If you’re a local music fan then you already know the story of the Posies. The band got big in the early 90s during the heyday of grunge, released a few classic power-pop albums which weren’t grunge at all — including one of my favorite records of all-time, oh and Dear 23, Failure and Amazing Disgrace aren’t too shabby either — and in 1998 the band broke up with principal players Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer going their separate ways to pursue solo careers and other artistic endeavors.
Twelve years and two albums later (the band reunited in 2005 and released the comeback album Every Kind of Light) The Posies are back and touring behind one of their strongest efforts to date. Released earlier this fall, Blood/Candy is the band’s most pure pop album and it is winning over Posies purist like myself as well as appealing to a new fanbase. At the core of the Posies is the friendship between Auer and Stringfellow. The two have known each other since childhood and if the beauty of Blood/Candy is any indication of where their friendship stands, Auer and Stringfellow’s relationship is stronger than ever.
Saturday at Showbox at the Market the band concludes its busy year during which they debuted Blood/Candy at the Crocodile in April, performed at the Sasquatch! Music Festival in May and recorded and released the new album. At the show Stringfellow and Auer will be performing double duty, serving as both the evening’s headliners as well as members of the backing band for opener Brendan Benson whom Stringfellow and Auer struck up a friendship with during a benefit for the late Alex Chilton of Big Star, a band both Posies served as members of late in Chilton’s career.
I talked with Auer and Stringfellow separately during a tour stop in Washington, D.C. and here are a few excerpts from our conversations:
What about the hiatus/break-up and the relationship between Ken and Jon?:
“It wasn’t a hiatus. It was a breakup. A hiatus is when you plan to go back to something. This was a breakup. We ended the band and in hindsight I think it was a completely necessary step in the Posies equation or journey or whatever you want to call it. We really didn’t think we had a future at one point. It surprised us, more than anybody really, that we decided maybe there’s something here, some history worth adding to. So since 2000 we started working together again and we’ve been off and on pretty damn steadily ever since.
It’s a pretty unique relationship. We’re partners really, equals. We split the songwriting fifty-fifty and make sure we each get an equal number of songs on each record. We’re really diligent in that so we both get what we need out of it otherwise it’s not worth doing. I totally make a living off music and I have my whole life out of high school but I’m not making millions of dollars off of this so really the reward has to be the accomplishment of what we do. It’s not about the financial gains. It’s very important to me that I enjoy what I do and that it doesn’t feel forced. The good thing right now is that it doesn’t and that it feels exactly like something we should be doing and when we do it, man, we do it full boar. We don’t mess around, we completely immerse ourselves in it in order to completely promote it, support it and enjoy it. That’s sort of our style.” JON AUER
The ambition of Blood/Candy:
“Most of the reviews we have gotten for this record have been positive, not just positive but extremely positive. We’re getting some of the best reviews we’ve ever received for this record. But there were a few dissenters among the ranks. There are people who felt like we were being too ambitious in a way, which is totally stupid. Since when is an artist supposed to scale down his ambitions?
But there are some people who think we are supposed to provide the soundtrack to their safe little fantasy for what music is supposed to be about and that taking it too deep and too abstract is too threating for them. I have to call bullshit on that. We’re growing, we’re going to grow. We’ve been doing this for twenty-plus years and we do something different every time. That’s sort of how we’ve always been. Really, each album has a distinct personality.
We intersect with this kind of like pure pop music movement which may or may not exist and those people are like any kind of zealots. You have your bluegrass zealots, your folky zealots, your punk zealots … I don’t make music for those people. I make music for people who want to take the journey with us and that’s really all I think about is taking that journey and seeing where it goes and pushing us a little along the way to make sure we just don’t take a few turns around the bay and head out into the open water to see what’s out there.” KEN STRINGFELLOW
Why there was a five-year gap between albums?:
“When you really think about it five years is a long time for someone to wait for a band or artist they like to make a record. I don’t really have a good answer for why it took so long aside from that we have other things going on in our lives aside from the Posies. At this point it’s not even fair to the Posies, much less ourselves, to not explore other things as well. It’s kind of what allows us to keep doing the Posies in a weird kind of way. It’s what keep us fresh and maintainable. We’ve been around a while, let’s face it. The only way to keep it interesting for us at this point is to have it feel like what we are doing is necessary instead of feel like we are on some sort of treadmill. Like we have to put out a record each year, we have to do this, we have to tour. We kind of use our guts and follow our instincts on when it’s a good time to do these things.
That said, I’m glad we did get one out when we did because had it gone on much longer who knows when it would’ve come out. And now that we’ve started this whole cycle and the album has come out and we’ve been touring we really have been enjoying it. I really like the record we’ve made. I think it’s really good. I suggested when we started the European tour back in September, maybe I’m cutting to the chase here, maybe I’m bringing up something before I should, but what if we tried to make another record as fast as we could this time instead of waiting the five years or seven years it took between the last record? So there is a good chance you will see a new record from us sooner rather than later from us this time around and I think that might be a really good thing.” JON AUER
On the nostalgia factor of the band:
“If there is a (nostalgia factor) then it’s really the kiss of death. What’s the next step? Playing casinos? That’s not how I want to live my life. We are a band that is still in its artistic phase. This is not just paying the rent for us. It’s much more passionate kind of project than finding ways to make an income. I mean yes, we have to make an income as musicians, but it’s not a cynical business-only venture here. We’re making these records because we care about expressing what we have to express. It’s a big deal to us. That is what motivates us to get out of bed. So I don’t think about the past. I don’t live in the past, and I don’t even really like the past to be honest. I’m about tomorrow.” KEN STRINGFELLOW
Did the band make a conscious effort for Blood/Candy to be pop?
“As far as there being a conscious effort, I don’t think we work that way. It’s more of an instinctual thing. The songs that are on Blood/Candy are all the songs that we wrote specifically for that record. There are a few songs, like for example there’s a song called “The Glitter Prize,” I wrote that a couple of years ago and I had that laying around and it was just a Posies song. It sounded that sounded so much like what you would expect from the Posies so I saved it for the occasion. But most of the songs were written kind of to order for that record.
I don’t think there was any criteria for songs to be on this record. Some, if not all, of the materials I guess we had to go in a different direction maybe, sort of stretch the fabric a bit. You have a song like “Accidental Architecture” and “Licenses to Hide,” there’s nothing else that sounds even remotely like those songs with anything we’ve done, and that’s why I talked about the reward having to be the accomplishment. It’s songs like those two that keep us interested. We have to have songs on our records that don’t reflect just what you’d expect from us and I think we managed to do that pretty well on this record.” JON AUER
The need to reach new audiences: