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Posted February 4, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Ken Stringfellow: Musically, a man without a country

Ken Stringfellow
Ken Stringfellow

Ken Stringfellow has had a terrific run with The Posies, the power-pop band that he founded with fellow singer-songwriter Jon Auer in 1986. But Stringfellow, who now lives in Paris, also has had a terrific solo career and is touring in support of his latest solo album, Danzig in the Moonlight, a collection of tunes he’s worked on for the past eight years. Stringfellow recently phoned in to discuss the album, which alternates between hushed ballads (“110 or 220V”) and rootsy rockers (“Pray”).

So what inspired you to call your new album Danzig in the Moonlight?
Well, the joke is dumb enough to stand on its own. I’m a big [English psychedelic singer-songwriter] Kevin Ayers fan and he always had silly, whimsical titles. He’s not a small influence on my music, both the trippy side of Soft Machine and the surreal blend of music. He’s a good template for the kind of thing that I do. The title is, in a way, an homage to his sense of humor. Also, I put a lot of trust in my subconscious to do the work for me. When I researched what Danzig the place was all about, I realized that before that time it was fought over by various interests — primarily Polish, German and Russian — for most of the last few centuries. After World War I, it decided it would no longer be fought over and would no longer belong to any nation. It would just be the city of Danzig. It enjoyed a nationless existence where there was no official language but encouraging local languages was a no-no. Once you became part of an empire, you were expected to speak that language. People were free to speak German, Russian, Yiddish, or whatever they wanted as they wished. It was an interesting anomaly. That’s very much a good metaphor for me.

Musically, I’m a man without a country. I’m welcome in many scenes but not a fully-fledged citizen of any.

I guess you identify with that.
Yes, I’m between many things. It’s not only that I live in a country where I wasn’t born and I find myself washed up on foreign shores and these days a fish out of water in the states, having lived abroad for so long. Musically, I’m a man without a country. I’m welcome in many scenes but not a fully-fledged citizen of any. I fit into the indie rock world through the somewhat experimental, independent spirit that I participate in, but stylistically what gets defined as indie is not me. Same thing with the mainstream. I’ve touched on that at times but I’m not a mainstream artist. I’m always traveling around and making records with people in different countries and playing shows all over. I’m detached from any nationalistic sense. I’m not an America-hater, so don’t get people started on that. I’m just open minded and kind of restless. I’ve always been different. Growing up at school, it was always clear that I didn’t fit in very well and so I’ve just taken that ball and run with it, turning what could have been a weakness into a strength.

How is it that this record took eight years to complete?
That’s a little misleading. There were eight years between albums. I wrote the songs at some point after my last album was done, and I just waited for what I thought might be the right conditions. I had plenty of other interesting projects to keep busy with. I didn’t know why I wasn’t making an album but I probably made 50 or 60 albums in that time either as producer or band member or whatever. It wasn’t for a lack of activity. I’m the kind of person who waits until the conditions are right. It’s the difference between someone who says, “I want a husband” and goes out looking for one and the difference between someone who says “Hey, I can’t live without this person and I want to be with them.” Person A is basically working at random. I didn’t want to just make an album.

So how did it come together?
I just kept writing songs and putting them aside and trying to keep my radar on for what would be the right thing to do. I started working in Holland and built up a team of musicians who could play any style. Not the least important would be one JB Meijers who plays a lot of bass guitar on this album. He’s in Amsterdam and I live in Paris and it was easy for me to get up there. I started making music productions. I had worked on one of his records and he proposed that we go to a studio in Brussels where we work when we can. He wanted to get the musicians we know and like and cut two albums at once. We know these guys are good. We can pull it off. It was like tag team wrestling. That was what I was waiting for.

So are you touring with a band or are you touring solo?
All of the above. I’ve done both. I’ve had shows in Europe with the band on the record. I’ve done a hybrid thing with a band and solo. I’ll do West Coast dates with a band but I’ll still do some of my solo stuff. After that and for most of March, I’ll be totally solo. I like doing both. There’s something neat about playing with a band and having all those layers and all that power. People are accustomed to seeing ensembles. It’s a tradition of rock. But the songs are more successful when they’re played solo. I love having that freedom. But you get the emotions direct when you play solo. They both have their merits. The solo show is more intense, though.

Are The Posies essentially over?
I wouldn’t say it’s over. I’m focused on this album, and I have a couple of other projects in the pipeline. People ask about it but I would say that a music journalist is way more likely to ask about it than the average person. If I could make my career out of a class that doesn’t buy records because they get them for free, I would but can’t make a career out of that. There isn’t as much demand as you think. If I’m going to divide a hundred people a night by four or by one, you can see where I’m going with this. I can make a career out of this and I’m not going broke. It’s not so much  about the money. If there was so much demand that we could do what we wanted without much effort, it would be great to put that in the cycle every couple of years. The sad truth is that there really isn’t. In a weird way, we made our best album with out last one and we saw our concert attendance go down. We raised the bar musically and that was the result. It’s a perception problem, too. We’re getting into the dad rock era and the people most excited about music are young. With the solo thing, I can be a grand old man and I’m in control of it.

 

Tour Dates

2/1/2013

2/2/2013

2/3/2013

2/5/2013

2/6/2013

2/7/2013

2/8/2013

2/9/2013

2/10/2013

2/12/2013

2/13/2013

2/14/2013

2/15/2013

2/16/2013

2/17/2013

2/18/2013

2/19/2013

2/20/2013

2/21/2013

2/22/2013

2/23/2013

2/24/2013

2/25/2013

2/26/2013

2/27/2013

2/28/2013

3/1/2013

3/2/2013

3/3/2013

3/5/2013

3/6/2013

3/7/2013

3/8/2013

Seattle, WA–Tractor Tavern

Seattle, WA–Tractor Tavern

Spokane, WA–A Club

Boise, ID–Neurolux

Salt Lake City, UT–Urban Lounge

Englewood, CO–Moe’s

Des Moines, IA–Vaudeville Mews

Chicago, IL–Schubas Tavern

Cincinnati, OH–MOTR Pub

Cleveland, OH–Beachland Tavern

Pittsburgh, PA–Thunderbird Café

Baltimore, MD–Metro Gallery

Brooklyn, NY–Union Pool

New York, NY–Mercury Lounge

Somerville, MA–Johnny D’s

Montreal, QC–Casa del Popolo

Toronto, ON–Drake Hotel

Waterloo, ON–Starlight Club

London, ON–Call the Office

Hamilton, ON–This Ain’t Hollywood

Albany, NY–Valentine’s

Philadelphia, PA–North Star Bar

Richmond, VA–Gallery 5

Chapel Hill, NC–Local 506

Asheville, NC–Grey Eagle Tavern & Music Hall

Birmingham, AL–Bottle Tree

Atlanta, GA–Star Community Bar

Nashville, TN–The End

Little Rock, AR–Stickyz Rock’n’Roll Chicken Shack

New Orleans, LA—Siberia

Houston, TX–Fitzgeralds Downstairs

Austin, TX–Mohawk Inside Room

Dallas, TX–Club Dada


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.