Everything is different: The Posies are touring on their own terms

Sshh! The Posies are in the middle of a US fall tour, but they won’t say exactly where they’re playing.

Their website lists the cities they’ll play, but not the venue. The address of the shows, which could be at a variety of types of places from homes to offices to record stores, are given only to ticket holders not more than 24 hours in advance of the show. The unusual pop-up tour is part of a general drift of the beloved Western Pacific power pop band started by Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer to a more off-the-grid, D.I.Y. mode of music making.

Already, their recordings, the latest of which is Solid States, was made available through a kickstarter type site called My Music Empire, and they crowd-funded the cover art through a contest to fans (the winner got $500).

But as the band endures lots of change—from Auer and Stringfellow moving to France, to the addition of new drummer Frankie Siragusa after the unexpected death of Darius Minwalla last year—they’ve shifted their sound as well, from guitar to more electronic shadings. We talked to Stringfellow from France just before the tour began.

Tell me about the secret shows.

Basically it’s pretty cool. We charted out an alternative way to tour that’s extremely D.I.Y., that doesn’t require us to use the club circuit at all. That doesn’t mean that we only play house shows. We do play those, but we also play places that I think are more interesting. We build each show from scratch, we bring our own P.A. and set up and everything. They have a very homemade feel and they’ve been working out great for everybody—both the audience who love the novelty of it, and the fact that for once it’s not a gross smelling bar where the show starts at one in the morning or whatever. I think that paradigm has lost a lot of romance for a lot of people.

Our shows seem to be romantic for people, us included. They end up being secret shows, where we don’t tell people the venue until the last minute, sort of by necessity—some of these venues are a little sensitive. We’ve had multimillion-dollar homes that we’ve played in and things like that. We want to be careful and have a little bit of control about who actually shows up and make sure that only the people who are supposed to be there are there.

But the byproduct of doing the shows that way and keeping the venues secret is a little bit exciting. It’s a little like a treasure hunt. People don’t know what’s going to happen. And they love that, because so much of modern life is controllable and predictable and certain.

What are you playing on the tour?

Basically, our band has undergone a pretty radical transformation in the last year. Last year, our drummer of the last 15 years, Darius Minwalla, passed away inexplicably and suddenly. That was in the middle of making this record.

We made a record that’s quite different from its predecessors. For the most part we didn’t use a traditional recording studio; we mostly recorded in our home setup, although we did in our new drummer, Frankie Siragusa’s studio, which is kind of how he came into the project. He’s an amazing drummer.

Generally the album is a musical departure from what we’ve done before, and now that we had this radical lineup change, the way we’re doing shows is different— kind of everything is different. Like, Frankie, our new drummer, brings in a totally different energy than Darius, and god bless Darius, he was wonderful. Unfortunately Darius is not coming back. That’s just the sad truth. So what can we do? I think Frankie is a wonderful musician and I think the way he came into this thing was like a whole new way of being. It’s more than a facelift. It’s a transformation. And that transformation came out of some trauma, losing Darius, etc., but ultimately, I think we’re stronger for it. We have a greater appreciation for just how fragile everything we do is, so we’re all that more determined to protect it.

We play our old music too, by the way. We just don’t come to town and just play our new songs, we do play stuff from the past. And I will say Frankie has been a great student of our records as well and plays our catalog material wonderfully. Everybody’s happy.

It sounds like you’re going off the grid in a musical sense in that you’re taking control of your music and where it’s played.

Well, I think that’s possible now. And anyway, it was kind of a mortgage bank economy with the record labels in the past. They would give you a big lump sum of money, betting on you, betting that you might make them a lot of money down the road, and in any case they offered like a financial advance to kickstart what you’re doing, and you can see where I’m going with that.

Now there are a lots of alternatives to that system. The amounts of money that labels are making from records has diminished to the point where they’re not really making those bets as often, going with a much narrower window of bets. That whole system of the record company gives you a bunch of money to make a record and maybe it sells a bunch or maybe it doesn’t, doesn’t really work for anyone anymore. That’s not where the money goes. So you might as well build your own.

It’s both a foregone and a bygone conclusion that things have changed. The system was the same methodology from the ‘60s to the early 2000s. It’s a pretty long run, but the last 15 years have been a pretty radical change. The strange thing is that it feels natural. It feels like a natural evolution what’s happening, and you gotta adapt like with anything. And I think our band has been relatively adaptable, and that’s good.

You’ve played on big festival stages in your band and helping with the reconstituted Big Star, or touring as part of R.E.M. It must be so different playing such intimate shows.

I would rather keep it in the interesting zone for us. I actually found that nowadays, first of all, we don’t have much of a choice, but second of all we have to look at the experience that people are interested in and I think people are looking for a much more customized experience in general, and I think that is right in tune with the kind of experience I want to deliver.

You know, the post internet world is a fractured world, where everybody has their own subcategory and everybody can find their subcategory easily. Thus, that plays right to the kind of experience I want to present. In my mind, I’d like to be playing my solo shows to two people, or one! It’d be amazing to play an entire show for one person, because they’d be getting so much emotion in their face and it would be such a cool experience.

If the Poises were asked to perform on a big festival stage tomorrow, we could, and we would. I did some big festivals this summer with Marky Ramone—no problems there. But I think when it’s my own songwriting and the kind of musical landscape that I want to present, it does tend to work well in close quarters, and there are certain things I feel I can pull off.

Does anything go wrong at these shows? Did anbody’s dog attack or anything?

Again, most of these shows aren’t in homes. We’ve played some that are in homes. But we’ve also played office spaces, or recording studios, a cave, a brewery, outdoors, next to a moored boat, churches. We’ve played in a variety of circumstances and this tour now has a few more retail locations after hours. Touch wood, but they’ve actually worked like a charm.

Was the sound always good? Sometimes the sound was a little ratty. I mean, the P.A. we were taking was pretty small. It’s what we could fit by fitting our whole back line, the P.A., merch, and luggage and the three of us in a minivan would allow. And the P.A. was free, so we took it, augmented it with the best power amp we could muster.

Sometimes the sound was a little punk rock. But the weird thing is that people liked that too—they liked the fact it was a little down and dirty. It made them feel they were a bit underground. It gave everything an edgy, avant-garde kind of luster. So hey, nobody’s complaining, so great.

The secret show thing helps defray any revenuers or feds from investigating. And the fact these shows are not in clubs means these shows can be over early. And in general, that avoids most of the problems with noise complaints, as long as we don’t make it ridiculously loud, it’s going to be OK. So we didn’t have any complaints. We were never shut down. Everybody got the emails to find out where the shows were. And we had backup, in case, for some our mail goes into somebody’s spam filter, and they say “How come you didn’t tell me where the show was?” And they’ve emailed us, so we can email them back.

Generally, it works pretty smoothly. We eliminate drunk regulars, drunk assholes, everybody knows that this isn’t a club and in general they know that this whole show is intruding on somebody’s space, be it a church, or, we played at Ardent Studios in Memphis, jeez Louise. These places are not ours. They are places that require respect to be a part of, and everybody feels lucky to be there.

For example, in 40 shows I don’t think I encountered one person who was like, slurring drunk. Imagine, on club tour you have a few of those every night at a show. OK, very funny, the guy won’t stop talking between songs right at you, “Play that one song!” They just do stupid stuff because they’re drunk and they’re stupid, temporarily stupid.

We just didn’t have any of that. Everybody was just incredibly well-behaved. And we were incredibly well-behaved, being that we had to drive ourselves and move shit. At many shows, I didn’t have a single drop of alcohol. And I’m a wine fanatic, so it was a different way of thinking and we snapped into this different way of thinking and it was really nice, just the clarity and the lack of emotional veiling that might happen when you have a few beers and everything rounds off at the edges. Here, it was all edges, and the edges were beautiful

So what was the cave like?

The cave was an amazing place. I played there once before. We played in the cave entrance. We were a little too big and numerous to go down into deepest part of the cavern. But it’s a very special place in South Dakota, outside of Rapid City, in the Black Hills. Three generations of a family lived together in a house that they built. They bought this property, it’s called Nameless Cave, and it had been a tourist attraction. They used to charge admission and you would go in the cave. There was an entry building there, it was pretty ramshackle, and they took it over and put a house on the property and they do shows out there. Even coming from Rapid City it’s still a good 25 minutes.

It’s awesome that it’s out there and you can do what ever you want. So we played in the entrance, facing out, and the sound was just going out in the night. And of course when we played, it just started raining like crazy so we got everybody on stage with us and some people just stayed in the rain and rocked out. It was just a magical night. We loved it.

Do you expect all your future tours will be like this too?

I have to say, full disclosure, we basically parted ways with our booking agent because of this touring methodology. He was like, “This isn’t what I want to be doing, I book clubs and festivals and theaters and this kind of thing, I don’t do this. So if this is what you guys want to do, see ya. No hard feelings but we part ways at this point. If you guys do this, I’d rather not be involved.”

And we said, “Sorry to hear it, but yes, we’re determined to continue this way, and no hard feelings about it either from our side.” But what we discovered is like, shit, man, this is like much more lucrative than the club circuit.

The club circuit is based on opening that building up to everyone of age, lowering the price to make it attractive as possible to the widest number of people, and rolling the dice that on any given night that will attract the maximum number of people in town that could go to the show. But what we are doing are finding people who will go to show and finding a price they’re willing to pay to have that experience where they lose all the riffraff and get the band to themselves. So we charge more or less double what we would charge a club show, and this has worked out great for everybody.

People are very much happy to have a much smaller show, they can get closer and have quality time—we’re probably going to be hanging out in the kitchen if it’s in a house, eating potato chips with you, etc., and we play the show and you’re one of 50 people right in our face, and then, for us, monetarily, it’s been a boon.

In Europe, we’re still playing clubs and festivals. But this is how I see it for the States. I don’t know if I want to change that. I think that will be a part of what we do for a long time, even if it’s not exclusively what we do.

The Posies’ brand new full-length Solid States is in stores now via My Music Empire—on vinyl.

The Posies “Solid States” 2016 US Tour Dates
7 Oct – Secret Show, Charlotte, NC
8 Oct – Secret Show, Richmond, VA
9 Oct – Secret Show, Baltimore, MD
11 Nov – Secret Show, Pasadena, CA
12 Nov – Secret Show, San Diego, CA
13 Nov – Secret Show, Berkeley, CA
15 Nov – Secret Show, Vancouver, BC
16 Nov – The Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA
17 Nov – Secret Show, Portland, OR
18 Nov – Secret Show, Boise, ID
19 Nov – Secret Show, Salt Lake City, UT
20 Nov – The Oriental Theater, Denver, CO
22 Nov – The Bunkhouse Saloon, Las Vegas, NV

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