Artist Interview: Ken Stringfellow (Solo artist, The Posies, REM)

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ken Stringfellow who an accomplished solo artist and a member of the Posies

Background can be found here:

https://kendrickmusicfreak.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/artist-spotlight-1-the-posies-and-ken-stringfellow/

Kendrickmusicfreak: When and why did you start playing?

Ken Stringfellow: My interest in records was very early. I’ve talked about this a lot in interviews, but my general conclusion is that as a very young child, I was very perceptive and sensitive, and was very alone in this, definitely did not relate to the other kids my age etc. Music, the great composers at first, and then, popular music, spoke to me. I can remember being very small, 4, 5, and listening to classical music and realizing I understood exactly what the composer was trying to paint, emotionally. I just got it, intuitively. Hanging with kids at school, I was clueless. But music I got. My parents saw how into their records I was and bought a piano and encouraged lessons, when I was 9 or 10. I was a hopeless piano student but it got the ball rolling.
 

Kendrickmusicfreak: Which instruments do you play?

Ken Stringfellow: Any keyboard instrument, I even played accordion with REM sometimes. I play guitar, bass. All manner of percussion. The guitaret, an obscure (and beautiful) instrument from the 60s. I sing, program electronic instruments, and so on.
 

Kendrickmusicfreak: What was the first tune(s) you learned?

Ken Stringfellow: Yellow Submarine. I was at a dinner party, with my parents, just some adults talking around the table, and me, the only kid. I was really bored. I discovered in the TV room there was a guitar and Beatles song book. I realized the little grid above the piano staff must be a diagram for guitar chords. So I worked out the song that night. And thus, I learned to play guitar.
 

Kendrickmusicfreak: Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

Ken Stringfellow: None. But I do know some pretty wonderful people.
 
Kendrickmusicfreak: What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Who are your major influences?

Ken Stringfellow: I don’t respect genre, really. I’ve worked with musicians all over the globe, in different styles, different languages. Of course…it’s all music. We were able understand each other when we were playing. My major influences are my friends. My colleagues, many of whom are great players, producers, writers. I have a great network of musicians to draw inspiration and answers from. We play each other our latest work, and get feedback and bravos.
 

Kendrickmusicfreak: Where have you performed? What are your favourite and least favourite venues? Best and worse experiences?

Ken Stringfellow: Oh my goodness. I’ve performed…who knows…5-, 10-thousand shows? In 73 countries and counting (adding San Marino this coming week). I’ve headlined Glastonbury (twice), Rock in Rio, Byron Bay. I’ve played Budokan, Red Rocks, Madison Square Garden…a lot of things! A favorite venue. Well, I love the Hasenschaukel, a tiny little bar in Hamburg. It’s wonderfully decorated, and the music comes first there. The vibe is so good.  Least favorite…hmmm. Well, sorry to say but Gabe’s Oasis, in Iowa City, at least when we played it a decade ago, was disgusting. The bathroom looks like an abandoned autopsy room from some tropical country you definitely don’t want to die in. The load in/out is up a fire escape, two stories. Totally dangerous. I mean, maybe it’s not even the worst but it was pretty unpleasant. As for the best experiences…I can’t begin to count. Jamming with Neil Young at the Bridge School show is up there. Singing with Ringo Starr, jamming with John Paul Jones. Neat, right? But sometimes, my humble little solo shows to 100 people can be just…awesome. And I think I do my best and most meaningful work there. I’ve had some great shows at the King’s Arms, once opening for Tim Finn, really special.  I will say when I played in Bhutan, the first American to do so, I played in the only rock venue in the country, which had just opened. They had cover bands, usually but I played my stuff, it was great to connect to an audience with such a narrow mutual context…it was an epic evening. From my solo performance of two hours, to jamming with the cover band on Neil Young tunes for two hours…and then playing ANOTHER bunch of solo songs, until the police came at 3am and shut us down. I loved it.
 

Kendrickmusicfreak: Do you find it easy to write lyrics and do you have a process or does it happen naturally?

Ken Stringfellow: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Just pray for rain and keep at it. That’s all one can do. Sometimes I’m out walking and the song starts to write itself right there in my head, it’s like I’m not even doing it, just witnessing something happening beyond my control; sometimes I slog away at a piece of music for months and the words just refuse to assemble themselves. It works out, eventually. Just have to be patient.
Kendrickmusicfreak: A lot of artists don’t like to look back at what they have done and preferring to move forward. How do you view your body of work? And what if any is your favourite alum and why? 
 
Ken Stringfellow: I’m quite ok with my past work, without making a big deal of it. I’ve got a lot of albums in the works at the moment, all of which I’m into and deeply committed to, so the future is really more compelling.  I don’t look backwards to other music much, either. I’m fond of a lot of things, but my listening time is precious and limited (I’m always working) so I should be hearing new sounds.
 
 

Kendrickmusicfreak: What does an average day/week look like for you?

Ken Stringfellow: Basically, I’m in my studio, which takes up two rooms in our house in France. Either mixing, or perhaps there’s someone who’s come to work with me, to have me produce their work. I get up, get my daughter to school, sort thru the morning mails, and try and be mixing by ten. If the weather’s nice, we have lunch & dinner in the garden. Sometimes I cook, sometimes my wife Dominique. I try and wrap in the studio by ten pm, and hang out a bit with the family before we all go to bed. But, for countless hours, I  am deep in the music. Our life here is simple, we live in a small city, and not in the center. We have a market twice a week near us, we buy most of our produce there. We enjoy time together. We went to a wine fair the other day in Vouvray, which is near us. Of course, I go on tour, or go to produce records in other places, and then these little routines are put aside. This year, with no major releases yet, there’s not been much touring, but the end of the year should get busy.
 
 
Kendrickmusicfreak: How has being on a major label to being an independent artist work for you. What are the main differences? And how has self funding worked for you?

Ken Stringfellow: I was an independent artist first, of course; the Posies first album (Failure, 1988) was a self-released cassette at first. I’m pretty good at navigating ways to make a living, and I’m frugal. The major label promotion for the Posies albums was invaluable. I wish we could have sold more records for Geffen, we really did try. At the same time, we were pretty uncompromising about our music but still, we toured hard and did all the promo asked. We didn’t sell millions, but we sold …who knows, half a million, all told? The main difference is the insertion in to mainstream radio and media that really only the majors have access to. It’s pretty handy. But there’s still a life without it.

I just did a crowdfunding campaign for an album, it went well. My solo albums, I just paid for ’em, I just saved up my pennies and that was that. Whatever needs to be done, right? Just see what opportunities come up in the moment.
 
Kendrickmusicfreak:  What is coming up for you next (albums, tours etc)

Ken Stringfellow: I just completed the mixing for a country western concept album, based on my solo song “Doesn’t It Remind You of Something”, which is a duet about two hapless…lower echelon drug dealers, I guess? Anyway, over the course of 14 songs, written and performed mostly with my friend Holly, we tell the tale of the couple, from their more innocent beginnings thru to their tragic end. We borrowed the format of Willie Nelson’s “Red Headed Stranger” album, the same number of songs, instrumentals, etc.

We have guest appearances from a number of great musicians, from the US, Australia…Matthew Caws from Nada Surf is the Narrator; Vicki Peterson from the Bangles sings a tune; French singer Keren Ann joins us for a song. It’s called The Record and you can preorder it on LP, CD or download here: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/kenandholly/

In the meantime, The Posies are working on a new album for fall release. We had a rough week as our drummer of the last 15 years, one of our closest friends, died suddenly and unexpectedly, cause as yet unknown. Still, we plan to continue, finish the record. It took on an entirely new meaning, certainly.

 
Kendrickmusicfreak: What are your Essential 5 albums that you own.

Ken Stringfellow: I don’t know if anyone ‘owns’ an album anymore. In light of that, I will list some things that I’ve heard or worked on lately that I really enjoy

1) France can be kind of musically backwards, but one artist here is doing it right — Melody’s Echo Chamber. There’s vintage sheen to what she does, very organic, very spacious. She might be really famous internationally now, I wouldn’t know, but she’s not that well known here, so worth mentioning.

2) Andy Shauf — The Bearer of Bad News. This is one of those bedroom masterpieces. Andy is from Saskatchewan, and made this gorgeous record in the basement of his home. Playing everything — drums, horns, strings…it’s pretty formidable. He has a band live, really good.

3) Eva Auad — Rules of Romance  This is an album I produced, I’m incredibly proud of it. Eva is a phenomenal singer, and composes wonderfully rich music…I think of the album as Astrud Gilberto meets Prince…and taken way, way out there. It’s a mix of piano and electro beats, but not run of the mill in any way what so ever. Totally original.  It’s on iTunes, Spotify, etc. But of course, a CD can be had here: http://www.bastamusicstore.com/products/eva-auad-rules-of-romance-compact-disc

4) Sweet Gum Tree — The Snakes You Charm & The Wolves You Tame  another quality French artist. The string arrangements on this album are out of control. Isobel Campbell sings on one of the songs. Very good songs and arrangements.

5) Gretchen’s Wheel — Fragile State http://gretchenswheel.bandcamp.com/releases Another record I produced, I loved how it turned out. Lindsay, the artist behind the name, doesn’t play live, hardly, ever. She lives in a little town in Tennessee. And I thank my lucky stars she was brave enough to make this record, and make it with me. She has a beautiful voice, she has absolutely zero pretension or artifice. She writes what she feels, and delivers it with passion. She’s a big Nada Surf fan and I hooked her up with Ira to have him play drums on the album.
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Artist Spotlight #1: The Posies and Ken Stringfellow

The Posies

The Posies - by Christine Taylor 2010. L-R: Matt Harris, Ken Stringfellow, Jon Auer, Darius Minwalla
The Posies – by Christine Taylor 2010.
L-R: Matt Harris, Ken Stringfellow, Jon Auer, Darius Minwalla

The Posies began in 1987 out Bellingham, Washington by primary songwriters Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow.

The Core members of The Posies, being Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow started writing songs in 1986 and  Though the songs had been intended as demos to attract other members and form a full band, the recordings turned out so well that they became the Posies’ first self-released album, Failure. Interest in the Posies rose out of the numerous home-copied cassettes that began to spread around Seattle and Bellingham. Failure was released on vinyl near the end of 1988 on local indie label PopLlama with one song drop.

Several major labels noticed the band early on and in late 1989 they signed to new Geffen Records imprint DGC Records. They chose John Leckie to produce their first album for the label and Dear 23 was released in August 1990. “Golden Blunders” reached No. 17 on the US Modern Rock charts. Ringo Starr covered the song for his 1992 album Time Takes Time. A change in the radio climate with the rise of Grunge meant that the power pop of The Posies wasn’t as successful at a major label as it should have been.

After being on Geffen, the band went back to indie label and continued to tour and release albums, both as The Posies and as solo artists.

The lastest Posies album was released in 2010, Blood/Candy and there are plans to record a new album at the end of the year.

Ken Stringfellow

Ken Stringfellow
Ken Stringfellow

Ken Stringfellow is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and producer. Best known for his work with The Posies, R.E.M., and the re-formed Big Star, Stringfellow’s discography includes more than 200 albums.

Aside from being in the Posies, Ken has also been involved with the following

Big Star
Stringfellow and Auer were recruited to join Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens for a Big Star reunion; Stringfellow and Auer performed and recorded with Big Star until Alex Chilton’s death in 2010.

R.E.M.
In 1997 Stringfellow began a long association with R.E.M.. He performed with the band on world tours in 1999, 2003, 2004, and 2005, and appears on several R.E.M. records, including the Man on the Moon soundtrack, Reveal, and Around the Sun.[

Side projects
Although the Posies were Stringfellow’s main project during much of the 1980s and 1990s, he additionally performed and recorded with Sky Cries Mary, a band he founded with Auer in 1989, Lagwagon, Saltine, White Flag, and The Minus Five. Stringfellow also co-wrote and recorded several songs with Scott Miller’s band The Loud Family in the mid-1990s, appearing on their albums The Tape of Only Linda (1994) and Interbabe Concern (1996) as a guest guitarist and vocalist.

In 2003, Stringfellow and Auer released Private Sides, a six-song split EP on Arena Rock Recording Co./Rykodisc.

As a sideman, Stringfellow has worked with Brendan Benson, Cali, Snow Patrol and others. Beyond North America and Europe, Stringfellow has also collaborated with Senegal band Waflash

In 2007, he formed The Disciplines with members of the Norwegian pop band, Briskeby;The Disciplines released two records, Smoking Kills in 2009 and Virgins of Menace in 2011

Solo recordings
Stringfellow has released four solo albums: This Sounds Like Goodbye (1997, on the Hidden Agenda label), Touched (2001, on Manifesto Records), Soft Commands (2004, on Yep Roc Records), and Danzig in the Moonlight (2012). Released on Lojinx (Europe), Spark & Shine (US) and Target Earth (Japan), Danzig in the Moonlight featured Charity Rose Thielen and Margaret Cho. In 2008, he also released an EP of cover songs, The Sellout Cover Sessions Vol. 1 He has toured extensively in support of each of the albums.

Production work
Since 2005, Stringfellow has been increasingly involved with production, and has composed film music and string arrangements. He has produced albums for Damien Jurado, The Long Winters, and Carice van Houten. Stringfellow has composed soundtracks for short films such as The Kitchen Party and Bunker.

( Excerpts from Wikipedia)

Song of the Day: Sorrow

purplehairedreviews

Rainy days call for sad songs! The National is one of my favorite groups, and seem to be the kings of underrated sad songs. Sorrow is off their album High Violet, and is a beautiful song. The instrumentals seem to be uptempo, but Matt Berringer’s voice is low enough to portray the ‘sorrow’ in this song. Literally discussing how sorrow is the only thing he knows, and how scary it seems to lose it (“I don’t wanna get over you”), the underlying choral sounds help add to the somber mood. Definitely fitting for an icky day like today. 

Sorrow

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Röyksopp feat. Robyn – Monument (The Inevitable End Version)

Juniper Lu

Robyn is awesome, we all knew that (right?).

What I didn’t know (I’m not very cool) is her awesome work with Röyksopp.

So now I REALLY like this song – which, by the way, is on Röyksopp’s The Inevitable End album, which I downloaded today (also excellent):

Also it’s thanks to Bård Ylvisåker (of Ylvis) I’ve got this is my head, from the video he made/posted of their show in Rosendal the other day. Also great and very share-worthy (warning: there is peeing in lakes involved):

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love Review

musicandotherthingz.com

The New Zealand/American psych-rock trio return with their third studio album titled Multi-Love and we’ve said so many times before, the second album is about setting the foundations of credibility after the first but the third is about going beyond that and being creative and making your mark. The fuzzed out Lo-fi of II from 2013 was a good follow-up to their self titled debut, but there’s plenty of Lo-fi psych floating around at the moment and it’s something that Ruban Nielson’s group had to shake up with Multi-Love.

The title track is wonderfully subtle and effortlessly smooth in it’s progression and melody. It is a lesson in swift and slick instrumental progressions from the minimalistic introduction with the organs in isolation with Ruban’s vocal; slightly wistful and fading, yet still with power and confidence behind it. The song then picks up the percussion and muted bass-line as the vocals…

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Four Great Underrated Bands at Sasquatch 2015.

New York Fruit Stand

This year’s festival boasted some huge names on the main stage and Bigfoot stage – Father John Misty, Ryan Adams, Schoolboy Q, Spoon, and of course, the great Robert Plant brought their A-game and provided the shiny entertainment that people paid to come see at this year’s Memorial Day festival at the Gorge. But there were a lot of CRAZY-good bands that, although they didn’t receive top bill, provided some truly awesome entertainment. Here are four of my favourites.

Black Pistol Fire

Garnering attention from being featured on the latest Nicolas Sparks movie soundtrack, Black Pistol Fire brought the HEAT at the Yeti stage, providing an energetic two-man shred-and-drum-roll slaughter with sick beats that had everyone on their feet. Who knew two dudes could command so much balls-out attention?

Comparable bands: The White Stripes, The Black Keys, JET
Key track(s): Hipster Shakes, Run Rabbit Run

Shovels and Rope

Playing on…

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Song of the day: David Bowie – Starman

THE SECOND HALF

There’s no doubt an artist like David Bowie would pop up sooner or later in this personal overview of music that touches me. But the tricky part is of course: which song to select? I opted for the easy way out and let coincidence decide, in the form of the shuffle function on my iPod during this morning’s jogging. Bowie’s Starman (released in 1972) was the first song served to me this morning, and I was paricularly struck by a short sequence in it, so… the choice was made. (To find out what effect the sequence has on you: it starts at 0:50)

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