By Jaya Flanary
The Posies, an alternative rock band formed in Bellingham, was born out of high school jam sessions with Ken Stringfellow and his friends Chip Westerfield and Jon Auer. After years of playing together, Stringfellow and Auer began songwriting, which blossomed into the Posies in the late 80s. Over the years, other members have contributed to the band.
In celebration of their 30th anniversary, the Posies are touring with their early-90s lineup and are playing their second to last show in North America at the Wild Buffalo on Friday. The tour consists of 81 shows across North America and Europe.
The band is also re-releasing three of their most popular albums with upgrades through Omnivore Recordings. The updated “Dear 23” was released June 15. “Frosting on the Beater” will arrive Aug. 3, and “Amazing Disgrace” will arrive Oct. 28.
“Those records deserve a little bit of a second life and they’re getting one,” Stringfellow said. “It sounds incredible now. I was shocked. I always thought we’d kind of failed somehow. It sounded okay, but something was just not right and now it sounds correct. It sounds like what we meant.”
Fans – as well as new listeners – will not only hear better quality versions of the old tracks, but will also enjoy around 90 minutes of bonus material per album.
“When [Stringfellow] moved out here he didn’t have any friends,” Westerfield said. “I was like his one friend and he was like my one friend because we really had the music bug.”
It became more than just a bug. Music was a ticket to something bigger. Stringfellow said he spent his early childhood in “white bread suburbs” of cities in the midwest before moving to Bellingham in 1978 when he was nine years old.
“Even as a tiny kid, I was like, ‘This is not the world I want to inhabit. I want to inhabit a diverse and interesting and culturally exciting world,’” Stringfellow said.
Bellingham was a small town in the late 70s, and without internet there was less connection to other places, but Stringfellow said it offered more cultural perspective than his old suburban lifestyle.
“Music was the one thing my parents had that was speaking to me and showed me there was a better world potentially out there, somewhere,” Stringfellow said. “There’s something bigger out there and people are thinking bigger thoughts out there. So, we started playing in a band together. How about that?”
At 14 years old, Stringfellow and Auer heard about a new kid that moved to town, who was known for playing the guitar.
“Low and behold we walked by the local guitar store and heard this kid blazing away, or somebody blazing away on the guitar,” Stringfellow said. “And that was Jon.”
From there, they spent their days writing, playing and recording music together. Auer and his father built a small recording studio in their house, which provided a foundation for the boys to produce.
“I would call [it] a boy band crossed with hard rock,” Westerfield said. “So we wore eyeliner, but we still had cool guitar solos.”
After they graduated high school by 1987, the original jam band dissolved. Westerfield was interested in a different style so he ventured elsewhere, while Stringfellow and Auer were writing well together, which developed into the band we know today as the Posies.
“Quite frankly, they were very symbiotic,” Westerfield said.
The Posies made their first recording, “Failure,” on a cassette and took it to a Seattle radio station in 1988. Stringfellow describes what happened next as “unpredictable and unorthodox.”
“They started playing it. All the time. They put it in regular rotations,” Stringfellow said. “That never happens. And yet, it happened.”
The band added two members, Mike Musburger on drums and Arthur “Rick” Roberts on bass, who Stringfellow met at the University of Washington. Their first live show as a group was at the Attic Tavern in Seattle on May 4, 1988. Throughout the years, the band’s lineup changed, including Dave Fox replacing Roberts on bass.
“The lineup that they’re touring with is the best of the Posies lineup,” Westerfield said. He believes both fans and new listeners will enjoy the show because “they’re a really great power pop band.”
Stringfellow – the tour manager, publicist, spokesperson and social media manager, in addition to playing and writing music – works hard to make himself available to fans, which he learned early on.
Presenting oneself as a three-dimensional human being was not popular when the Posies began, said Stringfellow, yet he was adamant about responding to fan mail.
“You’re supposed to have all this rockstar mystique and I never really believed in that. I believed in being accessible,” Stringfellow said. “We’re normal people doing something incredible. We’re not rock gods … We made something happen with your help.”
Help from fans was detrimental to 90s album reissues. The Posies used PledgeMusic, a crowdfunding website, to raise money for the advance fee to license the albums. They sold signed CDs to old shirts from concerts and music videos to a day in Paris with Stringfellow or Auer.
Friday’s show was promoted by Ian Cheshire who grew up listening to the Posies. He focused on social media, worked directly with the band and put posters up to get the word out.
“A lot of bands peter out, disappear after a couple years and they’ve been able to make it work for 30 years which is amazing,” Cheshire said. “They’re still influencing bands today. It’s one of those special moments as a promoter where you actually get to work with a band that you genuinely love.”
Cheshire focused less on an underaged audience since the Wild Buffalo is 21 and up.
“I definitely wish there was an all ages option, and I really tried hard to figure one out,” Stringfellow said. “You need to get younger people excited because they’re the future customers of all the bars.”
When the Posies started, even the members were underage. Venues restricted the band to going outside when not in sound check or performing.
Now that they are nearing 50, Stringfellow only sees their physical aging.
“But I’ll tell you what, we play hard. And we certainly play better,” Stringfellow said.
He believes there is less chaos now compared to when they were young.
“We explored the chaos, and this is the result of our findings,” Stringfellow said. “We know who we are, we know what we like and we know what we want to present. I think that makes the show very powerful.”
The show is on Friday at 8:30 p.m. at the Wild Buffalo. The opener, Briana Marela, was an unexpected addition, according to Stringfellow.
“We didn’t just want another band of dudes,” he said. “It’s great to have a female artist, and her set up is really different from ours.”
The Posies will continue their reunion tour in Europe in late August.