In 1988, the noisy squall of grunge was well on its way to becoming the next big musical thing, with Soundgarden, Nirvana and Mudhoney all steadily building an audience in Seattle clubs and around the country.
But there was another sound emanating from the Pacific Northwest that year — sweet, unabashed pop with harmonies that hearkened back to the 1960s British Invasion. “Failure,” an album by a two-man Bellingham-based team who called themselves the Posies, epitomized that sound.
In conjunction with the reissue of the album this month on Omnivore (with bonus tracks), the two men who are the core of the Posies are making appearances at the Triple Door, in Bellingham and at Bumbershoot (under the name Big Star’s Third).
“We weren’t oblivious to what was going on [musically], but we didn’t let it affect what we wanted to do,” said guitarist Jonathan Auer, one of the band’s founding members, along with guitarist Ken Stringfellow. “We were just doing what we liked, having fun, off on our own, totally DIY.”
“Failure” was originally a self-released cassette. When the songs went into high rotation on Seattle new wave station KJET, Auer and Stringfellow found themselves courted by major labels before they even had a full band. The two opted to buy some time by having Seattle label PopLlama release the tape as a record in late 1988.
“That was our goal — to be label mates with the Young Fresh Fellows!” said Stringfellow. “Our other goal was to play Bumbershoot. That was really as far ahead as we’d thought.”
The album received a glowing review in the trade magazine Cash Box in February 1989. It was rare coverage for a Northwest act at the time. A bassist and drummer were added to the lineup, and the Posies ended up signing with DGC, a year before the same label picked up Nirvana.
When the grunge wave hit, the Posies’ Northwest connection proved to be “a double-edged sword,” in Auer’s view. “It had a way of skewing expectations — people would see where we were from and automatically assume we were going to sound a certain way. It did seem we were a harder sell at the time, partially because we didn’t fit the trends.”
The band enjoyed some radio hits and Ringo Starr covered its song “Golden Blunders” (the Posies opened for the former Beatle at a concert at the Gorge in 1992). But after three albums on DGC (and numerous lineup changes), interest waned.
The Posies returned to PopLlama, releasing “Success” in 1998, its title a tongue-in-cheek nod to the first album. The band then became a part time endeavor as the members pursued other interests. (In addition to their solo records, Auer and Stringfellow joined Memphis cult band Big Star; Stringfellow also played with R.E.M.).
But “Failure” still has a winning appeal. The music gleams with a professional polish, making the jangly guitars sound as fresh as they did 26 years ago.
“There’s no cynicism in what we do,” said Stringfellow. “Our bookish, heartfelt music had much in common with what came next in Seattle — Death Cab for Cutie and the like — so that generation of listeners was able to relate to what we were doing too.”
The Posies (acoustic)
8 and 11 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 23, at The Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $20-$75. 8 p.m. show sold out (206-838-4333 or thetripledoor.net).
Friday, August 29, house show in Bellingham, contact email@example.com for info.
Big Star’s Third (Jonathan Auer and Ken Stringfellow as part of an all-star lineup playing Big Star’s Sister Lovers album)
8 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 31, at Bumbershoot, Seattle Center, $55-$230 (206-701-1482 or bumbershoot.org).