Unlikely places: An interview with the Posies' Jon Auer

“I’m on a ferry right now so if we get cut off, that’s why. Also, at the end of this I’ll probably have to put you on speaker because I have to drive off the ferry too.” So the Posies’ Jon Auer warned us when Orlando Weekly called to discuss the next leg of the tour supporting their latest release, Solid States, ahead of an upcoming Orlando show. A man with a few irons in the fire, Jon was generous with his time when unpacking his thoughts on the band’s new touring approach, their fans, the road, grieving loss, his last visit to Orlando, and the rewards of hard work.

Orlando Weekly: What is the weirdest thing you’ve read about yourself that isn’t true?
Jon Auer: I have to think about that. This is actually kind of morbid. We recently lost a couple of band members. They died, and one of the articles reported that I died. I wrote him and said, “I am still here, let’s not get carried away.”

I am sorry for your loss.
Thank you. I have been talking about it a lot. There is no real way to relate it in an interview. It is devastating and it’s amazing that we got through it. All this touring we have been doing, I hesitate to use words like "healing" because it sounds very new age-y, but I was not sure how it was going to work or if it was going to feel good. It ended up being probably the best thing we could have done for ourselves afterwards. It really did help us get through it, and it was great to be able to be out there and play for people who are also fans of the people who are no longer with us. It gave them a chance to express what they wanted to express. It is funny how it works.

Did you write the new album before or after their passing?
It is odd that one of them, Darius Minwalla, died pretty much in the middle of making the record. Then the question became, why do I even want to work on a record right now. I am too destroyed by the loss of my friends. Darius played in my solo group three years before he joined the Posies and was with the Posies 14 years. Not only was he a great friend, he was also someone we were together with and had in our lives for a long time. Then, of course, when I started to regroup and tried to finish what I needed to contribute to the record writing-wise, it just started coming out in the songs. Most people would not know if you didn't tell them but a song like "Unlikely Places," if you don't know what it’s about it sounds like a romantic relationship or someone you used to go out with, but it’s totally about me trying to deal with the loss of Darius. There is no real math or guide or book or person or anything that can guide you through losing somebody. People can help you and you can talk to people, but it is a personal thing. You need to go through it yourself and figure it out. That song is all about that. It’s kind of cryptic, and there’s unusual imagery in there sometimes, but it really is about not knowing what to do with those feelings and eventually figure some of them out. It is funny how no matter what you do, if you are a writer, no matter what is going on in your life that is what comes out. You can try to write about other things, but it usually is what is going on internally. Unless you are writing fiction, but even then I am sure all fiction has a little bit of non-fiction in it too.

I lost my brother unexpectedly about three years ago and I can relate.
Oh my gosh. You see? I was going to ask you about your experience with loss. I just found out my brother-in-law, with whom I’m very close, has terminal cancer. The older you get the more you realize a lot of that is going to happen. It’s not a fun subject to discuss or a realization to have, but it is the season of life. You get to a season of life where it is going to occur. I am trying to prepare myself for it. I can only imagine how it was for you.

The weird thing for me is that you deal with it at unexpected times and it is always there.
Exactly. It is totally true. And when you bring it back around to the song, "I've been looking for you in unlikely places," that's the hook. It is kind of what you said about not knowing when it hits you. That is my way of saying, what am I doing? I found myself doing odd things and trying to answer questions that could not be answered. I realized that some of it you just have to go through it to get through it. Grief is powerful stuff.

It is.
It is indescribable. There is another song I wrote called "Rollercoaster Zen" that is more like a tribute to Darius, so if you read it, it’s talking about a friend. I had some very vivid dreams – that’s what I’m talking about in (the song) – I had a couple where I swore he was there, and you wake up going, what was that? That seemed real, that was no dream. I am not a very mystical guy, but I was getting something coming from somewhere, even if it’s just coming from inside of me. After that happened, I was about paying tribute to him, and that’s also what playing the songs is like. To pile things on to that situation, two days before we went on our first European tour for this record back in the spring, we found out Joe Skyward, one of our bass players, died as well. We knew it was coming eventually because he had cancer, but he was maintaining it pretty well, and then, suddenly it came on fast and in 24 hours he was gone. I was going through old emails and pictures, and I found this picture someone had sent me of both Darius and Joe together. It’s a great picture of the two of them. And, of course, what’s wrong with this picture? It’s the two guys that are not there anymore. Those guys were incredible. I’m honored that we got to play with them, and be friends with them. I am grateful for the times that didn’t have anything to do with music. I got to know them super-well and they’re always going to be a part of me. Again, the way out is you have to go through it. Also, we feel – I won’t say stronger, that’s probably the wrong word – but if we feel re-unified it’s because of it too.

Are you excited to continue the tour promoting Solid States?
Yeah, this is the second round of touring. It went so well that we are doing it again.

Was the first round as intimate as it is now, with the secret pop-up shows?
Yes, the same vibe, the same equation, just different variables, like different cities, new cities we haven't been to before, more venues we have not played in, and towns we haven’t played in before. We haven't played Orlando since the early '90s. I think the last time we played Orlando, I could be wrong, but the Cranberries opened for us. They were starting out and they opened for us, and three weeks later they were massive because they had a big hit with "Linger." To kill time, we went go-karting with the Cranberries in Orlando. We were like, “Well, we’re done with sound check. What should we do?” Someone in the club said, “Hey, there’s a go-karting place.” My big Orlando claim-to-fame is that the Cranberries opened for us and we went go-karting with them. I think the original drummer for Badfinger was at that show as well. I think he lived in Florida, maybe even Orlando. I think he was at that show too.

Too bad social media wasn't as big then or someone would have videos of that.
I know. It’s so funny how the world has changed, right? Thanks, technology. I am ultimately glad and also a little sad that it wasn't around because it would be great to have some of that stuff, but some things I am glad no one would have on me.

Maybe it is a blessing in disguise.
Not even a maybe. I am sure it is a blessing.

How have your fans responded to Solid States?
Very well, actually. When we did the first round of touring the record hadn't been released yet, so the only place to get the record was at the shows. The record wasn't coming out for a while and no one had really heard it before they came to the shows. We played every song off the new record at the shows, and we mixed in enough hits, some other songs and some old stuff as well, and made a nice mix. Nobody seemed to mind we were shoving all this new music down their throats. Sometimes you see a band and it’s like, “Please, just play all the old stuff, I don't want to hear anything new,” but that hasn't been the case. Our fans are usually dedicated, especially the ones that come to these shows, because they aren't cheap shows. You pay a little bit more. The people who show up are the ones who really want to be there. You don't get the casual, “I just spent $20 or $30 on a ticket because I was curious. I never heard you guys.” It’s the people who are really fans, and/or people that they are bringing to try to convert them into fans of ours, like friends and family of the fans. And, I am happy to report, some younger people too. I met new fans who know all the Posies stuff that are 15 years old. We need more of these so that I can keep doing this until I'm 70. It has been great. Everybody seems to enjoy the experience. It's more than going to a club or a bar. You can do that anytime. This is like, “Where is it going to be? What is it going to be? What are they going to play? I haven't heard the new record.” There is some mystery there, some excitement.

We just tour, the three of us. It is a three-piece now. There is nobody else on the road. We do all the work. We tour with a small PA, all the equipment, we drive, we set up, we tear down, we sell our merchandise. It's like the traveling farmer’s market of music. There is no middle person. Everything is direct between us and the people that show up. That feels really good. It might feel the best.

Some people ask, “Don't you miss having a roadie or a driver?” Yeah, sometimes it would be nice if you are tired, but generally I have found that doing all this hard work has made it more rewarding. It’s like when you have a day that you feel like you really accomplished something. Imagine doing that five weeks in a row, where every day you rose to a challenge and you drove a long way and you set up, and even though you were tired you gave it your all for the show and people appreciated it. The more you put into it the more you get out of it. It is true in this case.

It sounds like it’s a gift for your fans too.
Yeah, in a way. They love it too. They show up and are like, “Wow, I would never expect to see you in a place like this,” or “I just saw the Posies in this house,” or “I got to go to this recording studio I’ve heard about for years but never knew what it was like on the inside.” There are even stranger places, oddball places, or I wouldn't even call them that, but we played on the back of a flatbed truck in a yard covered with beauty bark, next to a river with a tugboat from 1942. And that is where we slept that night, that was our accommodation, the tugboat. And when we were playing there was a beautiful sunset behind us over the river, and this big bridge. It is kind of special and not just a show or a concert. It becomes an experience.

After you do this tour, can we look forward to any more solo albums?

Yes. I am the slowest of the group about getting things done. That’s kind of the joke about me, and there is always truth in every joke. The last real solo record I put out, full-length, was in 2006. I did quite a lot of touring on it, and still get a lot of mileage off of it. I still have a couple songs that got put in movies recently, and I still do play solo shows. It is time, I’m kinda feeling it. I also have this other group I’ve dabbled with, but haven't really pushed yet, which is called Dynamo Royale. Check out the bandcamp page. It’s very different from the Posies. It’s more lush, more soundtrack-ish in a way, you could say. It is hard to describe. I want to try to give that a proper release.

The Posies took six years to get this record together and the one before, it was five years from the previous record to that one. We are feeling like it would be wise to do something again sooner than later, not wait all that time. I don’t think any of us expected it to go so well and have so much fun doing it. We enjoyed what it did to us, playing live. We enjoyed it so much that we figured it’d be nice to have more of that feeling again sooner than later.

The Posies play a pop-up show in Orlando on Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 8:30 p.m. with the Pauses. Location TBA on day of show. Tickets currently running from $20-$100.

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