The Posies Are Ready to Pop

Despite masterful Pop catalog, The Posies remain cult heroes in U.S.

Nov 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm

One of Rock’s more enduring friendships — long-lasting as well as often long-distance — began in the early 1980s, when 12-year-old Jon Auer met 13-year-old Ken Stringfellow at a music store in Bellingham, Wash.

That friendship is still going strong — their celebrated Pop/Rock band The Posies comes to Southgate House Sunday in support of new album Blood/Candy, co-headlining a bill with Brendan Benson. In fact, Auer and Stringfellow will also serve as one-half of Benson’s band, providing guitar, keyboards and backing vocals. The Posies, a strongly melodic Rock band whose songs feature imagistic, thought-provoking lyrics, is built around the shared singing/songwriting/playing contributions of Auer and Stringfellow. It also now includes drummer Darius Minwalla and bassist Matt Harris.

Auer met Stringfellow in his final year of middle school, he says on the phone from Seattle, where he is celebrating his daughter’s 16th birthday before going to Nashville to prepare for the American tour’s start, just gotten back from the European tour’s last gig in Finland.

“I was this hotshot Heavy Metal guitar player when I was 12, and he was in a band with this other guy and they were looking for a lead guitar player,” Auer says. “So they came down to the store and found me. This other guy started talking, and I looked behind him and there was this really shy kid not saying anything. That was Ken. (He) and I gravitated toward each other while playing with other people. We had shared interests in music, movies, girls, whatever.

“The Posies started as a concept, just two guys who grew up in high school together,” Auer explains. “My father was a musician and decided to put a modest but very powerful recording studio in my house when I was 14 (or) 15. We had this tremendous resource and we made the recordings that became our first record, Failure. It was really a demo tape made by two kids having fun, and then we became a band out of necessity to play live.”

That friendship has lasted not only through seven studio albums as The Posies, beginning with 1988’s Failure, but also a variety of side and solo projects. The most famous of the latter was the duo’s anchoring of a revived Big Star, the influential early-1970s Beatlesque Memphis band whose cult following grew after it had broken up. Auer and Stringfellow toured and recorded with original Big Star members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens intermittently from 1993 until Chilton died of a heart attack earlier this year. (Stephens had been an early fan of The Posies.)

Big Star had been an influence on Auer and Stringfellow when they started recording in the mid-1980s.

“It shows you how much Big Star was a blueprint for us that we fit into that so naturally,” Stringfellow says from Paris, where he now lives with his wife. “We had studied those records so well and taken them to heart. It gave us great confidence to get their trust. We’re very proud of that work.”

The Posies, it should be stressed, have never been superstars, just stalwarts of the tuneful side of the Indie Rock scene. Blood/Candy, the band’s first release since 2005, adds some impressive new tunes — some with a dreamy, melancholy and poetically ambitious edge — to their catalog, like “The Glitter Prize,” “Plastic Paperbacks,” “Accidental Architecture” and “She’s Coming Down Again!”

“I’d like our band to be way more popular than it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” Stringfellow says. “There’s timing and then there’s this weird thing of what catches on. Big Star were not popular originally, but then their quality rose to the top. Quality is a factor in popularity, but it’s not the quick one.”

Yet you might deduce something from the fact Stringfellow lives in France, Auer just returned from Finland and Blood/Candy primarily was recorded at a studio in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain. The Posies have a big, dependable following in Europe. It’s their commercial lifeblood.

That goes back to the early 1990s, when The Posies were signed by major label DGC Records and given a huge push. Considered a Seattle band just as that city was starting to become a music center, their 1990 release Dear 23 and especially 1993’s Frosting on the Beater were met with much critical praise in America. But mainstream radio was still lost in the anachronistic Metal and Classic Rock of the 1980s. And as Seattle bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam did break through in America, The Posies sound was considered a little too Pop to ride the coattails.

But Europe was different.

“The Indie world became mainstream in Europe much earlier than it did in the States,” Stringfellow explains. “We were a band with major promotion and with a sound just friendly enough for an audience, yet that didn’t have anything to do with American Hard Rock or any of that kind of thing.

“And we toured heavily on that (Frosting) album,” he continues. “We did a tour with Teenage Fanclub (a buzzed-about Scottish Pop/Rock band) in 1993 for two months in Europe and we played well. Many nights we played better than Teenage Fanclub. They were hit-and-miss and we were just on fire.”

Europe has stayed loyal to the Posies every since.

“Our lives are very Eurocentric,” Stringfellow says.

The Posies play the Southgate House Sunday with Brendan Benson and Aqueduct. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.