The Posies opening for Lou Barlow at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Monday (October 3), 10 pm. $15. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
In the music business, as in life, losers have a way of gravitating to each other. And the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow know all about falling short of expectations.
From the moment the Bellingham, Washington, buddies presciently chose Failure as the title of the Posies' 1988 power-pop debut for PopLlama - which boldly went against the Great Northwest's prevailing winds of grunge - they've experienced many setbacks in their career as perennial also-rans. That career finally came to a screeching halt in 1998 with the Success (PopLlama) album. Oh, the irony.
"We pretty well called it quits after finishing Amazing Disgrace (DGC)," clarifies Auer over the phone from North Carolina, "and I admit I wasn't in a good place with the Posies at that point. Why? I can tell you it wasn't because Ken and I were too much in love. I agreed to make one more album, which was Success, and then we stopped. I was over it."
Clearly, Auer and Stringfellow needed some time apart. Both embarked on solo careers with even less impressive results than anything they'd done together. Stringfellow's promising Touched (Manifesto) was widely overlooked in 2001, while last year's patchy Soft Commands (YepRoc) drew unanimous critical shrugs.
Not to be outdone in the disappointments department, Auer simply kept tinkering with his long-threatened solo debut, The Year Of Our Demise, regularly pushing back the projected release date over the past five years as if trying to preserve its mythic status as an "unfinished masterpiece."
So what's the holdup?
"There were number of factors involved," explains Auer. "First, I like to take my sweet-ass time with whatever I do. Second, I played just about every instrument on the album's 15 tracks, besides recording it, engineering it, editing and then mixing it.
"The other thing is that the music comes from a tumultuous period in my life, which made some of the songs very difficult to get through. As time passed, my views changed and I had to scrap some finished songs and write new ones. The good news is that it's finished now and it'll be out in March 2006."
Another reason for the delay was that Auer was busily involving himself with other projects. When he got the call from Ben Folds to play guitar on the sessions for William Shatner's Has Been (Shout! Factory) album, he couldn't resist helping out the golden-throated stylist who'd turned Mr. Tambourine Man into a comedy classic. The pull of the loser tractor beam was just too strong.
"One weird thing about that project was that I had to sign a contract agreement that I wouldn't talk about - or even think about - Star Trek within 50 feet of Shatner. That wasn't easy, because every time Shatner says something, even if it's just 'Hey, could you pass me the Diet Coke?' you can't help but think of James T. Kirk.
"But in a way, working with him was a big inspiration for everything I've done since. He's got to be 20 years older than my dad, but he had way more energy than anyone else involved in the project. The experience made me rethink whether I was being as productive as I could be."
It was the prospect of a Posies retrospective boxed set that finally reunited Auer and Stringfellow. Well, that and the chance to live out their rock 'n' roll fantasy of recording the first studio album in nearly 30 years from rock music's ultimate underachievers, Big Star.
Though it's really just a collaboration with Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens - and sounds like a Chilton solo record - Auer feels In Space (Rykodisc) is as valid a Big Star album as any. Uh-huh.
"Take Big Star's #1 Record. That was pretty much a Chris Bell album until Alex joined the group," he insists. "When you consider that and the role Alex played in Sister Lovers, you realize how important collaboration was to Big Star and still is with In Space.
"Alex said, 'This is Big Star now. Let's make a record the way Big Star is in 2005.' That's what we did."
If the Posies' own surprisingly good comeback album, Every Kind Of Light (Rykodisc) - bolstered by a solid new rhythm section - is in danger of being overshadowed by their work with Big Star, Auer seems too delighted that the Posies are back in action to care.
"Even after being being pummelled and widely disrespected, there's still a strong bond between me and Ken, along with a desire to make music together. At the risk of sounding like a bad Burt Reynolds movie, this really feels like starting over."