The career of Ken Stringfellow is a long and enviable one, most visibly for being half of the creative force (along with Jon Auer) of Seattle indie power pop legends the Posies. While the output of the Posies has slowed down a little bit since the '90s – four albums in the past 20 years, versus five in the 10 years prior – Stringfellow himself has never stopped being busy, having been a part of a revived Big Star, been a touring and recording member of R.E.M., and performed alongside some of the most respected names in modern music (Thom Yorke, Ringo Starr, Patti Smith, Robyn Hitchcock, Nada Surf, and Neil Young, to name a few).
When we spoke with Stringfellow, he was sitting down at a piano in New Jersey, in the middle of a daunting 50-date tour.
“I have so much on my plate that I'm trying to accomplish, including, at some point, we gotta try and wrap up the Posies album that we started this summer,” says Stringfellow. “So, even doing something like this tour is a little bit naughty, because I should probably be doing the Posies record as much as possible. But I also want to do this tour, and I do need to make a living, and touring is, in theory, good for that. I guess I like to take a lot on, all the time, is what we're learning here.”
Stringfellow's tour finds him performing his beloved 2001 album Touched in its entirety. Yes, in amongst his work with countless bands, he's also made an enviable career for himself as a solo artist, showing that even when he has time to himself, he can't help but make music. Still, for a guy that's been able to achieve what so many other musicians would consider dream gigs, there's a milestone Stringfellow says he's yet to reach.
“In so many ways, it's all kinda gravy now, and I'm so happy for what I've been able to do, and I'm a very lucky person who's gotten to play with some of the best of the best,” says Stringfellow. “But there's one musician out there that I'd really love to play with, in some capacity, and that's Johnny Marr. He's probably the single biggest influence on my playing, of any guitarist, living or dead. And he's still relatively young, out there touring, but we just haven't crossed paths, yet, and I haven't figured out a way to make our paths cross. I mean, he was living in Portland for a while, and he was in Modest Mouse, and they toured with R.E.M., but it was the one tour that of R.E.M.'s that I didn't do, which is kind of a bummer. But, you know, I can't do it all.”
In Stringfellow's solo work, as well as with the Posies, he has shown an innate gift for crafting indelible melodies – expressively using his guitar to access the hearts of listeners, as well as the part of the brain where catchy hooks go to live. On Touched, especially, his guitar acts as an extension of the rich emotion in his lyrics. A restless songwriter, Stringfellow keeps finding new avenues for his heartfelt words, creating songs that are more intricate than they might seem at first blush.
“I kind of go for the Jimmy Webb or Burt Bacharach theory, which is that you throw out unusual chord progressions and then see what kind of melody I could stitch through there to make it sound seamless,” says Stringfellow. “You can hum along with a Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune and think, 'Oh, it's so singable, I can easily play it.' And then, any time you play it, it's just all over the place. So, I try and make complexity sound easy. I like the complexity, for my own challenges, but I don't want to – I want to make it musical, I guess. And one of the things I've been toying of doing [with the new Posies album] is simplicity, which, believe it or not, is something I haven't gotten around to yet.”
When Ken Stringfellow appears at Fawcett Hall, he will have been coming off a few days spent in the studio with Jon Auer for that hotly anticipated new Posies album. Though Stringfellow still keeps a studio in Seattle, he hasn't been able to technically call Washington home in some time. Still, he says, performing in these parts does feel like a homecoming, returning to that special brand of Pacific Northwest fan that always seems to find his wavelength. We can't wait to have him back.
Update on 9/25:
Due to unforeseen circumstances, Carrie Akre has had to drop out of this show. In her absence, though, we couldn't ask for a better substitute: Jon Auer will be joining Ken Stringfellow for an acoustic set as the Posies! As we've mentioned, the Posies have been hard at work readying material for their new album, and we've been told they may be debuting some of those songs at Fawcett Hall. So, after an opening set featuring Stringfellow playing music from his solo album Touched, stick around to hear
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