An Interview with The Posies (5/21/16)

Paul Caparotta

Jon Auer & Ken Stringfellow of The Posies (Photo: Dot Pierson)
There go The Posies, making things difficult again—challenging you to step up and pay attention. Their recent “secret” album, Solid States (iTunes), is being unveiled during a series of small shows across the US. They come to a secret location in Oakland on Sunday, May 29th; if you’re not one of the 50 people who already have tickets, chances are you’re out of luck.

But don’t fret! We caught up with Jon and Ken on the road so you can get a feel for the new suite of songs they’re bringing to the Bay.

SFBayAreaConcerts: When I think of 'Solid States', I think of liquid, gaseous, all these other structures too. And with Posies being Posies, lines and phrases can mean so many different things. Can you tell us a little bit about the story behind the title of the new album?

Posies: Yeah, sure. Basically, all the things that we take for granted as being in-place, are really constantly in flux, and generally as human beings, we try and hold on to things or moments or structures… And it’s futile, things are always changing. Our lives over the last year have definitely been both in a good way and not such a good way were proof of this concept. We’ve had a lot of big changes happen. Some of them have been cool, and others have been awful.

SFBAC: Well, that could be what makes the new album so energizing! Let's take a moment to focus on “Squirrel Vs. Snake.”

Posies: Well, that song was written pretty early on in the writing process of the album. From a lyrical point of view, it reflects upon me as a person in the US, looking at my surroundings and wondering if I have any real choices? Like the choices I have, like the freedom of movement or my freedom of thought… I mean, do they exist? Or are they so compromised and I have no idea how compromised they are.

SFBAC: The Posies have been such an integral part of music discovery in my life. The first time I got into Big Star was when Columbia: Live at Missouri University was released. And the first time I heard the song “I am the Cosmos” was your version, then discovering the Rykodisc version of the album and then the remastered version years later. You guys have obviously made that song something of your own, but how does it feel to be part of that Chris Bell / Big Star history?

Posies: Hey this is Jon, and first I wanna say that it’s really cool that you gravitated towards, and mentioned, Chris Bell, because doing the whole Big Star thing, Alex Chilton got the lions share of credit for that group; but we’ve always felt that Chris Bell has so much to do with it as well. And the first time we heard “I am the Cosmos”, someone had sent me a cassette of rarities before those Ryko releases existed. The way I remember it, we were in the studio and we might have been making Dear 23 (iTunes), and I remember hearing it in the studio and within 20 seconds thinking, we gotta cover this song! This is incredible. To me, that song is spiritual and the greatest power ballad ever written. And just the emotion in it is incredible. And so for me, and maybe for Ken, I just don’t think that Big Star really existed without Chris Bell. That’s the inception point. 

Ken: It’s just some band that Alex joined.

Jon: Yeah, exactly. But then of course, Alex had the visibility, etc. You know how the story goes… We did “Feel”, and that’s another Chris Bell tune, and that’s the single that got the attention of Jodie Stevens, that really led to getting the gig eventually.

SFBAC: One of my favorite Posies songs is “Dream All Day” and for people who might not be familiar with The Posies, that song is instantly recognizable. Can you tell us a bit about what that song means to you guys?

Posies: Well, it was the last song written for Frosting on the Beater (iTunes)… and I think, I’m a last minute kinda guy, I’m that guy… I’m always coming up with something at the last minute, that makes it onto the album, and oftentimes becomes singles from the albums…Even “Unlikely Places”, that was the last song I wrote for the record, Solid States, and that one’s getting some attention now too. It’s funny, I didn’t intend to do something super deep, it just had a cool vibe too it. And in a way, it does address a bit of that slackerism that I probably did aspire to in the ’90’s. But to me, it’s just a great rock song, with a good vibe, and an unusual drum pattern in it. The verse groove is not an ordinary groove, it’s its own thing and very identifiable and I think that’s why people kinda gravitate towards it. It’s got that familiarity for sure, but just something a little bit different that gives it that extra spark.

SFBAC: Getting back to the new album, Solid States, I love how the album ends with "Radiance"… this exclamation mark, the idea that maybe there’s transcendence, maybe the possibility of something greater… Did you intend to end the album on that note?

Posies: It wasn’t really a hard album to sequence. Eventually a sequence did reveal itself, and that just seemed like a good ending point, and to end on some uplift. As dark as some of the themes and some of the pain that we’ve experienced over the past year, the record still has a positive vibe I think. I mean it’s not as melancholy as some of our other records. I mean, we heard the whole thing on a radio station in Spain that was doing a segment on our new record. And I heard the whole thing and spoke about it, and it has that kind of uplift to it. That song in particular, I gotta admit, was a bit of cheerleading on my part because last year was really difficult… my procrastinating tendencies really bit me in the ass on that one, because now I was in this space, that I was really distraught and I couldn’t deal with that for a while -- it became really hard to create for a bit. And then I just found solace again. So that song in particular, is about eventually, there’s two choices, you either move forward or give up. And I’m all about moving forward. For me, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you have to go through the tunnel for a while. And that’s kinda what that song is about. Make that choice. Don’t get stuck in the tunnel.

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