Monday, March 16, 2009

Ken Stringfellow(the Posies) interview

Ken Stringfellow interview
Interviewed by Kim Acrylic

Kim Acrylic: Hello Ken Nice to chat!

Hi there! Thanks for tracking me down. Not everyone makes the effort!

Kim Acrylic: :So most people would know you for being in the Seattle band "the Posies"
can you tell us a bit about that experience?

Well, we have been playing for 21 years now--most of my life. In fact, Jon Auer & I started playing together in 1982, so my bio and the story of the Posies are pretty much the same thickness. For a band that was making incredibly unfashionable music, and dressed very uncool and were pretty much products of small town America, we had some incredible opportunities, and used those to grow into what I feel is a very accomplished group, in a few short years (but they felt long at the time!). We grew a very decent following around North America, Europe, Japan, Australia...and delivered a really powerful show. And, as nerdy as we might have been at the start, we actually have very little about us that's cringe-worthy after about 1990. I think the experience of that band runs two-fold as for what I gained from it the most: I was able to travel and discover the world via touring with the Posies; and I learned a hell of a lot about human relations by working with the same cohort for some 27 say the least!

Kim Acrylic: When did the Posies form and then when did they call it quits?

Well, as I mentioned I started playing with Jon in the early 80s, in little bands in Bellingham when we were in jr. high and high school...but in 1987, when I was going to University in Seattle and Jon was in his last year of high school, we sort of shed
all of the people we had been playing with took a serious turn at writing memorable, melodic songs. In the summer of 87 we started to record what would be our first album, 'Failure', in Jon's home studio. In 1988 we released the album and put together a live band and started playing shows. Ten years later, after 5 albums and almost a thousand shows around the world, we were burnt out and not getting along. We parted ways, which felt severe at the time but turned out to be short lived. In fact, in 2000 we did a tour as an acoustic duo and put a new
live band together in 2001. Eventually we released a sixth album, 'Every Kind of Light' (2005) and toured like mad for it. We still play shows now and then, quite a bit last year for our 20th anniv. and hope to make another album at some point.

Kim Acrylic: You went solo,How was that after being with a band for so long?

Well, I did many thing in parallel. I released my first solo album, 'This Sounds Like Goodbye' in 1997, but the Posies were still carrying on to some degree. I started playing with other
bands--Lagwagon, R.E.M., and made solo albums here and there. My last full length album, 'Soft Commands' came out in 2004. I'm still touring for it! But, I felt like I only really got really good at being a pure solo performer, i.e., no band with me onstage, about 3 years ago. I played a lot of solo shows where I felt disappointed and unfulfilled, it's really, really difficult to hold an audience's attention in that situation. But, know, I have, after doing this hundreds of time, gotten pretty good at it, and my solo shows in recent years have been really, really intense and cool.

Kim Acrylic: You were also in R.E.M what was working with such amazing musicians like?

It was a great experience--R.E.M.'s working methods in the studio introduced to me a level of confident spontanaeity that forever changed the way I work in the studio--i was blown away by how UN-meticulous, even unprepared R.E.M. were when they went into the
studio--it was what made the results so lively and exciting--and that level of laissez-faire takes real balls when a label is giving you millions of dollars per album and all concerned are hoping to remain in the heavyweight category. Writing in the studio always sounded so
boneheaded to me, when I was starting out--and now, I write tons in the studio. The studio becomes a place that puts me in my best focus, and all the thing sbubbling around inside me have a forum to come into existence.

Kim Acrylic: How different was it being in REM than being in the Posies or other bands?

Well, the Posies were a band that were all about preparation--we assumed that was the 'proper' way to make records. Demo all the songs, work out all the parts. And we didn't understand why our early records didn't stack up to the records we loved. R.E.M. was
making, in the early days, more than one record a year, and they were all cool and different and..alive.

Kim Acrylic: Tell us a bit about you being in Big Star?

Alex Chilton is also a musician from which I've learned a lot. He's also spontaneous, and self confident. Of course I love the songs of Big Star, I had been completely in love with those songs from the the first time I heard them. And, I still get a thrill playing them, after 16 years of performing them around the world. When we get to the guitar solo in 'Way Out West' it's still just gorgeous and majestic--even when Jon & Alex don't tune their guitars!

Kim Acrylic: How were you able to go from one big band to the next?

Well, I have always tried to broaden my skills and interests. I love the 60s session guys like Earl Palmer or Larry Knechtel (Larry played on 'Soft Commands')--doing rock, jazz, TV show theme songs, etc--all in the same day! I would love to have the skills to be that versatile.

Kim Acrylic: Which band was the most challenging for you?

Well, the Posies was hard because I had to learn to SHARE. My destiny was linked with Jon's and vice versa, so we were each subject to each other's moods, whim's and missteps--as well as benefiting from our successes. And then, on the opposite side of the coin, performing solo has been its own mind fuck and a half...traveling, performing, alone night after night--sometimes to indifferent audiences--I learned to find some real inner strength from that.

Kim Acrylic: Is there any one certain band you miss being in the most and why?

Well, my band The Disciplines (see below) did some shows with R.E.M. last year, and it was great to play with them again--plus they were going to all those fabulous places that are difficult to get to--South America, Turkey, Eastern Europe--and I was feeling a bit
jealous! But, I will get there on my own (in fact, Im touring South America in March). I hope the door is open for me to play with them again should they need a keyboard/bass/guitar/..accordion/tambourine player once more!

Kim Acrylic: So now your in new band called The Disciplines ,what can you say about this project?

Well, this is my main focus this year. It's me and three musicians from Norway--I was a fan of(and collaborator with) their former band Briskeby, and when that band was calling it quits we thought to do a little side project together--which ended up growing into something much, much bigger--our album 'Smoking Kills' has been released in Scandinavia to great reviews and more. In Norway we had two hit singles and have been playing some very big shows and festivals. The album comes out in Spain next month, South America in March, and the US in's a super fun show--the music is simple, very singalong--and down and dirty. There are elements I take from the punk shows I grew up seeing--the closeness of band and audience--but it's not punk, really. Or maybe it is, I dunno?

Kim Acrylic: Is there any rituals you do before a show?

I do vocal warmups. Yes, it's true. I try not to eat too much and only protein if so. Show days are the only days I wash my hair and shave! Plus for Disciplines shows I paint my nails black. It's like my lucky charm, I can look down at my nails and say the game is on.

Kim Acrylic: What are some of your most memorable live experiences?

Oh, so many. I was playing with White Flag, the satirical anarchists from Riverside CA, in the Faroe Islands in this little fishing town--and it was all kids 10-13 years old--anyone older was working or married or whatever. These kids were doing all the teenage
rituals--getting totally drunk, screwing in the toilets--but they weren't even teenagers. And this gig was chaperoned! As we were playing, we had a wall of like, 12 year olds- drunk off their asses- in front of us...they started licking my hands while I was playing the
bass! Aiyee!

There are many, many things like that--playing a very intimate solo show in a pub in Tasmania while bikers were literally beating the shit out of each other.

and then, just some great shows, where I managed to not choke but rise to the occasion. My solo show in Helsinki in 2004 was one of those--700 people, all super into it, and I managed to play a great show instead of panic.

Kim Acrylic: Do you have a favorite place to play?

For rock shows, I think Spain is the greatest. I play there quite often--Posies, solo, Disciplines and Big Star all have shows coming up or have played there recently. Austria, Croatia and Serbia have been great for my solo stuff.

Kim Acrylic: :So you moved from Seattle to Paris,correct?

Yes, I have married Dominique, who is French, in 2003 and we have a daughter, Aden, who was born in 2004. Since that time I have been based more and more in France, making the transition, which has been fully realized since I sold my Seattle home in 2006.

Kim Acrylic: Was it a huge culture shock for you?

There has been a learning curve. I have been touring more and more in Europe since I first went there with the Posies and Big Star in 1993, to the point that by this decade, most of my touring happened in Europe. I was ready for a change, and Europe was in my comfort zone at that point. Having said that, there have been lots of little things to learn in France, not insignificantly the language, but also all the bureaucratic practicalities--opening a bank account, finding a plumber, whatever--there are different systems in France for these things and you sort of need a cultural translator to learn how to navigate them.

Kim Acrylic: :How a like or different is Disciplines compared to say the Posies or Rem?

Well, the Disciplines: It's all about me, right? He said, speaking like a true lead singer. Well, I am the focus of the show, and I can't really have a bad day--I have to be on, or there's practically no show. In the Disciplines I am also the manager and tour manager (most of the time) so I am in control to a level that is not possible elsewhere. I still have to share of course--my bandmates' input is important, musically and otherwise. But, I can execute my vision to a high degree in the Disciplines.

Kim Acrylic: I read you did stuff with sky cries Mary,what was that like,they are an amazing group of musicians.

In fact, the first SCM album 'Until the Grinders Cease' is Roderick with just Jon & I as the band. I met Roderick in college, we became friends and worked on some performance art pieces that led to this musical project.

Kim Acrylic: You did some stuff with fellow Posies member Jon Auer,How did that go and what stuff did you do?

Well, when just Jon & I play together we still call it the Posies--the band started out as just the two of us, we made 'Failure' as a duo, etc. We play shows without our rhythm section (bassist Matt Harris and drummer Darius Minwalla') and tour that way from time to time.

Kim Acrylic: Plan on doing anything more with him?

I'd like to do another Posies album. I am taking care of the Disciplines for most of this year tho.

Kim Acrylic: Any chance that you might do some stuff with the Posies again in the future,or any of your other bands for that matter?

Big Star has a show in Spain this spring; I will tour South America in March (but promoting the Disciplines album, confusingly enough!); and the Disciplines have shows coming up in
Finland, Spain...and hopefully we'll tour in the US in summer. The Posies have no shows coming up but I am sort of holding back on that until we make another album.

Kim Acrylic: What kind of music does the Disciplines play?

It's punky garagey rock with out the posing or the cliches. It's

Kim Acrylic: :Any videos or tours coming out of this band soon?

We are making a new video next month...there's some insane live footage on our myspace. OUr next tour is in Finland at the end of January!

Kim Acrylic: Favorite musician you have worked with?

Larry Knechtel is amazing. He's played on records for just about every 60s band, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Simopn & Garfunkel--he played keyboards and bass on my last album. He's one of those guys that can hear a song once and then record a perfect take of
piano or whatever along with it on the next pass.

Playing with Neil Young was really intense. The place he accesses when he is in the moment is very deep--it's the place I try to get to and draw from...but that frequency is really transmitting from Neil all the time.

Kim Acrylic: Any weird fan moments?

Not really. My fans are always cool.

Kim Acrylic: What/who inspires you to play or write?

Hahaha, necessity! I keep myself active as a producer, mixer, and musician so that my best is contstantly required.

Kim Acrylic: :Anything you'd like to say to readers?

Look for the Disciplines album in April.

Kim Acrylic: Your such an amazing musician,thanks for your time Ken:)

Aren't you sweet! thank you for your interest!