Some fans regard the Posies as one of America’s great power-pop bands, but singer/songwriter/guitarist Ken Stringfellow wishes the Seattle-based band would be looked at in a different way.
“I’d like to be remembered for our songwriting,” says Stringfellow, who co-founded the band with singer/songwriter Jon Auer. “I’d like us to be the American Elvis Costello — idiosyncratic but classic enough to be widely appealing, melodic and catchy but also erudite and cerebral. That’s what I feel we’re putting out there.
“Power pop, to me, never had a sophisticated ring to it,” says Stringfellow. “There’s a bit too much about cars and girls in the genre. We take on way more meatier and philosophical lyrical subjects. I believe we get credit for that, but power pop comes up so often. It seems like a bit of a cruel reduction considering the diversity and depth of our work.”
The band’s most recent work, Solid States, was released last May — six years after their previous album, Blood/Candy, and the first album following the 2015 death of drummer Darius Minwalla.
Solid States is “very inorganic,” says Stringfellow, who, with Auer, joined legendary Alex Chilton in Big Star in 1993 and recorded two albums with that group, Columbia: Live at Missouri University, 4/25/93 and 2005’s In Space.
“We’ve always been about a certain kind of sonic honesty in our work,” Stringfellow says about Solid States. “We wanted our songs to not need a certain level of production to survive as songs. When we began in the ‘80s, we were into making catchy, memorable hooky compositions but with a production style that defied the primitive digital gloss of the era. I believe the new songs are true to our compositional integrity, but we are confident enough now to embrace a kind of fantastical production approach — to bend and warp the apparent sonic reality past the laws of physics.
“We’ve been making records more like the way Lars Von Trier makes movies. This time, we made a record that’s done more closely to the way Pixar makes movies. Our mastery of modern digital production methods, developed in countless music productions we’ve done for other people, was an asset just sitting there. It would be foolish not to put it to use.”
Stringfellow says the death of Minwalla was a big blow to the band, but the group has “hit a groove” with its new lineup.
“With the loss of our long-time drummer Darius Minwalla, which surely kicked us to our knees, we didn’t know how to proceed,’ Stringfellow says. “Frankie Siragusa, who ended up working on the album, was the obvious choice, but it was untested in terms of what our fans would think of yet another new member and what the chemistry would be like onstage and off.
“Those fears were allayed from the first show last March in Belgium. Something special had come together, and I think part of it is all three of our levels of commitment are equal. Frankie is a fan who respects our legacy and wants to do a great job. After all the loss Jon and I have been through, we are incredibly grateful to be here. There’s incredible passion for what we’re doing. I think it’s rare for a 30-year-old band. We want this to work — every night. And I think all three of us at this stage in our lives are really accomplished players who have spent a lifetime working to be as good as we can be.”
Stringfellow cites “Solar Sister” as one of the Posies’ best songs.
“‘Solar Sister’ kind of sums up many things about what’s good about our band,” he says. “There’s harmonies throughout, and it’s got some interesting chord twists without being too herky-jerky.
“I’m still drawn to playing ‘You Avoid Parties.’ Written when I was just 19, it still sounds wise to me. Who knows what I was channeling that day?”
Stringfellow points to three songs on Solid States — “Unlikely Places,” “Scattered,” and “Squirrel vs. Snake” — as some of the best the band has written. “All seem like a pretty good display of what’s classic about us, updated nicely,” he says.
Speaking of classics updated nicely, Stringfellow says a Neil Young and Crazy Horse show he attended 16 years ago was the best and most influential concert he has attended.
“I had the privilege to watch Neil Young and Crazy Horse in 2001 from the wings,” he says. “I was 20 feet from Neil and could watch every gesture. The band was insanely good. People say the Horse are only sloppy, but this night they were fused — telepathic. We were in Buenos Aires, and I was there with the Gallagher brothers. Oasis had opened the show and the Gallagher brothers are notoriously surly, but this was so good they actually bro-hugged me at one point.
“Neil’s level of commitment and passion, and his incredible, uncompromising focus have always been inspiring to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to jam with him on a few occasions, and I can tell you that the greatest player and the greatest listener are the same person. I keep that in mind always.”
Are there a few Posies shows that stand out as the most memorable in the band’s history?
“Oh man,” Stringfellow says, “How about watching a room full of tear-streaked faces in 2011 when we were the first Western band to play Tokyo after the tsunami, when fans were worried normal life might not return to Japan due to fears and actualities about Fukushima?
“How about showing up totally surprised to our first gig in Finland in 1996, finding it sold out and having the audience singing along full blast with every song?”
Stringfellow also mentions the Posies’ “secret” show last May in Manhattan at a Soho apartment with about 70 people in attendance. The venue was announced only to ticket holders.
“I have to say that the New York show was a magical meeting of hosts, audience, space and us rising to the occasion,” he says. “It was truly magical. We were high for days afterwards, and this was totally chemical free. There have been many, many incredible moments. And, I hope, more to come.”