Pop-Up Popstars
The prolific Posies celebrate 30 years of pop music

By Lee Valentine Smith

The considerably massive set of Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer's recorded and live performances continues to expand. Their resume of literally hundreds of albums and thousands of live performances as co-founders of The Posies, a series of well-received solo albums, lengthy stints with Big Star, R.E.M., and others. In addition to Auer's varied collaborations and production duties, Stringfellow recently completed Supercalifragile, the final Game Theory album painstakingly culled from found pieces and concepts by the late Scott Miller.

Last year, he lead a new rock review called Tears of Silver, a diverse quartet that included members of Mercury Rev and Midlake on a tour based on the Posies' own unique pop-up tours. This time out, in celebration of their 30th anniversary, they're playing as a duo with shows in more conventional venues including a stop at Atlanta's City Winery.

Since you'll be looking back on 30 years of history, in the reissued DVD of Hype!, the Northwest music documentary from '96, there's an early Posies performance and it still stands up among the other acts of that era.

We hadn't achieved much stature at that point, and certainly if you're in a town where other bands sell 20 million records, selling half a million records can feel like a failure. But considering what we started with and our roots, I think our success was phenomenal, but we weren't really headline news compared to what was going on around us, with Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and Nirvana and so forth. I think it did a good job of capturing some of the less that obvious bands from that time. I'd be interested to see it again because so much has changed. Seattle is in a completely different universe now. Places change of course, but the Seattle that I moved to in the '80s is so different than the level of power it's reached now.

An ongoing thread in your music is a commentary on the various states of power.

Yeah, there are many moments in the Posies' music and in my solo stuff too, where I talk about the abuse of power. It's woven into it as a constant theme because power will always be abused by somebody. But I've thrown very few stones at people who think differently than I do. I'm interested in communication and I think that's the politics of now.

Your intimate pop-up shows were a great mode of direct communication.

I learned so much from those shows and each one had a special flavor. If you've been touring clubs for 30 years, it becomes less and less glamourous to play those places. I wanted to make an event that's nice to look at, interesting for everyone and an actual event rather than just another show on a Tuesday at midnight in some club. The world I've developed over the last couple of years is so personal it doesn't feel like a business, it feels like a bake sale or something homemade in a cool way.

Were the Posies pop-up shows successful creatively and financially?

Yes but it's still very much on the budget of a community church or something. We're more of a dot org than a dot com, you know what I mean? But it's a good challenge.

You've always welcomed a challenge.

Definitely. Biggest risks, biggest rewards. That's kind of always been my motto.

The Game Theory album was a huge challenge. The last time we talked it was still a concept.

Yeah and it came together fairly quickly, but the scope of the project was pretty big. I think the record turned out really disciplined and beautiful and true to Scott's legacy. Considering what we had to had to work with and how many humans were involved it's kind of a miracle that it's as coherent a record as it is. It doesn't have that un-sequenced feel of a tribute album. It seems that large-scale collaboration is a recurring theme in my life. I like these big projects.

Such as Big Star's "Third" [currently available on DVD and CD from Omnivore].

That was definitely an epic collaboration.

What a time for Big Star. Omnivore is really giving it a thorough examination. Especially considering that the original core output and commercial success of that band was so small. Basically three studio albums and the reunion LP. I love the band but the one that made me laugh was the recent greatest hits, "Best Of" repackage.
There are levels of irony there, it's hard to know even where to begin. I know there's also another live thing coming out and an expended Chris Bell thing, too. This year they'll be releasing a lot of Posies stuff, for the 30th anniversary.

I really do think if it weren't for you and Jon revitalizing that band, none of the new Big Star reissue campaigns would exist.

We were pretty tenacious about it and pretty single-minded. Big Star really became an obsession for us circa 1990 and '91. The Teenage Fan Club guys played with Alex [Chilton] and Jody [Stephens] as well, and many bands have touched on it. Of course, "Alex Chilton" by Paul Westerberg and so many more. It all adds up but we were, what do they call it, 'on message'? We really didn't talk about much of anything else for a while and those became the only cover songs we played pretty much. It was our thing. We proselytized and preached it. I definitely believe we stoked a lot of the enthusiasm out there.

The Posies, performing as a duo, appear at City Winery on January 29. Big Star and Game Theory reissues are currently available from Omnivore Recordings and late last year, Shout! Factory released the 20th Anniversary edition of the Seattle scene documentary "Hype!" featuring an early Posies performance. For more information, please visit citywinery.com/atlanta.


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