Pop music maestro and
Posies co-leader Ken Stringfellow goes balls-out with The Disciplines.
BY BRIAN STAKER
The song “Dream All Day” was
the crescendo of Ken Stringfellow’s early-nineties work with The Posies that
established him as a pop music maestro. Since then his work solo and with the
reformed Posies has been a wellspring of under-the-radar songwriting gems, but
Stringfellow still felt a need to explore one side of his musical identity.
This aspect is less polite and posed than his erudite, almost literary, Posies
persona. Although he rocked hard and well with that band, and ventured right
out into the audience during performances, he wanted to rock harder.
So to channel his latent
garage rocker, Stringfellow and his friends-the Norwegian pop band
Briskeby-formed The Disciplines. The band’s debut, Smoking Kills (Second
Motion/Redeye) already has a following in Scandinavia, where they’ve performed
for festival-size crowds in anticipation of a US tour so incendiary that the
Surgeon General warns it might be downright hazardous to your health. “We are
pretty balls-out,” Stringfellow enthuses. “We never make the same moves or play
a song the same way twice.”
BLURT: Why is now the time
this new creative impulse of yours came out?
STRINGFELLOW: I had gotten
married, moved to France and
focused on touring and making a reputation in Europe.
My soon-to-be bandmates in the band Briskeby were popular in their native Norway, but
couldn’t bust out further. It was very pristine pop, and they wanted to try
something new. When I met them, we clicked. The guitarist, Bjorn Bergene,
wanted to bring out his “inner AC/DC,” and wrote the first couple of songs.
They were tight, efficient, with no wasted space.
I came from a more elegant, bookish musical background,
and somehow skipped the garage band phase; my music has been more British and
Your songs are usually all
about melody and lyrics; how did the collaboration change your songwriting
style? It still has a pop sensibility.
The Disciplines is never AC/DC
though. Usually Bjorn presents four or five musical ideas at a time, and we
choose from them. “Wrong Lane”
was from one of my ideas. The ones that work best are where Bjorn and I meet in
the middle. I am good at coming up with double entendres, and the more straight-ahead
ones are Bjorn’s. [Ed. Note: See “Yours
For the Taking” video.]
“There’s a Law” has more a Posies feel, and a similar
philosophy. There’s a reason they were interested in what I do; we have shared
Does it bother you that
your music with the Posies in the 90’s is by far your best-selling material,
and what a lot of people know you for?
That’s fine with me. The fact
that people remember is flattering. Ten years ago I was looking to show what I
could do solo, but now I’m just doing what I like.
What kind of musical
impulses do you get to express with your different projects: solo, the Posies,
REM and the Disciplines?
The Disciplines are a very
strong musical personality of mine, with no boundaries. The singing is loud,
projecting energy. That wants to come out in Posies shows, but there’s a
tension. The Disciplines releases that tension in a dynamic way. I try to
encompass everyone, and get as close to the audience as possible. It’s the
opposite of shoegazer.
Playing with REM was an incredible experience, and
slightly surreal, kind of like graduate school.
The band name sounds kinda
badass and cool, but is there any significance?
We are casual, and the
recordings less orchestrated; it appears like a happy accident, but there’s
gotta be more to it. Now I’ve understood, at my adult age, that trying to start
a band is quite difficult in some ways. Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
With REM I saw that ‘rock stars’ are real people too, just very committed, and
that commitment is essential.
It takes discipline to stay healthy to play shows. The
name also has a double meaning: bondage, which isn’t really my vibe; and
academic, scientific discipline. We meet in the middle. The music is naughty,
sexy, but also nerdy and precise. It’s not butt rock. We never give in to
garage rock clichés.
How key are live shows to
the Disciplines experience, and your stage persona?
Playing live is absolutely
essential, and the group didn’t make as much sense until that happened. We
hadn’t played many live shows, then the disc was released in Scandinavia.
We played for audiences that knew all the songs! We became a popular festival
band; you wouldn’t believe how many festivals there are in Norway, which has less people than Connecticut!
When the record took off in Europe,
it became a whole new experience. It reminds me of sharing favorites growing
up. In high school, I was mystified by music. The first non-arena rock band,
that wasn’t remote up on stage, was REM. Then I saw punk bands like the
Butthole Surfers, with flame burning right in your face, and it was a
life-changing paradigm. In the Disciplines, the only special effect is I’m
getting out into the audience.
[Photo Credit: Mathieu Zazzo]