By Andy James
On Tuesday night, Vashon audiences can watch the Posies reinvent themselves one more time.
The front line of the Posies, songwriters and singers Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer, has been a familiar fact of Seattle music for more than 30 years. But much of the music they plan to play hasn’t even been recorded yet.
The band will take the stage at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3. The aim is to sharpen material for an album to be produced next year.
“When we play the songs live, you get a very different feel for where they can go and what their potential is. It’s a much quicker feedback loop,” said Stringfellow, speaking from his home in France.
The new album will be the ninth studio album in the band’s catalog, which dates back to 1988’s Failure.
Even as mainstays of the Seattle music scene, the Posies dodged both the label and the outsized sales associated with “grunge.” Instead, they explored a range of sweet-and-sour guitar-rich rock ‘n’ roll that many writers put under the banner of “power pop.”
“We didn’t reap the full reward of being completely in the zeitgeist, so we didn’t sell like 10 million records. But I think that we’re not really glued to one time period, and I think that’s good,” Stringfellow said. “I can give us credit for sticking to our guns, and for being a little bit difficult, and a little bit uncompromising. And I think that’s paid off. We have a sustainable career and it keeps getting more interesting.”
Stringfellow has been a notably steady producer of music since he began with the Posies, with more than 250 albums to his credit as a performer or producer. He played with bands like Sky Cries Mary, White Flag and the Minus Five, and as a solo artist.
The Posies, meanwhile, sometimes fell silent. After four well-received albums in the 90s, the Posies only produced three albums over the 21 years that followed.
Stringfellow and Auer were often busy elsewhere, playing with R.E.M. and cult heroes Big Star. But in part, the creative partnership between the two took its time to mature.
“I suppose we’ve kind of already thrown it all at each other. We’ve had big conflicts and big arguments and all that kind of stuff, even where we went for a couple years without playing or speaking much back in the late 90s,” Stringfellow said of Auer. “At least as far as I’m concerned, now that I’m older and I feel like I kind of know a little bit about life, I think we realized we might be hearing the truth from each other, and our only discomfort in that might be not wanting to hear the truth. But if that’s the case, that’s kind of a problem for yourself.”
Stringfellow and Auer will take the stage with Frankie Siragusa on drums, and perhaps a hidden library of basslines and other sounds from a laptop. Stringfellow covers an arsenal of instruments he describes as “Geddy Lee-like,” often jumping from guitar to keyboards and back again.
“I love doing the multi-tasking. I think there’s something really kind of perfectly balanced about this three-piece lineup. It always feels really good,” Stringfellow said.
The band has only four shows in this mini-tour, which puts the band in Seattle on Monday and Richland on Wednesday.
Debra Heesch, whose work as a music promoter on Vashon is being celebrated at Snapdragon with a photography installation by Monica Gripman, spotted the brief return of the Posies and snagged them for the show.
Stringfellow and Auer played in the Home Sweet Home bar at Snapdragon in January. Stringfellow said he is looking forward to flexing the band’s muscles on the new stage and reuniting with the Vashon audience.
“When we played there, I’m not sure I’d actually ever been to Vashon. That might have been my first visit. When I got back from Vashon this last trip, I said to my wife: ‘If there’s one place I can see living outside of France, I think I found it,’” Stringfellow said.
For now, Stringfellow uses summers to reconnect with his family in their home on a French island in the Atlantic Ocean. The rest of the year, he said, he puts his all into music.
After the mini-tour, Stringfellow takes off on a solo tour that puts him on the road through November, including 25 shows in 25 days. Then it’s back to work on other projects, along with the new Posies record.
Alongside the new material, Tuesday’s show will include some songs familiar to fans. For anyone curious about the Posies but not familiar with their work, Stringfellow recommends the recent reissues of their 90s albums: Dear 23, Frosting on the Beater and Amazing Disgrace.
“They’re really good albums. We made them pretty young, and I had to listen to them quite a bit as we were putting them together and remastering and all that stuff. I thought, ‘Hey, these are well put-together,’ and I stand by that work,” Stringfellow said.
Meanwhile, Stringfellow said playing with the Posies is, in many ways, more exciting than ever. He said material he might have kept for himself in the past has gone to the band to develop, which he said adds dimensions to his material. (Stringfellow and Auer typically split songwriting and lead vocal duties in the band.)
Stringfellow credits Siragusa, himself a multi-instrumentalist and solo artist, as “a great anchor for Jon and I. It just really works.”
“There’s still lots of potential to be fulfilled. I feel like our audience in general, the people who have stuck with us for these 30 years, are really open-minded, and have really rolled with us as we’ve gone through a lot of musical and personnel changes.
“I think now it’s all about surprising people without betraying them,” Stringfellow said.
Tickets to the show, $30 in advance and $35 day of the show, are on sale at brownpapertickets.com. The all-ages show is standing-room-only; there is no seating.