It takes a lot to be a fan of The Posies.
Sure, they’ve churned out some of the best alt rock of the ’90s (“Dream All Day,” “Flavor of the Month”), helped Alex Chilton revive the highly influential Big Star, and remain as some of the best songwriters of their generation.
In return, audiences have been put through emotional gymnastics, waiting years between albums and having to wonder if the band members are even talking to each other that week (if you’re thinking about 1998, they probably weren’t).
The on again/off again/on again band may be living on different continents, but thankfully they are once again on good terms with each other and have turned in their best record in decades, Blood/Candy.
Band co-founders Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer were kind enough to talk about the past, the future and share some memories of the recently-departed Chilton.
Innocent Words: Starting off, I wanted to say how much I love the new record. It was five years between Every Kind of Light and Blood/Candy. Why make us wait so long for new music?
Jon Auer: Thank you. I’m glad you’re enjoying Blood/Candy! With regards to the most recent break between Posies albums, besides playing with Big Star and producing records for other artists, I spent a lot of time promoting and touring a solo record of mine called Songs From The Year Of Our Demise. I went all over the world with it and it was quite well received in many places. I’m still playing to support it even now. That was a very important thing for me to do personally. I really wanted to take the time to enjoy it and work it on my time table, especially after the extremely intensive touring we did in support of Every Kind of Light. Honestly, I think we actually needed the break. Everyone needs to stop and take a breath now and then.
Ken Stringfellow: Well, between 1998’s Success and Every Kind of Light, we were just burnt out on the band, just…went our separate ways for a while. Between Blood/Candy and its predecessor, we spent a good solid year touring for Every Kind of Light and then got involved in other projects, we just…lost track of the fact that some years had passed, and suddenly, we were at risk of losing whatever momentum we might have gained in our mid-decade comeback….so in our minds, we were hurrying (laughs).
IW: Was there ever a period when you thought you would never record together again as The Posies?
Stringfellow: (Laughs) Are you kidding? We didn’t SPEAK for a couple of years.
Auer: That would be known as the year 1998, the year of The Posies “demise,” and an era of time I can say for certain I never wanted to record or work with The Posies again. It sure felt like the nail in The Posies coffin, at least it did for me, but being that as it may, it was obviously harder to kill off The Posies than I’d originally predicted. Definitely gave it the old “college try” however (laughs). Tried to destroy it, erase it, forget it, but it still found a way to not only exist again but ultimately thrive. That was a surprise. To this minute, I still believe it was a necessary part of our evolution, ‘breaking up’. I suppose it was the true test of the mettle of our relationship, the real bottom line.
IW: Is this the same lineup you had with Every Kind of Light?
Auer: It is indeed. It’s the longest running lineup The Posies have ever had – I believe we are talking about essentially 9-10 years of playing together at this point.
(Editor’s Note: Along with Stringfellow and Auer, The Posies lineup includes Matt Harris on bass and Darius Minwalla on drums.)
IW: With Ken living in France, how do you collaborate on new material? Is the rest of the band spread out geographically as well?
Auer: I always find it odd that people make such a big deal out of the fact that we live in different countries, and we do, we have four members in three different countries. But hey, we live in an era of technology and globalization, an era when you can chat on the Internet with someone thousands of miles away, in different time zones, and keep a dialogue going, a highly effective one. I mean, I call my credit card company here in the States and someone in India is usually who I end up on the line with. Wait – does this really relate? I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s ridiculously easy to keep in touch/communicate because of the technology, if you so desire, as long as you are savvy and diligent, which I am. I actually believe we use our time together more wisely than ever now, much more so than when we were all living in the same place. A paradox perhaps, but actually seems to be the way it is.
Stringfellow: Four cities in three countries now. We just get together, usually in Seattle, where most of us have lived at one point and worked hard. The fact that getting together requires planning and effort puts the pressure on to not waste time while we’re together.
IW: How long did it take to work on Blood/Candy?
Stringfellow: The actual recording started in late April in Spain; we worked for a couple of weeks there. This was after spending a week in Seattle rehearsing. We thought, since we’d sent demos around beforehand, etc., that rehearsing and recording would be a breeze, but these songs turned out to be harder to play then their demos gave an impression as being. Thus, every step from that point on was trying to control what turned into a monstrous assortment of overdubs, unedited vocals, etc.
Over the next couple of months, we were in our home studios, and later I came to Seattle to work in a studio there…totally panicking. I enlisted the help of Scott Greiner, who lives in Paris, to mix some of the songs, and he did a great job, and that allowed me to keep working on parts at home when I was back in Paris, I just walked over to Scott’s place once a day to see how things were going and make comments. But we were tweaking bits well into the mastering. I remember the last thing I did was to send some harmonies to Jon for a song that was already mastered…and we worked ’em in. I think in terms of hours it would be a couple hundred man hours, at least.
Auer: Longer than I could have ever predicted, let’s put it that way. All told, not counting the writing of the songs, if you include the rehearsals, recording, editing, mixing…I’d say six-and-a-half years. OK, not that long, but it sure felt like it sometimes. In reality, I think it’s fair to say about two months. Two months of highly concentrated hyper-real time, that is. When we crossed the finish line, I felt like I’d run about 30 marathons in a row. I was exhausted but exhilarated.
IW: What did you guys draw on in terms of influences in working on this new record?
Stringfellow: Well, many things – I think it’s odd to speak of musical ones as I’m just as influenced by Miyazaki as I am, say, Neil Young. Honestly, it was more interesting to present the songs and find similarities after the fact to things. I don’t think Jon was thinking about Sufjan Stevens when he wrote “Accidental Architecture,” but I think that song is reminiscent of some things he’s done…vaguely, mind you. It’s its own thing, for sure. In the writing phase for this record, most of which I did in December last year when I had some down time, I didn’t really have some other musicians in mind. I just opened up my head and let whatever was there come out. That’s how I always work.
Auer: Oh jeez – everything is an influence really. If you are alive and artistic and paying attention to what you are experiencing in life, no matter what it is, it all rubs off on you. I’d be hard pressed to narrow it down to a few things if asked – it’s just the accumulated wealth of the years I or we have spent making music, both together and apart. You can couple that with just living life, growing, getting older, hopefully evolving and you get the eclectic mix of stuff you hear on Blood/Candy as result.
IW: Given the decades between the first album and this one, how do you think your songwriting has changed over the years?
Auer: It’s just a process of expression really. That’s what changes, what you have to express as a result of what you feel/become connected to and have a relationship with over the course of a life. Plus, as far as composition and choice of notes, I think I’ve learned some new “tricks” along the way, picked up a lot of interesting stuff. Age and experience are bells you can’t un-ring, you know? I can’t express myself like the twenty-something Jon Auer who made one of our earlier records because that’s not who/what I am anymore. C’est la vie.
Stringfellow: I still write too many chord changes and cram too many words in each line (laughs). But I think that I have experienced such highs, and such lows, and seen so much of the world since 1988 when we made our first album, that I have a lot more…depth as a person, more reasons why it’s possible you could relate to me, because the more experiences I have, the more I have in common with other people. I think I’ve lost that puppy-dog-eyed wistful thing that was there in 1988 (I was a teenager, after all). I think I may, even, have acquired some soul.
IW: You two obviously got close to Alex Chilton. What do you remember best about him and your time playing in Big Star?
Auer: What I remember the most is just getting to spend time with him on a basic person-to-person level. The music part was fun, and definitely an honor as well, but Alex was steeped in many different interests and had experienced quite a bit in his life. That would come out in conversations and time spent on the road together or sometimes on the phone when I’d call him at home to talk business. He wasn’t like his myth really – there was some of that there, but he was so much more dimensional than that. It says a lot to me that what I remember about him first actually isn’t the music, which was/is obviously great – it’s him as a person. He made life interesting. He was also very funny, in a dry sort of way.
Stringfellow: Many things, from many times. Alex was very elegant, you know–he almost never drank in the time we knew him, but I have a great memory of him sipping Dom Perignon when we played in Seattle on New Year’s Eve many years ago. He wore Brooks Brothers, exclusively. Yes, he was what I would call a Southern gent. Alex was an avid student, and he loved to share whatever he was learning at that time–and it could be about any subject.
IW: You guys started this band when you were all pretty young and could devote everything to The Posies. Now that you have families, is it harder to find time for the band?
Stringfellow: I think the fact that we have other things to do with our lives–other musical projects, families in the case of Jon and I, etc., makes the band healthier, brings more to the picture really. When the band was all we did, all the time…I wouldn’t call that healthy really.
Auer: I don’t think it’s harder – in fact it’s the opposite. I think we squandered a lot of our time together when we were younger, felt like there was plenty of it, and didn’t always use it to its fullest. Now we use what we have to the nth degree, with almost a quasi military-like dedication/execution at times. We get down to business but we still have fun doing it. We’ve learned how to appreciate the time we have, really utilize it. Maybe it takes some longevity to be able to do that, maybe something you don’t have when you’re younger.
IW: Do you have plans to tour much this fall and winter?
Auer: We’ll be touring this fall and winter, and I believe the best way/word to describe it is extensively. Hopefully, this will extend into the first half of 2011 as well.
IW: How long will fans have to wait for the next album?
Auer: It’s always hard to predict. We do tend to take our time, don’t we? That’s because we have so many other things going on in our lives – solo stuff, other bands, production work. I also think it can be quite beneficial artistically and emotionally to have the long space between, not just churn them out. That said, the way I’m feeling at the moment, I’d like to do the next one as soon as possible. I’d like to keep riding this wave of solid creativity The Posies are currently surfing; it feels good to be working together again. Do I hear 2012?
Stringfellow: Trying to predict the future is like trying to stack all the grains of sand on the beach on top of one another…why open the door to a task sure to frustrate?