|photo by Dot Pierson|
“So many things have changed, either by choice or by circumstance, in the six years between this album and the one before it,” the Posies' Ken Stringfellow notes while discussing Solid States, the band’s first album of new material since 2010’s acclaimed Blood/Candy. The album is due out May 20 on MyMusicEmpire. A Solid States Secret Shows tour wraps in Oakland later this month (dates below).
“We’ve had two bandmates die, a divorce and remarriage, a transoceanic move ... There’s been good things and difficult things, but nothing is in the same place for us. So it makes sense that this record would sound different from its predecessors.”
“I think it’s our most adventurous record to date,” adds fellow singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Jon Auer, Stringfellow’s longstanding musical partner. “There was the conscious idea to strive for something different from the Posies of past, to use different colors and flavors. That was the plan, but then life had its way with our concepts and schedules, and threw many profound, out-of-the-park curveballs in our direction. By this point, we’d already painted ourselves into a musical corner, which ultimately left us no other option but to figure our way out, bit by bit, wave form by wave form.”
Indeed, Solid States marks a timely creative milestone for the Posies, reinventing their sound while reaffirming the vibrant creative chemistry that’s kept them a vital creative force for nearly three decades. The head-turning 12-song set finds Auer and Stringfellow largely trading the band’s established guitar-based sound for an expanded sonic palette, drawing upon an imaginative array of electronic textures and unconventional rhythmic twists.
Such startling new tunes as “We R Power,” “Unlikely Places,” “Scattered,” “Titanic,” “Squirrel vs. Snake” and “Radiance” consistently defy expectations, while maintaining the Posies’ trademark melodic sensibility and vocal harmonies. The new songs, and the retooled sound, reflect the recent changes in the musicians' lives, including the deaths of two longtime band members, drummer Darius Minwalla and bassist Joe Skyward, in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
“We put so much of ourselves into making Solid States, in spite of — and probably because of — all the upheaval we had to deal with,” Auer states. “I personally will never, ever forget this year and the previous year, losing people so close to us. It's a definite ‘before’ and ‘after’ time in life right now to me.”
“We definitely chose to make an album where the guitar was less in front and more of just another tone generator in a field of diverse sounds,” Stringfellow explains, adding, “The title Solid States refers ironically to the shattering of our stylistic habits and personal lives in the years between the this album and the one before it. We decided that the songs would be written with electronic rhythms in place, and we'd add real drums to give it variety, but only after everything else was done.”
As much as the new album marks a reinvention of the Posies’ sound, Stringfellow points out that, in some respects, it’s a return to the band’s homespun D.I.Y. roots “There’s a circularity to Solid States, since it was almost entirely done at our respective home studios,” he observes. “Our first album, Failure, was recorded at Jon’s home studio in 1987 and 1988. Different technologies, different levels of wisdom vs. naiveté, for sure, but ... due to circumstance, we find ourselves a duo again.”
In recording Solid States, Auer and Stringfellow also tapped the talents of drummer Frankie Siragusa, who’s also currently touring with the band, along with ex-Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock and singer Gizelle Smith, as well as Auer’s wife Tiz Aramini and Stringfellow's daughter Aden.
“The rest,” Stringfellow points out, “is us.”
Auer and Stringfellow have been making music together, off and on, since their early sessions in Auer’s Bellingham, Washington home studio, which became the self-released Failure.
In the years that followed, the pair, along with an assortment of bassists and drummers, built a potent and enduring body of work that encompasses such celebrated major-label releases as Dear 23 (which introduced the hit “Golden Blunders”), Frosting on the Beater (which included their breakthrough smash “Dream All Day”) and Amazing Disgrace, along with such notable indie-label releases as Success, the live discs Alive Before the Iceberg and In Case You Didn't Feel Like Plugging In, the EP Nice Cheekbones and A Ph.D and the four-CD rarities box At Least, At Last. The band emerged from an extended hiatus for 2005’s Every Kind of Light and 2010's Blood/Candy.
Auer and Stringfellow also found time join Big Star founders Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens for a rapturously-received revival of that seminal outfit, beginning with the historic 1993 concert that produced the album Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93, and continuing until Chilton’s passing in 2010. The reconstituted Big Star also recorded the studio album In Space in 2005. In the years since Chilton’s death, Auer, Stringfellow and Stephens have continued to honor Big Star’s legacy by participating in a series of all-star “Big Star’s Third” concerts around the world.
Auer and Stringfellow continue to balance their work together with a variety of other musical projects. According to Stringfellow, who like Auer now resides with his family in Europe, “I think the long, comet-like cycle the Posies are on is good for making sure that the ideas have totally been refreshed and that we’ll bring fresh ideas and the benefits from our ‘studies abroad,’ as it were.”
“For me it’s very simple,” Stringfellow asserts. “We've had a little success, but not too little so as to become discouraged, and not too much as to become too tied to a given moment’s nostalgia. We seek out challenges and unfamiliar territories. It means there’s development, and a reason to be. I have friends who have a great time playing their hits in casinos and on cruises. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it’s not who we are.”
“When it comes to the Posies,” Auer concludes, “I feel we jump on it and really go for it when it feels like it really needs to happen. We’re still doing it because we’re both still curious to see what happens next.”
“SOLID STATES” SECRET SHOWS
Venues revealed only to ticketholders.
Thus., May 12 – NEW YORK, NY
Fri., May 13 – BOSTON / SOMERVILLE, MA
Sat., May 14 – NEW CANAAN, CT
Sun., May 15 – PITTSBURGH, PA
Tues., May 17 – CHARLESTON, WV
Wed., May 18 – NASHVILLE, TN
Thurs., May 19 – CHICAGO, IL
Fri., May 20 – INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Sat., May 21 – MINNEAPOLIS, MN
Sun., May 22 – RAPID CITY, SD
Tues., May 24 – BOISE, ID
Wed., May 25 – WALLA WALLA, WA
Thurs., May 26 – SEATTLE, WA
Fri., May 27 – BELLINGHAM, WA
Sat., May 28 – PORTLAND, OR
Sun., May 29 – OAKLAND, CA