INTERVIEW: Ken Stringfellow
Posies Front Man Talks Pop
By: Alex Steininger
"A lot of songs on Touched sound like they could have been written for the time, especially the vocals," The Posies co-founder/co-songwriter Ken Stringfellow says on his new solo album, released on Los Angeles indie Manifesto on September 11, 2001.
"'Sparrow' is about the smallness of religious differences and why people shouldn't hold themselves high and mighty," explores Stringfellow on the parallels of September 11th and his album. "I wrote the song when I was dealing with Christian people and I didn't share their beliefs. The next thing you know they're holding it against you. The song is about showing them we're all under the same sun and we're all different and believe different things.
"The theme seemed appropriate at the time, like it was written about the day, especially subtle lines about things burning. It is very eerie and strange. It's allegorical about the Twin Towers. It leads me to believe this record was meant to come out on that day."
A beautiful pop record by all accounts, Posies fans will instantly latch on to the latest from Stringfellow, as he delivers the same smarts and lyricism in his solo work as he did in The Posies, making them an international cult favorite.
September 11th was a devastating blow, to America's moral and hundreds of musicians' creativity. Things seemed so trivial, as people holed themselves up in their rooms, confused and wondering what happened next.
For Stringfellow, like any American, it was a hardship, a day that put everything in perspective. But, also a day that left many feeling lost and hopeless, something Stringfellow believed music could heal, leading him to believe he should carry on, promote his new record, and brighten someone's day if he could do so.
"The fact that my record was released September 11th was an unfortunate coincidence," he reminisces. "A nice day to put out a record became a heavy duty day.
"To me, it seemed inappropriate to be releasing a record. I was like everyone else, wondering what was going on. I had interviews for Australia, a place that is notorious for being hard to do interviews because of the time difference. I missed only one due to the phone lines being jammed. But, all we talked about what was going on. "I had a tour booked and a show that day. The show that day didn't happen, but I made a decision to do the tour as planned. September 16th was the beginning of my East Coast tour. With all these tours being cancelled, I thought about it and realized that if I were home I would want to see music, because it's medicine. So I decided early on to play. I wasn't afraid to fly and felt if someone felt better because of my music, I would be doing something."
Stringfellow is a man with many philosophies, always learning and educating himself about life, and never holding himself to one thing, whether it is a style of music or a belief, leaving plenty of room for the unexpected, firmly stating that "Nothing is ever permanent."
"I like to be flexible," Stringfellow says on his decision to disband Saltine, his post-Posies outfit and the band he originally intended to write and record Touched with. "That's the great thing about making records under my name, I can be completely flexible."
Stringfellow lives by the seat of his pants ("I like to do different things, but I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring"). Preferring to go with the flow and never force anything, he's always prepared, regardless of what road he will be taking down next. A philosophy that came in handy during the recording of Touched, as he walked into the studio with little more than skeletons of some of the songs and came out with one of 2001's best records, pop or otherwise.
"Touched was improvised in the studio," he tells me, demonstrating his ability to pull off things perfectly without planning. "I live for the lack of planning. I don't submit to any particular style. You never know what you're going to get."
"A lot of Touched was done impromptu, not knowing how it would end up," he elaborates. "I went in with barely sketches and loved how it came out. This may be my new M.O. You make some very good choices under the gun."
We then start talking about The Posies, a very active despite their break-up in 1999.
"The best comparison to The Posies is Steely Dan. The band is Jon and I," Stringfellow says without hesitation. "We've been playing with a new rhythm section and the shows have been fun. We're playing Noise Pop next month. If that goes well we may record some new stuff. Jon and I started the band, just the two of us. The line-up has changed several times. It matters who is playing with us, but what matters most is that Jon and I are playing."
Discussing The Posies more, and a possible new studio album, Stringfellow finishes the interview by saying, "If I did a Posies record this year I could easily do my own record within a year. There are lots of possibilities. I'm not closed off to anything and will try almost anything."
Whatever Stringfellow has in store, it is sure to be an instant treat, whether it is another magnificent pop record like Touched or the soul album he has been thinking about recording, 2002 and beyond should see a good output of Stringfellow's music in one incarnation or another.