‘Power pop royalty’ even if you don’t know his name
Stringfellow carries his songs to Fort Wayne
Photo by Cécil Mathieu
February 27, 2020
You might not know his name, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of some of the bands he has been associated with over a long and storied 30-plus-year career.
The Posies, R.E.M., and the reboot of Big Star have been Ken Stringfellow’s biggest projects, but the musician has a discography that spans over 250 albums as he has worked as a songwriter and producer for some of the biggest acts in the business — Neil Young, Patti Smith, Mudhoney, Ringo Starr, Robyn Hitchcock, and Death Cab for Cutie, to name a few.
Stringfellow visits the stage at Neat Neat Neat Records in Fort Wayne on March 4. Karen Allen, a singer/songwriter whose latest album was produced by Stringfellow, will open the show.
Pitchfork, one of the foremost authorities on indie music, has described him as “power pop royalty.” With so much already accomplished, it’d be easy for Stringfellow to rest on his accomplishments and become a nostalgia act. While he says he remains proud of all he has done and understands why a lot of fans would want to focus on those works, he is also always looking forward and continuing to stretch his talents into new projects and new music.
In fact, at the time of this interview, he was looking forward to heading to Los Angeles to put the finishing touches on a new Posies album and preparing to write and record other songs for what may or may not be a new solo record.
“Hard work is in my DNA,” Stringfellow said in a recent interview with Whatzup. “I really enjoy having things to engage me and put my talents to work and to help develop my talents at the same time. I’m not a virtuoso by any means, so having consistent opportunities to play and to find new things is something that’s really important to me.”
For someone who continues to make new music at a frantic pace, a successful past could easily be a burden.
appreciating the past
The Posies are often cited as one of the most important bands of the mid-’90s and are looked at as an influence by many of today’s most popular artists. So it’s natural for fans to want to revisit those albums when given the chance to speak with Stringfellow.
He doesn’t mind people asking about the past or about those particular works that are important to them. He understands that is the way music works.
“It’s fine,” Stringfellow said. “The tales get better in the telling sometimes, but I’m happy with the past. I don’t have a ton of regrets with our band. We are quirky, and that is kind of our charm. We have always been unwilling to just blend in to the surroundings, so I think that’s a point in our favor and a reason why we got noticed.”
In a live setting, Stringfellow is known for his off-the-cuff humor and narratives, often revealing behind-the-scenes anecdotes about his songs and telling stories from his travels throughout the world.
On this tour, as he has with several previous tours, Stringfellow is visiting non-traditional venues like Neat Neat Neat Records in an effort to place more emphasis on the music.
Where the art is at the forefront
While he says he enjoys a bottle of wine himself from time to time and is in no way anti-alcohol, he feels playing in a bar, club, or other traditional venue where selling alcohol is a priority can distract from the experience, both for his fans and for himself.
“By pushing the shows out of bars, I get to control the experience,” he said. “If I’m in a place that exists solely to sell alcohol, then we are probably being used as a lure to get people to come there and buy alcohol. I understand that, but it’s a distraction. The drinking can ruin the concentration of everyone and, in fact, often takes precedence over the music. At the end of the day, the commerce overrules the art.
“I genuinely think people enjoy being in a place where art is first and foremost, so if I can put the show in a non-commercial space and the art rules the evening, I think everyone has a better experience.”
For this tour, Stringfellow is revisiting his 2001 release Touched, playing the album in its entirety, along with selections from his other solo works and bands. Touched, unfortunately, suffered in exposure when it was released because it came out on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Although it was released 18 years ago, Stringfellow feels it is still a relevant collection of songs and he still has a passion for them, even after all these years.
“By the time I see you, it’ll be the 75th or 80th time I’ve played the album, and it still moves me,” he said. “I still find things in these songs every night that grab me and make me commit.
“Revisiting this album merits a little bit of respect. It came from a very pure place and it suffered a weird kind of history. It’s nice to come around in a very different time and look at it in a different perspective.”
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