On a sun-kissed evening, I met Ken Stringfellow, one of the founding members of ‘90s power pop band The Posies. It was the end of their US and European tour for Solid States, the seminal Northwest band’s first release in more than five years. Set on a WWII ship in the shadow of Portland’s St. Johns Bridge, the show reached to the core of the DIY ethos that first set the spark for the band three decades ago.
The ‘90s were a banner decade for Northwest bands, including The Posies, who first emerged in ’88 out of Bellingham, Wash. Born in Southern California, Stringfellow settled in the Northwest as a youth before connecting musically with fellow songwriter Jon Auer. They signed to DGC Records, an imprint of Geffen, in ‘89 and have built a career that has spanned the globe since its origins.
Both Auer and Stringfellow have nurtured dynamic careers over the last 30 years. Aside from over a half million records sold as The Posies, they have navigated an intertwined life together. From joining the reformed Big Star in the ‘90s to settling with their families in France, their journeys have stayed connected at the roots. Solid States marks the eighth release for The Posies, an album mired in brushes with tragedy and the stable optimism of Auer and Stringfellow.
A global sense of tragedy and hope has been a part of Stringfellow’s experience since his album Touched, which was released on September 11, 2001.
“I felt like the music that I was making at that time for the record actually had a place,” he says of the record.
The continued international struggle was inadvertently opened up on Solid States following the bombing of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The paper’s office was located close to where Stringfellow was working and recording at the time.
What followed over the next year included the devastating back-to-back losses of longtime bandmates Darius Minwalla and Joe Skyward. And after a brush with the bombings in Brussels at the start of their recent tour, Stringfellow found himself reassuring loved ones.
“My mom was completely freaked out we were playing anywhere in Belgium,” he confesses. “I think there’s just more and more things happening of that nature as far as like Brussels and whatever. So, the chances of you being on tour when one isn’t happening is less and less. The chances of something like that happening on tour somewhere is more and more. That’s just a fact that we have to live with, I suppose from this era.”
Despite this, Stringfellow has a grounded optimism that has stood out through personal struggles. “I always feel like: ‘Hey, let’s keep going.’ That’s an act of defiance to some degree, but actually it’s just an act of normalcy. Normalcy should not be an act of defiance. Normalcy should be normalcy. Normalcy should be the thing that we all have access to.”
This has not just extended to their sensibility internationally. The band has enjoyed the comforts of big budget tours in the past, but has learned the necessities of the bottom line financially. “It was little bit of a mystery what we were making,” Stringfellow confesses. “I could see the money coming in but I didn’t really have access to the tour budget.”
Today, Stringfellow serves as tour manager while the band has taken an alternate approach to how they present themselves. In touring in support of Solid States, the band simplified production. They sold tickets to shows at secret, unconventional venues. The day before the shows, locations were announced. Fans didn’t know whether the events were going to take place in a bookstore, a church or a shipyard.
Pairing down to a minivan and PA, the gamble was a win financially and they anticipate going back to the formula when The Posies return in the fall.
“The fact that we pared it down to the minimum worked well for the scale of things we’re doing,” Stringfellow says.
It’s this sense of creative continuity and openness that moves the band forward. They will be back in the US come late fall, continuing the concept for their spring tour.
“We could do it a different way, but I think this way is the most fun and it fits us. It’s awesome,” Stringfellow says with confidence.