When I was a 12-year-old aspiring musician and daydreamer, music flowed through my mind like heroin in William Burroughs’ blood. I wanted to play hard and crazy like the metal bands I idolized. My dad’s friend loaned me a nice Yamaha acoustic guitar, and I rigged it with magnets and a microphone and plugged it into a Sony reel-to-reel tape machine for amplification. In the process, I severely damaged the guitar and nearly blew up the tape machine.
Jon Auer, of legendary power pop act The Posies, can relate to musical addiction at an early age. Rather than destroying a guitar and ruining a vintage piece of stereo equipment, Auer met The Posies co-founder Ken Stringfellow. The rest is pop music history.
“When I was 12, I was kind of the hotshot guy who played guitar all the time around town,” Auer says. “I would hang out at a music shop every day after school, and eventually my reputation spread far and wide. Ken was in another band with someone else who had heard about me, and they needed a lead guitar player.
“One day this guy came down to the music store and asked if I’d like to be in a band. I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I looked behind him and there was this other guy who wasn’t saying anything and [was] very shy — that was Ken.”
The pair eventually formed The Posies and put a name to a musical partnership that has extended for more than two decades. Their strongest album, 1993’s Frosting on the Beater, contained the single “Dream All Day” along with solid tunes like “Solar Sister” and “Love Letter Boxes” — compositions full of solid harmonies, hard-hitting guitars and airtight melodies. It was a record any modern rock band would be proud to call its own. The followup, Amazing Disgrace, released in 1996, was a heavier, darker record that would prove to be the band’s last for quite some time.
Auer and Stringfellow rekindled their musical partnership a few years later but made the decision to only invoke The Posies name when they make the joint decision to do so. It only made sense to the veteran rockers. Their work with artists like R.E.M., Neil Young, Snow Patrol and other luminaries certainly takes a chunk of time and probably pays better.
“We’re certainly not making millions doing The Posies,” Auer says with a laugh, “so there has to be a level of enjoyment and satisfaction that comes from things other than finding monetary rewards.”
Every Kind of Light, released in 2005, was the anticipated comeback studio release. Unfortunately, it failed to live up to The Posies’ name; it was rough in areas the band normally would have polished. Perhaps the magic could not be rekindled.
Blood/Candy, which came out Sept. 28, proved that assumption to be incorrect. The 12-song disc hearkens back to the greatness of Frosting on the Beater, with a strong focus on solid songwriting, production and delivery. However, the album almost failed to see the light of day.
“I must say, we barely pulled it off in time,” says Auer, who performs with The Posies Dec. 1 at the Gothic Theatre in Englewood. “I mean, we were right up to the 11th hour with it, but it all worked out in the end and here we are now.”
Stringfellow remembers experiencing “total panic” during part of the recording process and recalls tracking overdubs at the last minute in a hotel room, having computer software registration errors, attending to family obligations and dealing with international travel — all in close proximity.
“I almost had a nervous breakdown,” he says. It’s understandable. Production took place in Spain, Washington, California, Canada, France and Ecuador, with band members residing in different places around the globe. Putting it all together had to be a Herculean task.
“I had an experience once on tour,” Stringfellow says. “I had to drive from Washington, D.C. to Newark to make a flight. I was basically driving 80 miles an hour through solid fog on faith for five hours. That’s what producing this record was like.”
The result was well worth the struggle.
There’s the straight-ahead radio pop of Auer’s “The Glitter Prize” and “So Caroline,” the latter featuring staggering harmonies. Stringfellow’s “Take Care of Yourself ” pounds away and leads to a driving, melodic chorus, while his “Licenses to Hide” starts in slower fashion with prevalent piano, speeds up and then injects some off-kilter fun with a polka and carnival music influence.
The most surprising offering, however, is the odd “Accidental Architecture,” with its jazz flourishes, vintage keys, bass chords and overall creativity married to catchy traditional pop elements. The songs remain implanted in the memory long after they course through the speakers.
“That’s our natural gift,” Stringfellow says. “The challenge is not to make it sound like ear candy. Giving that the soul is what makes this record.”
The Blood/Candy U.S. tour may be as compelling as the album itself. The band rarely tours — this alone should arouse interest — but the ante was upped when Auer and Stringfellow invited celebrated singer/ songwriter Brendan Benson to co-headline.
The reasoning behind the shared tour is simple.
Auer and Stringfellow were in a later incarnation of legendary rock act Big Star, and when leader Alex Chilton died earlier this year, decisions had to be made on how to handle the band’s two remaining shows. The idea of configuring the concerts as tributes came up, and the South by Southwest date turned into such an event, with a plethora of musical guests adding their talents. This left the final show, which was scheduled to take place at Memphis’ Levitt Shell, a legendary outdoor venue.
“Brendan’s name came up as a possible person to be a guest and to perform songs with us,” Auer says. “We called him and he showed up and he was great. We hit it off very well — so much so that when we discussed touring this fall, it came up that maybe we should do this tour together. Ken and I are going to be half his band, basically.
“It has the potential to be a one-big-happy family kind of vibe on this trip. We shall see.”
On the Bill
and Brendan Benson co-headline the Gothic Theater on Wednesday, Dec. 1.
Doors at 7 p.m. Must be 16 to enter. Aqueduct opens. Tickets are
$24.50. 3263 S. Broadway, Denver, 303-788-0984.