The Posies - Biography



 

 

            The Posies might have been called the poppiest of the grunge bands had they churned out more songs like their biggest hit, 1993's “Dream All Day.” That song mixed the hard-rocking, neo-psychedelia of Screaming Trees with the songcraft sensibilities of power pop visionary, Matthew Sweet. Along with Sweet and Teenage Fanclub, the Posies carried the torch of power pop throughout the grunge-dominated early 90's. Two years after getting dropped by their major label, the band broke up, only to reunite twice, their most recent album appearing in 2005. Their sound has definitely gravitated away from hard rock since the mid-90's, and perhaps it's wrong to try to lump them in with the grunge bands. But they did come out of Seattle.

           

            The Posies' rhythm section has always been a revolving door, while the core of the band comes down to two men. Jonathan Auer and Ken Stringfellow were friends in Bellingham, Washington who began writing songs together and recording them at Auer's house. A self-released cassette, Failure, cropped up in 1988. The duo played every instrument on the album themselves. Though admittedly rough-sounding, Failure serves to satisfy more than just curiosity about a great band's early days. Auer and Stringfellow already knew what they were doing, and this release earned them comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel. Pop Llama, an indie label based in Seattle, signed the band after hearing the cassette and reissued it later that year. This led to Geffen's signing of the band, which grew to four in number when Auer and Stringfellow added bassist Rick Roberts and drummer Mike Musburger.

 

            Dear 23 (Geffen), the band's proper debut, arrived in 1990. Although it was full of catchy melodies and big sounds, the album is a bit over labored, and pales slightly in comparison to Failure. More emphasis was put on production and layering than into the songwriting, which is the only thing Failure had going for it. Still, when it works, it really works. One song, “Golden Blunders,” was nearly perfect. It reached number 17 on the modern rock charts and went on to be covered by Ringo Starr. Roberts left the band after the album was released and he was replaced by Dave Fox.

 

            The alternative rock scene in the band's hometown, something they had little to do with, had become ridiculously popular. The Posies were a pop band, but they weren't particularly popular. In 1993, Pearl Jam was arguably more of a pop band than the Posies were. Pressure from their label to sound grungier might have played a part in that year's Froster on the Beater (1993, Geffen), which had a more muscular, heavy sound. Whatever the reason for the change in style, it worked. “Dream All Day” was a hit on college radio, reaching number 4 on the modern rock charts. The Posies even look like a grunge band in the song's accompanying video, where they're shown rocking out in a wooded winter landscape while Auer's long rock & roll mane is free to blow in the wind in slow motion. Frosting on the Beater became a favorite among alt-rock fans who wanted something more melodic than Nirvana in their music collections. The Posies had peaked. Later in '93, Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens of Big Star, one of the most iconic power pop bands of all time, reunited. For added stage support, they recruited both Auer and Stringfellow to play with them. It was an opportunity that the duo seized upon again and again throughout the decade. 

 

            When the Posies were finally ready to follow up their successful second album, the rhythm section had been made over yet again. They were now joined by Joe Howard, who went by the last names of Bass or Skyward when credited in liner notes, and drummer Brian Young, who drummed for Fountains of Wayne. In 1996, the remodeled band released its third album, Amazing Disgrace (Geffen). In a way, that title was apt, given that the LP did amaze people, and critics responded favorably to the Posies' even more hard-rocking direction. On the other hand, its sales were meager, more so than its predecessors. To a major label, an album that fails commercially is a disgrace. Apparently, though, it was Geffen's own fault. Through their less-than enthusiastic promotional work, Geffen showed the Posies that they weren't wholly invested in their new album from the get-go. And, if that's true, then why would anyone else be, namely, the record-buying public? Whatever the case might have been, the Posies were dropped by Geffen shortly thereafter.

 

            In 1997, Stringfellow released an album that he'd recorded entirely in his home, This Sounds Like Goodbye. He and the Posies then got together for one final album, Success, in 1998. It came out on the band's original label, Pop Llama. They disbanded later that year..

 

            Auer and Stringfellow stayed very active in the music community. Auer decided to head out on his own and soon released The Perfect Size, a 5-song EP on which Auer played all of the instruments himself. He also joined a Seattle band called Lucky Me, and played in Jeanjacket Shotgun with fellow ex-Posie Joe Howard. Meanwhile, Stringfellow formed the short-lived Saltine, a band that broke apart after one EP. More notably, he joined up with R.E.M. as a touring guitarist. In 2001, he continued with his solo career, releasing Touched. A year before that, however, he had reunited with Auer and done a summer acoustic tour as the Posies. A document of these shows, In Case You Didn't Feel Like Plugging In (2000) followed on the Casa label. In 2005, the Posies were back in full, releasing their fifth overall studio album, Every Kind of Light (Rykodisc). The band did not release another LP until 2010's Blood/Candy.

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