hile sitting on Myspace I pressed the refresh button one last time before signing out. I was somewhat apathetic and somewhat pleased to see this simple action yielded a “New Friend Request” notification. Oh great, I thought, another lousy band wanting to be my friend. I was half right. Ken Stringfellow, former frontman of the Posies, and his newly acquired music profile was asking to be my friend. Not so lousy after all. I clicked “Approve” and went about my day only to later realize our new budding friendship (not really) would provide a great opportunity to snag an interview. We originally had intentions for a phone questionnaire, but he ended up touring outside the US so I shot some messages his way via his Myspace (i.e. the only place our friendship existed) to avoid calling cards and long distances charges.
Hips: If you had to choose, what is your favorite piece of music you've written?
KS: Well, I dunno. That changes. I guess I am thinking more about what the future could hold. I am proud of my work thus far. I'm not sure I have a 'favorite'.
Hips: What is your favorite piece of music someone else has written?
KS: This is even harder to answer? I mean music goes with moods, and creates moods; it would be like asking me what my favorite star in the sky is. I'm kinda glad they're all there....
Hips: Is there any place you feel more productive as a musician? (where and why?)
KS: I've been enjoying working on my computer at home. When I can step away every hour or so and do something else, I get a nice charge and find I can actually get a lot done. Frequent breaks are good for you! But, increasing productivity is not my goal these days... if anything, it's about getting more time off.
Hips: Both lyrically and musically, how do you think your more recent music compares to your earlier work/ work with The Posies?
KS: I think the lyrics are better. I think I have gotten more sophisticated and more confident. And more diverse.
Hips: Describe a time you heard your music played in an unexpected place (store/restaurant/movie/etc)?
KS: Once we were being grilled by French soldiers at Charles de Gaulle airport (this was in 1995 during a wave of terrorist bombings in France) and while we told them who we were and what we were doing in France (the standard questions they had asked us) they burst into singing 'Dream All Day' ...
Hips: What period of time, album, or maybe even just song do you think you've made that turned out to be most personal? Why do you think that is?
KS: I blur the facts with a little bit of fiction, always, to make it less about me and more about we as humans. Although I think This Sounds Like Goodbye, my first solo LP from 1997 was the raw result of very raw feelings.
Hips: When was the last time you wrote a song? Can you describe the situation?
KS: I have been rehearsing with the Disciplines, my band in Oslo, this was last month, and we wrote a few songs in the course of a week together. Bjorn, the guitarist, brings in fairly complete songs and I help with lyrics and arrangement ideas. We get together every couple of months and we usually only have a week, so we work hard and try and walk out of the place with results each time. So far, so good.
Hips: What artists and albums have you been listening to lately? What do you like about them?
KS: Marvin Gaye—do I have to explain? Producto, a band I was working with from Athens GA, who make very diverse, intense and beautiful music; when I am working with a band it's kind of all I have time to listen to though.
Hips: It's been a few years since your last album. What can you tell us about your most recent musical ventures?
KS: Only 2 years! I'm still touring for Soft Commands, which came out in 2004. I have shows this fall in the US and Europe. This year I have been continuing to tour with The Posies and doing shows with Big Star, relevant to their respective 2005 releases Every Kind of Light and In Space. Both bands just played festivals this last weekend in Spain. I have been producing a lot of artists, and writing with The Disciplines. Plus doing sessions for other artists as a musician, and making music with the ever entertaining White Flag.
Hips: Can you name any musical acts/albums/songs that have caught your ear lately?
KS: Well, the things that are in my head most often as a reference would include Emily Haines and/or Metric. I really have a great deal of affection/admiration for her/their music, songwriting, live performance, etc. One of my favorite unexpected discoveries live in the last couple of years was seeing the ZooBombs from Japan at a small club in Montreal...one of the best live shows ever. But this is extending 'lately' back a couple of years. So, lately, I saw a band here in Paris called The Yolks who are lots of fun...the funky parts of Belle and Sebastian in bright costumes...
Hips: What does the process of writing a song look like for you?
KS: It can look like many things, but, to be honest, I generally pick a time to disappear and sit at the piano/guitar/computer and see what comes out. I might have a few tiny pieces of music, chords, melodies, whatever that have been discovered at idle moments in the studio working for other people, or at home, or in a hotel room...but I usually have to be alone somewhere and work out the details. Usually when I go on these kinds of retreats I work out a few things from scratch as well. I last went in spring to a little farmhouse in Burgundy and came out with 4-5 new songs.
KS: That's for Ken Stringfellow, the solo artist. But, for my new band the Disciplines, it's totally different. Bjorn, our guitar player, writes song ideas that are more or less complete. He brings them to rehearsal (we rehearse every now and then—we got together last month, e.g.) and I edit and rewrite, sometimes radically.
Hips: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
KS: I wouldn't presume they were interested...I probably wouldn't...it's always awkward to do so.
Hips: When did you first begin playing music? First bands?
KS: I started to have piano lessons when I was 9 or 10; I was awful. I picked up guitar on my own when I was 12, and formed a band with my school friends. We played a few shows—bake sales and school dances and the like! But, thru this band I met Jon Auer when I was 14. We have been playing music ever since—so that's almost 25 years. The Posies are celebrating their 20th anniversary next year, in fact.
Hips: Do you prefer playing live or just writing music/jamming?
KS: To me these all can be the same thing! Playing live is usually the result of the hard work that includes writing, so it's often easier...but...they all have their purpose...
Hips: If someone were to ask you one thing you would die for, what would be the first thing that comes to mind?
KS: my family, of course.
Hips: Are there any common themes in your latest work in regards to both the 'sound' and the lyrics?
KS: The Disciplines are easily distinguished by brevity, energy, accessibility, singability...the KS stuff is more about frustration, disappointment, doubt...and all the KS stuff I am doing is being recorded on my laptop...I work under those limitations at home.
Hips: What is the weirdest thing a fan has ever said/done?
KS: You mean, to me? Nothing tremendously weird. Although one of them told me she formed a band and got me to work with them just to get my, uh, attention. If that's actually true...it's kind of weird.
Hips: Who has proven to be the best/most fun band to perform/tour with? The worst?
KS: Well, any band with me in it is going to be fun! I love touring and playing. REM has been amazing, as they have opportunities that are really incredible—and they're a great organization and a band with a great musical legacy. As far as worst goes, I think the Posies tour supporting the Longpigs in the UK was a true low point. The Longpigs were a typical big-for-10-seconds British band with big-for-10-seconds-fans, and our entire backstage rider consisted of three cucumber sandwiches...for four musicians. Hmmm. We actually just didn't show up one day and told our bus driver to drive us to Heathrow, and we fled in disgust.
Hips: If you could pick any song/album ever recorded, and get credit for writing it, what would that be?
KS: Well, easily that would be the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. Not only do I love the BeeGees songs, but...I'd have been able to retire at age 10.
Dance Hall Hips