and recruited Auer and Stringfellow as members of the second iteration of Big Star through 2005. In 2008, Auer and Stringfellow toured as a duo in a 20th anniversary tour. That tour helped reignite their co-writing resulting in Blood/Candy released just a few months ago. The band is back on tour and had wrapped up a European leg in October when I had an opportunity to speak with them.
I asked Stringfellow, who has lived in Paris for the last seven years, about the impact of his solo work and his work with REM and Big Star. “I’ve found that the collaboration with other bands has really helped me focus on what The Posies are. I have gained a better appreciation for what we could do together as The Posies. And the concerts we did in 2008 helped us realize what we enjoyed about working together.”
Comparisons of The Posies to Squeeze are inevitable. Stringfellow doesn’t shy away from that fact. He embraced it, saying, “obviously they are a huge influence, the complicated chord change, I really like their sound. I continue to gain appreciation for the challenge of writing a song that can grab you but still has an edge to it.”
In Stringfellow’s work with other bands, he has occasionally been put into a role that is roughly the equivalent of a COO, herding the cats both on and off stage. “I’ve become more accustomed to the business side – organizing that then allows for the creativity – which has been a big help… This album reflects that personal growth. Shedding much of the previous turmoil, to be healed and fully functional… that was key to making this album great.”
Auer, still based in Seattle, was equally positive about the mental state of the band and his affection for the latest album. “We’ve become much better at following through to completion. To moving from our first instinct into a disciplined process, making sure we are writing at 7am.
“This album shows more experimentation. It’s still clearly The Posies: The different time signatures, elements that have always interested us, but perhaps less sugar-coated hooks; some acknowledgment of perspective gained. We’ve never repeated ourselves, so maybe it’s to be expected that this is the most challenging, musically, that we’ve done.
“The entire album benefited greatly from just taking more time, not having the external pressure to produce a product, but coming from a desire to write, expand upon, and let a song sit for a time. The album shows a lot more reflection, of allowing a song to evolve for a few months. We were writing, intentionally waiting to then rehearse, yes – rehearse, before going into the studio. That helped change the tone of the songs for us.
“I’m really having a good time with The Posies right now, and we are really enjoying the shows.”
The Posies and Brendan Benson will be appearing in store at Cactus Music and Record Ranch @1pm on Saturday 11/27.
(Interview by Alex Flenner)
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