When we caught up with singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist Ken Stringfellow he was as occupied as you might expect … even in a foreign land like Helsinki, Finland. Touring through town as part of the Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg tour, filling the spotlight for the late Joey Ramone, Stringfellow — who has also been a member of REM and Big Star, not to mention having founded the still active alternative rock band The Posies — also had time to visit a studio and record with a Finnish band.
“I had a day off,” he says speaking via phone from Helsinki, “so I thought I’d be productive, and just knowing that there’s lots of people that like my work, I figured there’s probably a pretty good chance there’s a project going on today that I could be part of, so making music and hang out in a studio and make a little money while I’m at it, and it’s all great, right?”
He played some guitar and keyboards and even learned some Finnish to sing backing vocals for a band called Mitä helvettiä Nyt Taas, whose name literally translates to “What the hell is it now?” They posted the image below of Stringfellow in the studio with them on their Facebook page last month.
Despite his involvement in so many projects, Stringfellow has also released five solo albums over the course of his career, and he recently gave Helsinki an impromptu solo show on guitar and piano. It will be the kind of show South Florida fans can expect to see when he plays here solo, for the first time in his career, this Friday.
It was fellow musician Tierney Tough, who suggested that Stringfellow play with her in Boca Raton at The Lion & Eagle Pub. “Really for no other reason than it sounded like fun, and I’ve never played a solo gig in Florida,” said Stringfellow about the upcoming show. “Even though my solo album is like four years old or whatever, I never played there as a solo artist, so let’s just do it and have a nice sort of fun little detour.”
The Posies is still an active part of his life, as well. Earlier this year, they released their eighth studio album, Solid States. They toured the U.S. with a series of “pop up shows” where the group played non-traditional venues, including people’s living rooms, selling tickets directly to fans. “It worked so well that I don’t know if I would do it any other way,” Stringfellow says.
However, it has been a mixed bag of success and tragedy for The Posies over the past year. They recently lost longtime bassist Joe “Skyward” Howard earlier this year. Stringfellow notes he struggled with prostate cancer for some way but passed away this past March. “The end came very fast,” he says. “So he was doing treatments. He’d be OK, went on for a couple of years. Then, all of a sudden, in the last week, he just fell apart and died.”
The year before, in May, the band had to deal with the more mysterious passing of Darius “Take One” Minwalla, who had been with the group since 2001. “He died like totally like out of the blue,” says Stringfellow. “Like one day he was fine and one day he was dead. We don’t really understand what happened exactly, but he was young. He was 38 years old. That just totally destroyed us.”
He says the cause of Minwalla’s death will always remain unknown, which makes it hard to ever come to terms with. “It wasn’t like he was hit by a car or whatever or ODed. He just died.”
But The Posies, as well as Stringfellow, keep ticking. Stringfellow particularly keeps as busy as possible. This month he has begun working on a new record. He says its important for his sense of being to surround himself with music, and he feels incredibly fortunate. “I try to never be out of it,” he declares. “It feels good, and I put a lot of time into developing skills to make music kind of flow naturally from what I do … I feel like, yeah, man, bring on the opportunities because there’s lots of musicians who would just love to do something and nobody wants them to do anything.”
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To read more about Stringfellow, including what he may have planned for his South Florida show this Friday, visit my original story in Pure Honey Magazine:
PureHoney and Fade It To The Front present Ken Stringfellow, July 22, with Tierney Tough, John Ralston, Dan Bonebrake and Chris Horgan at Lion & Eagle PubLion & Eagle Pub. 2401 N Federal Hwy, Boca Raton, Florida 33431, doors 7pm. Very intimate venue. Tickets, we are told, are very limited. It’s highly suggested you purchase in advance. You can also RSVP here.
Top photo credit: Claudia Rorarius. Second photo: Mitä helvettiä Nyt Taas’ Facebook. Final photo: Geffen Records.