Interview: Ken Stringfellow discusses The Posies tour, reissues
One on One

As hard as it is to believe, The Posies have been together for 30 years. To observe that milestone, Omnivore Recordings is reissuing three albums by The Posies. By phone, Ken Stringfellow discussed the band's tour, history and the impetus for reissuing three of its classic albums.

AXS: How's the tour going so far?

Ken Stringfellow: It's going great. It's been a blast. It started out kind of easy, and we had a sold-out show in Portland. It was our second show of the tour. That was a nice kickstart. I think everybody's playing is awesome. We are on more solid musical ground than when we were 25.

AXS: Is this the first time that this lineup has played together in a while?

KS: Other than a run of shows we did in Spain a couple years ago, this lineup has not toured the U.S. since 1994. 

AXS: What does it mean to you to have this lineup together and touring again?

KS: I think it's wonderful for the music. I'm a better musician now, and I've played with incredible people from Neil Young to Patti Smith. My life experience has prepared me to be a great musician for you tonight. When I was younger, I was OK, but I hadn't done much. All that experience is great for the music. What matters more is the stability of everyone involved. In our younger days, with 25 fewer years of maturity and life experience, and the turbulence of trying to figure out who you are, those kinds of stresses - and handling your liquor - did not make it easy for us to get along. Twenty-somethings - I wouldn't want to be on tour with one unless I absolutely had to. It's nice to go on tour where everybody is aware of their own flaws. When we were 20-something you could always blame your bandmate's perception of you as the problem. Now everybody - their divorces or whatever - painted a picture of what their quirks look like. Everybody is more self-aware and conscientious and humble. Everybody pitches in to help. Everybody moves gear. Nobody goes off to party while everyone else moves gear. We're all working hard, and the vibe is good.

AXS: What kind of lessons would you want to convey to those 20-somethings that are touring?

KS: Everybody has to invent their own wheel and make it roll. Everybody's different. If I went back in time to meet my 22-year-old self just leaving on tour for the first time, I would say pack light. And I would say work hard to entertain. I would have tried to be a little more ambitious. Kids today are more ambitious. The whole commercial versus non-commercial element that was left over from the punk era doesn't exist. People want to have 50 million followers on Instagram. Willful obscurity doesn't happen, and people don't want it. I don't know what I could tell people now because it's a different game.

AXS: What was the impetus for the reissued albums coming out this year?

KS: They're just not available. Dear 23 and Amazing Disgrace are out of print. Frosting on the Beater is out of print and was never available on vinyl in the U.S. Our relationship with streaming has been pretty off-key. It's inconsistent from territory to territory. Sometimes you log on and it's on Apple Music and Spotify. Some countries you log in and it's not. Universal has the rights to our music everywhere. The agreements are different in different countries. A record like ours that's old and hasn't sold millions of copies, it's not high on their priority list. We have to go in and dot the i's and cross the t's for them, and we're paying for the privilege. It's why we have a Pledge Music campaign to pay strictly for the manufacturing of albums. Omnivore is renting our albums from Universal for the right to put them out.

AXS: That's interesting about Spotify.

KS: I'm not a Spotify subscriber. I figure by not paying me much, they're already taking my money. I live in France and I created my account there. I go to Belgium - an hour by train from Paris to Brussels - and I can't get on Spotify. If you're a free user, you can only use it in the country where your account is. We're trying to get our voice heard and get the fans opportunity to hear this music. Dear 23 and Frosting were recorded at 45 RPM for so the quality is higher. We spread the music out over two LPs for these two. They will sound great. The remastering is unbelievable. It's unbelievable how much better these albums sound than their original CDs. Dear 23 is the most shocking example. Stephen Marcussen, who originally mastered the album, in 1990 is a world-class mastering engineer. He has worked with The Rolling Stones and Dave Matthews. The CD of Dear 23 that came out in 1990 sucks. It made me not like the record. When we heard the master tapes of Dear 23 even before we did any remastering, I was like, "Holy crap! This is a whole different record." That's the experience I want people to have.

AXS: Why do you think Frosting on the Beater was so well received?

KS: We had a big push. Geffen wanted to make their money back, so they worked the record hard. The album is our most streamlined album from start to finish. It's the most classic album experience of the three. It really has a flow and an interesting concept. The music isn't as dark as Amazing Disgrace, and it's not as fluffy as Dear 23. This is just a live band playing. We were a good live band. We'd just done a good two years of touring for Dear 23 when we started making Frosting. We had never toured when we made Dear 23. We were a good live band anyway, but I think we were a great live band by the time we made Frosting. We had to get great.

We were on the road forever opening for The Replacements and Redd Kross. The songs were well selected. Everything about that record was done right. We had the right producer. Our A&R guy Gary Gersh made all the right choices for us. Even the one mistake that nobody saw coming, we benefited from it. What is that mistake? The first round of mixing was with John Hamlin. He's worked with Neil Young and still does. Who do you want to have mixing your rock band? This guy. When we worked with him, he was just out of rehab. He was used to a certain amount of endorphins being stimulated, and he wasn't getting them. He was out of his mind, not ready for the world. He did a couple great mixes, and then he couldn't sustain his life in the real world. Not that he relapsed. It's just that he was an as----e. His mixes started to suck. He'd been in the rehab oven, but they took him out a little too soon. He hadn't really worked out a life without drugs yet. Other than that everything was smooth sailing. We were in our prime and there was great chemistry. Everything fell into place, and that's why it worked. "Dream All Day" is kind of a perfect slacker-rock song from the 90s. It fit into the landscape, and there was a lot about us that didn't fit in. The way we played that album kind of made sense to the world in 1993.

AXS: What would you be doing if you weren't making music?

KS: I have no idea. It's part of the way I needed to express myself. I just can't imagine. If I didn't care about the condition of my soul, I could have made an excellent lawyer, but good lord. My biggest passions as a young person were reading, and I loved to write as well, and nature.

One of our closest family friends is one of the preeminent marine biologists in the world. I could have had a track that way. I was a straight-A student, and I could have gone that route. Science is about observing and then building up ideas about the world based on those observations, then testing those observations. You might say that's what songwriters do too. People who become artists are born with some pre-packed things that need to come out. We have the seed that contains the whole tree, and it needs to blossom. That was an unstoppable force. Trust me, people tried. My mom told me I could be anything I want as long as it was a doctor or lawyer. I think she was horrified that I just went on my way. The path was clear, and I was going on it. The way our success happened in Seattle is such a fluke that it must be fate. 

Check the band's website for tour dates.