When musicians make plans to jam together, it’s often to test the waters and see what happens. They typically don’t expect to embark on a musical journey spanning three decades.
Singer/songwriters Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer certainly didn’t such have plans when they began making music in Bellingham, Washington in the mid ‘80s, but 30 years later, The Posies have a reason to celebrate.
In honor of the big anniversary, The Posies are remastering three of their most formative albums through Omnivore Records. “A re-release had been in the works for a long time,” says Stringfellow. “It just took time to negotiate, and this was the perfect opportunity.”
Dear 23 will return on June 15, Frosting on the Beater on August 3, and Amazing Disgrace on October 28. Each of the albums are remastered from the original master tapes. “Those old recordings still existed in an old bunker somewhere in the mountains of Pennsylvania,” says Stringfellow. Fans can also expect previously un-issued bonus tracks.
Since the group’s first effort, Failure, was recorded in-home on cassette, Stringfellow and company have seen the way music is mastered change drastically. “I remember shifting analog tapes around,” he says. “The process is different now, but the results are excellent. It’s so detailed. You’re in control of the output and you can just make what you want.”
And what album release would be complete without a tour? This May, The Posies embarked on a massive expedition across North America and Europe. For the anniversary tour, The Posies will perform as the early ‘90s lineup that delivered Frosting on the Beater.
Getting a band back together can be a challenge, as careers, families, and a host of other wonderful obligations arise in the meantime.”We’ve had a lot of life happen since we started,” says Stringfellow. “With other work and so much going on, we still had to try and everyone opted in. It worked to and we’ve got that lineup again.”
Dave Fox is back on bass, and Mike Musburger man the drums once again. With time gone by, it would be fair to expect a change in band chemistry. In this case, it’s for the best. “I think it’s much more relaxed,” says Stringfellow. “Now there’s no pressure. Everybody has had time to get out and pursue their dreams. We’ve all achieved what we wanted to and come back with a new appreciation for the music.”
In the early 1990s, The Posies’ sound was markedly unlike the visceral grunge rock so commonly associated with nearby Seattle. “In a small town, certain aspects of underground music weren’t so accessible,” recalls Stringfellow. “We weren’t as informed by it.”
The emerging band’s musical color palate was shades brighter than Geffen label mates like Nirvana. “It had a bookish, humanistic bent,” says Stringfellow. Vocal harmonies evoke ‘60s British pop rock acts like The Hollies or even The Beatles at times. In fact, the tight duet vocals could easily be mistaken for Lennon-esque vocal flanging.
Lyrics were thoughtful, sentimental, even existential. Guitars were distorted, but not past the point of recognition. Drums and bass were there to keep you wide awake, even if the song is about dreaming. The reverb-heavy accent licks and idiosyncratic songwriting that developed over these three albums seem closer to what’s going on here and now than anything near ’90s Seattle.
There was plenty of room to experiment, though. The solo in “Love Letter Boxes” is a controlled free-fall, and by the time Amazing Disgrace arrived, they were diving confidently into pop punk territory.
In 30 years, styles evolved, lineups changed, and musicians went their own ways in the interim. When he’s not touring, Stringfellow resides in France. “It’s a good, grounded life,” he says. “It’s a long way from Washington, but I met a beautiful woman, got married, and had a family.”
Stringfellow and Jon Auer joined a reincarnation of Big Star when the band returned in 1993. In addition to some solo work, Stringfellow has also enjoyed stints with R.E.M., appearing both on records and on stage. The 2016 album Solid States demonstrates a mature appreciation for synths and accent effects. The enticing melodies and clever lyrics are still there, of course.
Keeping anything going for 30 years takes heart, and The Posies know that that’s as much a fan effort as it is theirs. “I thought 10 years was about average for a lot of bands, 20 is long, and 30 is something special,” says Stringfellow. “Achieving this kind of longevity is meaningful to us. Staying true to what we do is worth celebrating. We want to say ‘thank you.’”
The remastered albums can be pre-ordered here.
The Posies will perform at Saturn on June 8 along with Terra Lightfoot. The music starts at 9 p.m. Saturn is located at 200 41st St South, Birmingham, AL 35222.
You can also catch a duo performance with Ken and Jon at Seasick Records at 6 p.m. Seasick is located at 5508 Crestwood Blvd, Birmingham, AL 35212.
Photo by Alan Lawrence.