How to stop your inner critic from holding you back

How to stop your inner critic from holding you back

Creativity Letterbox Mindfulness Process Productivity

Your inner critic is the annoying voice inside your head that whispers mean things to you. It’s holding you back from trying new things, putting yourself out there and living the creative life you dream of – so I made this video to help. Subscribe to my channel for more!


THANK YOU for visiting my website! I’m Laura Kidd, a music producer, songwriter and podcaster based in Bristol, UK. It’s great to meet you.

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Ep44: Ken Stringfellow (The Posies / R.E.M. / Big Star) on saying “yes” – Transcript

Ep44: Ken Stringfellow (The Posies / R.E.M. / Big Star) on saying “yes” – Transcript

Podscripts

SPEAKERS

Laura Kidd, Ken Stringfellow


Ken Stringfellow
I’m a super curious person and I like to do lots of different things and I don’t really waste a lot of time contemplating, like…should I? I just say yes.


Laura Kidd 
Hello and welcome to episode 44 of Attention Engineer. I’m Laura and this is my podcast. Hello!

Attention Engineer is my attempt to go deeper, to make the best use of my own valuable time and attention by having honest conversations with fellow artists about creativity, grit and determination. I want to consistently remind you – and remind myself – that creativity is for everyone….because it really is.

So…let’s kick that inner critic where it hurts.

I’m talking to you from a sweltering attic studio today. The UK is in the middle of a heatwave and it’s hard not to down all tools and lie in a pool of ice cream or whatever it is that you sensible people do on sunny days, but you know me – I’m indoors as usual, hiding my pale face from the sun, trying not to melt and getting excited to share this fantastic episode with you!

Ken Stringfellow is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and producer. Best known for his work with The Posies, R.E.M., and the re-formed Big Star, his discography includes more than 200 albums and, as you will hear, working hard throughout the pandemic has pushed that total nearer to 300!

So…how does he do it? We get into how to be a super productive musician and lots more besides, including: the importance of treating everyone the same in the studio, regardless of fame or experience, going viral in the late 1980’s, and how The Posies’ outsider status in the ’90s Seattle scene has led to longevity for the band, and how sharing a stage with your musical heroes gives you no choice but to level up.

In 2016 The Posies toured the UK, and I was alerted to the fact that they were looking for guest vocalists for each of their shows. I threw my hat in the ring and was delighted to be invited to join them on stage for a couple of songs in Leeds and Bristol – and I got to play a support set in Leeds, too. As is the way of touring, I barely got a chance to have a chat with either Ken or Jon, and if you’ve listened to this show before you’ll know that one of the big reasons I started Attention Engineer was to actually have those conversations with fellow artists. It was absolutely lovely to get to talk at length with Ken about all sorts of stuff, and I really hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Before we get started – an impending date for your diary! The Posies play their first ever live-streamed gig this Saturday 24th July, you can watch live or at any time over the following 24 hours – so I’ll put the link in the show notes for this episode.

(Here it is: https://www.konnectclub.com/branded/events/260063625445)

Right, here we go!


LK
And now we can be fascinating. 

KS
Yay, no pressure. 

LK
How are you? How are you today? Early in the morning.

KS
Yeah, good. I mean, I’m just like, slammed. I’m doing a lot of stuff. So basically, the way my life works is that I’m from Seattle, right? That’s where my band started more or less. I mean, from around here, shall we say and I’ve got a lot of good friends and contacts and I, of course amassed a lot of gear when I was doing music here, when I was based here.

Then I married my wife almost 20 years ago and I’ve been basically based in France ever since. And, of course, all that gear and stuff that lives here, and all those wonderful friends and colleagues that know me so well here are still here, and I’m over there. So the solution is, is that I come here to Seattle on a regular basis. Because why not? But also just because I’m most known here and stuff like that. But also, I’ve got all this gear and I’ve partnered up to be part of this wonderful studio where I am now. So all the time in between tours, I try and come here and work here a little bit.

The Posies did our latest record, pretty much, here – almost all of it. But then, you know, pandemic style, as you know, tours and stuff were all cancelled, and there was a lot less of that going on. After travel tentatively started to reopen after six months of not travelling, I basically started coming here for a couple months, and then going back home for a couple months and coming back here for a couple months and I lined up a bunch of sessions with mostly local bands, but also people from out of town, too. My reputation at this point, because I’ve toured around the world and everything is fairly widespread. So anyway, I just do a bunch of work here in the studio and record a bunch of artists, produce the artists or whatever they need. Then I take that stuff back home and mix it.

Here, this particular trip I recorded a bunch of bands as usual, and artists, then because we have these opportunities to play some live shows with The Posies, the first live shows we’ve done in a couple years. We hadn’t played since even before the pandemic shutdown. They’re big shows and they’re basically around here in the North West, we have two sold out club shows in our hometown in Bellingham, Washington, where they’re having their first show in over a year – that venue and any venue in town. And then we’re kicking off live music in Seattle too, the big outdoor show at The Zoo, believe it or not, they have a space there where they’ve always been doing shows. Usually they’re like 4000 or 5000 capacity, which would be too big for us, but they’ve reduced capacity to about 2000, which we can do. And we’re 20 tickets away from selling it out. 

LK
Oh, wonderful. Well done! 

KS
So because those shows are happening and they could only happen with all the things going on to re-open this coming weekend, I extended my trip a little bit, but I kind of ran out of stuff to do with people coming into the studio because it is high summer and things are starting. So people were a little less excited – just this week. This week, there was nobody coming into the studio, but I have the opportunity to do a bunch of mixing. 

LK
Yeah of course.

KS
So that’s basically what I’m doing right now.

LK
So you mix early in the morning, then?

KS
I’ve got a lot to do. I’ve got so much to do. It’s kind of insane.

LK
So it’s a needs must thing.

KS
Yeah, so I – basically, yesterday, I worked from about eight until about midnight. I’m up here…I was working at eight already this morning. My studio partner really needed to get in here and he’s got to do a vocal session this evening so I’m also like a little bit exiled for a little bit. So I’m trying to do as much work as possible before he’s got to come in for a few hours and then I can go. I’m usually also prepping a mix. So the mixing prep, like tuning…vocal tuning and editing and drums, well I’ve already drum edited but you know, just getting the basic sounds and going through all the tracks. I can do that on my laptop any old place so….

LK
Yeah, course and the gigs are this weekend, aren’t they? 

KS
Yeah, the gigs are this weekend. So, tomorrow my band will be here rehearsing, so it’s a whole ‘nother thing. It’s a pretty big studio. I mean, I can’t really move my computer right now as it’s plugged in with a bunch of hard drives and stuff, but what you’re seeing behind me is the back wall, the control room with a diffuser that my studio partner made. It’s quite a nice art object. But in front of me, which you can’t see, is the live room which is quite big. This is a purpose built studio, you know, it’s like 10 metre ceilings and it’s quite…it’s something. And it’s only getting more something.

LK
Nice. I haven’t been to one of those for such a long time! Not just because of the pandemic, but just because of budgets and stuff, so it’s so nice that those places can still keep going, you know? Especially at the moment. 

KS
It’s a kind of a special situation, because it’s not really a commercial studio, in the sense that we have no website or anything like that. What’s kind of cool about it is it kind of doesn’t need to survive as a business, shall we say? So we have it. Our gear lives here. It’s for our projects, there’s just three of us involved, only two of which are actually producer engineers. The third partner is our mutual friend, my senior partner and my mutual friend, who is really my best friend here. So it’s just kind of a very nice clubhouse for the projects that we do. So in that sense, it’s a godsend. And we don’t have any overheads, so to speak, other than, you know, electricity and hot water.

LK
That’s wonderful. Well, I think you thoroughly deserve after making so much music over your career so far, to have a space to make it, you know?

KS
I agree!

LK
You’ve worked for this!

KS
I completely agree!

LK
You weren’t handed this on a plate aged 20 were you? So…

KS
No, not exactly. It’s funny that you say that, though. Because actually my bandmate in The Posies, Jon…when we met, I was 14, Jon was 13, Jon was still in middle school, junior high school, or I don’t know what the equivalent would be for you. But I’d just started high school, I was playing in a band, and he joined that band. So I met him, and then he came to high school the next year and we became best buddies and he came with a studio. He had a studio that his Dad and he had put together, it’s completely insane. His Dad, now retired, was a very good musician, but at the same time, a left brain/right brain kind of guy who was also a statistics and business Professor at the University in our hometown. So that’s a really good gig, and it was stable. And, you know, being a tenured Professor comes with a lot of stability and in the States it’s quite a good gig.

So they put together a studio. I think Jon had bounced between Mom, Dad, Mom, Dad, you know, different stepdads and stepmoms – it was a little chaotic for Jon’s early life. So I think when Jon moved back in with Dad and that step mom, I think that Dad was like, let’s do a project to bond and reconnect and make up for some time we’ve been apart. That’s my theory. And they put together a really cool studio with a analogue tape machine, a small one, it’s an eight track, half inch machine. Don’t ask me to convert that to centimetres. But we are dealing with a global audience here. By the way, I’m an advocate for metric time, I’m hoping that the States will adopt metric time so that I can start working 100 hour days, or 92 hour days…I’d still get my eight hours of sleep, but then I’d have 92 hours to work and be much more productive.

LK
That makes sense to me!

KS
Anyway, he had this cool studio with some old 60’s gear, because we’re talking mid-1980’s and nobody cared about these vintage compressors and stuff like that, they weren’t coveted, they were just considered obsolete and old and whatever. So you could get them for dirt cheap. So we had a really cool little studio as our playground all through high school, and that’s where we end up making our first record. 

LK
That’s awesome!

KS
But to go back to what you said earlier, I was, you know, of course, kidding. About “Yeah, of course, I deserve it.” I’m very, very, very, very lucky and I’ve managed to surround myself with some very good people, and that’s I think one of the biggest life lessons that is so hard to learn, especially if you’re kind of a people-pleaser, like I am, that maybe not everybody that you meet is a good person to have in your life. I mean, it sounds so obvious, but… 

LK
It’s not though. It’s not that obvious. 

KS
Some people are not there. Yeah, they’re destructive, or they come with just a certain kind of negativity time bomb that you don’t quite see at the beginning, and then they just start cutting you down or something like that. I mean, that’s really hard to learn. But, you know, touch wood I’m still here, and I’ve got good people around me and really good friends, and it’s by the grace of these friends really that I have this wonderful place to work in, and I’m a very lucky boy. Sure, I come with some assets, but I still don’t quite…I’m the weakest link of the three partners other than it’s cool to have me working here, because I bring in kind of cool projects. But that’s kind of it really…I’m like the vibe guy. I’m like the Bez of the studio. 

LK
Everyone needs a Bez in their life don’t they?!

While we are sort of near the beginning of this, could you introduce yourself to the audience, in case they’re unaware of who I’m chatting to?

KS
Oh, yeah! Right. Hi, I’m Ken Stringfellow. I am a musician, as you may have gathered. I have played in a band and continue to play in a band called The Posies since 1988, 31 years ago. I’ve been a professional musician pretty much all my adult life. I also have a career as a solo artist, producer, engineer, mixer, and background singer. I do sessions as well, just as a musician, singer.

I’ve been associated with a couple of my favourite artists: the band Big Star, who I know are very beloved in Britain, I was part of putting that band back together after a nearly 20 year hiatus…the band that released their first album when I was in kindergarten. I ended up playing with Alex Chilton, the singer, and Jody Stephens, the drummer, the only remaining members of the group by the 90’s for a good long run until Alex passed away, about 10 years ago.

I also played with R.E.M., again, one of my favourite bands, who released their first album when I was in high school and, strangely enough, I ended up joining their band and working with them on a couple of albums and many, many, many tours around the world – I did stuff with them for about a decade. And then a lot of shorter collaborations with a lot of different people. In every genre you can imagine, pretty much. Too many to list.

LK
It’s a dazzling array of people you’ve collaborated with. You’ve done so many albums with The Posies, solo ones as well, all of that. And this podcast is not intended to be a complete history of every guest. I say that especially with you, because if there’s anyone listening who is going to criticise at the end, that we didn’t talk about this very specific thing, in this very specific year…this isn’t that kind of podcast. I just knew that we’d have an interesting conversation. 

KS
Yeah, sure. 

LK
Because we met a couple of times didn’t we, about five years ago. You were inviting guest singers to come along and perform with you, and I was lucky enough to do that in Leeds and Bristol. It was awesome. Thank you!

KS
Well, it was a pleasure. You were great.

LK

Well, thank you very much! I just thought it would be really wonderful to get to have a chat with you, as someone who’s so prolific. And is it true that you have been involved with over 200 record releases? Does that sound right to you?

KS
Yeah, probably by now it’s way more actually. I mean, it’s probably tipping up to about 300.

LK
I just…I mean, how? I think that’s my only question for you really is, how on earth did you do that? How have you managed to cram that in? Because you’re not an elderly man…so how have you managed to squish so much into your life so far?

KS
I’m a really hard worker. And I take a lot of opportunities. I mean, I’ve probably made 30-odd records, or been at least a part of probably more like 50 records, just since the lockdown. I mean, I work all the time. And I work fairly efficiently. I had a band here in Seattle that came in, in March to the studio they’re like, “Well, we’re gonna maybe try and do an EP and maybe do something later with you, blah, blah, blah.” They booked a few days and we tracked an entire album in like, six days with everything except for a couple of backing vocals and some keyboard parts. So I’ve already started mixing it.

I don’t know, I’m a super curious person and I like to do lots of different things and I don’t really waste a lot of time contemplating…like, should I? I just say yes, you know, I mean, the world has said a lot of yes to me and I feel like the universe has been really generous to me. So I kind of feel like maybe being generous…I mean, of course I’m paid for what I do, but it’s not like I’m super expensive for what I give. I think I’m actually hellaciously cheap. For now I’d probably do to give myself a raise at some point. But anyway, I work really hard for people, you know, and I’ve worked in some studios where the day is like, I mean, when you get the lunch break in there, I mean, you’re working for like 6 hours. You’re paying like almost 1000 bucks for that day with that producer. I’m not going to mention any names. I’ve been in situations like that. And my minimum day is like 12 hours and my lunch break…I barely eat. So you know, I mean, it’s like, I’ve got videos and crap to do next week…so I barely eat during the day. So I just have this very regimented little schedule. But I work for 12 hours and then when that 12 hours is done, I’ve usually another 3 hours of, okay, that guy wanted to change the snare drum level in their mix, okay, I’ll do a mix touch up and then listen to demos for the next sessions. And, you know, my day is really 15 hours, easily, and it can be more if there’s a lot going on. So I just work a lot, you know, I work seven days a week.

LK

Well it doesn’t just happen does it? You don’t just accidentally do 300 records. You’re actively involved in that happening. It’s work.

KS

Well yeah, I mean, people are like “How do you choose which projects to work on?” And I’m like, people ask me, and I just say, “Okay!” I’ve never turned down a project. Really, if they can pay me, my basic rate, I mean, I would never say no and I don’t really…one thing that my assistant here observed pretty quickly after shadowing me for a couple of weeks, is we had a lot of different kinds of artists and people from bands you’ve heard of, people who’ve never made a record before ever, and my assistant was like, “You treat everybody the same. Every single session, you treat them exactly the same.” And it’s kind of…it’s like, nobody gets more respect. Everybody’s a human, so you’ve got to, you know…if somebody is a really accomplished musician, of course you treat them nice, but you’re going to treat everybody nice. If somebody’s not an accomplished musician, you treat them just as nice.

So, I mean, you give everybody support and give them what they need and no fussing around. Some people who I know, some people who I’m close to, it’s like, I don’t know if it’s like an anxiety thing, or some kind of emotional thing, or just a personality thing? I don’t really know. But some people, their default setting is “no”. I think sometimes they do it…they’re insecure, so it makes them look more important if they can say no to something. Where I’m not insecure, I’ve worked hard on it. Most people are insecure in some way and you can work on it, you know? At age 52 I’ve, yeah, put the work into not being insecure. Not be a jerk but, you know, insecurity doesn’t help you. And of course, I know some people have anxiety and it’s hard to master – it’s more like it’s an illness or an affliction, or whatever you want to call it. That’s a whole different thing. And I totally get it, I know people who suffer really badly from that and they’re working to master it, and it’s really hard. And many of them, most of them can’t truly master it. It’s a whole ‘nother thing. But I don’t have that either, so I’m lucky in that sense. But anyway, my default setting is yes and that changes a lot of things.

LK

Yeah, definitely. There’s definitely a thing about a fixed mindset and an open mindset in life, I think, where you can see possibilities, or you can see, I guess, barriers and the barriers seem to be mostly due to fear of doing something rather than you genuinely don’t want to. Whereas I definitely, I feel like I have an open mindset. But I’ve only just recently started to be able to learn how to say no to things I don’t want to do. 

KS

Oh, right. 

LK

Because often I know I don’t want to do something…I was reading something recently about how it’s really important to value your time at least as much as you value this other person’s time. 

KS

Oh, yeah. 

LK

So when someone writes with a request or whatever, and I feel guilty that I don’t want to do their thing, or I don’t have time to do their thing, or I have my own things to do…I’m feeling a lot better about that at the moment. I’m hoping that’s not why you said yes to do this podcast, now I’ve brought that up! Oh, he’s just ever so polite and can’t say no…but it’s okay because you’re here now and we’ll just get through it. It’s fine…

KS
Yeah, it’s not politeness that makes go “Yes”. I’m here to help, and podcasts are fun and, you know, I’ll get all my work done some day. Yeah, I mean, I don’t really say no to stuff because the no thing kind of works out…of course, stuff like benefits and tribute albums and stuff like that…with a tribute album, I’ll say, is there a budget? And they’ll usually say no, and I’ll say, “Well sorry, I just can’t. I can’t give up a day for that.” And tribute albums are kind of low priority for me, knowing how many I participated in back in the day that never came out, you know, I kind of started getting pretty sceptical about them at a certain point.

And benefit shows of course, that’s another thing, like, if it’s an unpaid thing the cause has to mean something to me personally. And because of where I live, and I’m not always available and blah, blah, blah, it’s kind of default that you know, like, “Oh, can you do this benefit show on the boat?” And I’m like, “Well I live 5000 miles away, so do you want to pay me to fly in and do it?” You know, which kind of defeats the point of the benefit show, so it kind of naturally works out.

I’m not saying I’m Mr Scrooge, or Mr You know, the guy from Wall Street, you know, “greed is good” or whatever. I mean, I do give my time to things that are important to me, but it kind of just works out. It’s very strange. I mean, it’s a little bit of a Zen thing, that when it really matters, I’m available somehow. Anyway, one thing I will say is just, like a little bit of that mindset thing. And this is just, I’ve often questioned…I’ve never actually sat down to be diagnosed, but I’ve often questioned if I have maybe just a little bit of a Asperger’s kind of thing. I’m super literal. I mean, I’m not clueless about human communication…I’m not saying that Asperger’s people are clueless, but they often have barriers that make sometimes certain things that are obvious very difficult to comprehend. Subtext…you know, things like this…so clueless is a bad choice of words and I’m sorry for that, but I’m able to get a lot of subtext from things, but not all of it, like sometimes people who are not direct, I literally cannot detect what they’re trying to tell me. 

LK
Right. 

KS
So it’s like colourblindness in a certain sense for certain kinds of communication. So in that sense of being very literal, I’ve kind of…and I don’t know if it’s Asperger’s, it just like sometimes I read the symptoms and I’m like, “Oh, my God, I’ve got like, 9 out of the 10 that they’re listing here”. So maybe, I don’t know, it’s something similar anyway. But the benefit of this kind of thing is that the world is very clear and that I don’t really come with all these preconceived notions that a lot of people adopt for, I think emotional reasons. It’s like you have something that upset you or hurt you so you create a little structure in your emotions as a kind of never again, and you build a kind of Maginot Line for the war that you just lost, which of course doesn’t really serve you for the next thing you’re in, much like the real life Maginot Line. So I don’t really have too many of those.

So I see opportunities for what they are, and don’t apply some kind of cynical assessment to them, and take the opportunity. There’s an opportunity, okay great! And so many people that I know are not like that, and it’s hard for me to grasp, but it is the case. Either they have their tunnel vision, because of – I think there’s usually emotional issues that make them a little more closed off. And so an opportunity, it’s like a huge billboard and they don’t see it. They’re looking at the centre line, and then if they do see it they’re like, “Oh yeah, well that would never work, blah, blah, blah.” But you decide in advance that putting themselves, taking the risk to do something like that would be too…it’s too unlikely because it didn’t work for them one time, but that has nothing to do with the current odds.

What I found also is that risks…I love risks in certain ways, you know? I love it if something requires a lot of effort, and it’s very complicated, and it’s going to involve a kind of contraption, and you have to jump off a springboard to set the ball in motion to knock the flag over. If that’s what something looks like and it seems super unlikely to work, I’m sort of inclined to go, “I’m going to give that a try. What’s the worst that could happen?”

LK
Yeah, I love that. Would you say then that your career has not been intentional? The place you find yourself in now, has that happened just through you saying yes to lots of different things? Or did you ever have a plan for where you wanted to be, aged 52?

KS
Oh, I never had a plan for this time in my life. But I would say that the intention when my band started… ’cause you know Jon Auer, my bandmate and I, like I mentioned earlier we’ve been friends for 35 years, something like that. I mean, maybe… I can’t math right now. But a long time, since we were in high school, basically. And we’ve been working together, first in various projects and just having fun and doing music and just being buddies in high school and then that coalesced into just after high school, our band which has never stopped…well, we did take a little break at one point, but essentially, we’ve been working together since 1988 / 1987, really. And sure, we had kind of a plan. We had some goals. We were ambitious, we had dreams and ideas about what we wanted to do, and we put effort into doing it. We made this record on our own, which took some effort and whatnot. So, true, but the whole reason you and I are speaking now is really, I mean, there’s all these flukey things that happened that really made it actually happen, and those flukey things…yeah, sure, we kind of put ourselves in a position for those flukey things to happen in a way. Some of them yes, some of them no, some of them were so flukey, it’s not even possible to know about them in advance. But we just rolled with it. But essentially, our band’s story is that we made this homemade thing, you know, because we couldn’t really find any other way to get our music heard, we couldn’t even find people to be in a band with us and we made our first album, which we called “Failure”, which we released as a homemade cassette, originally. 

LK
And I love that, by the way. What a wonderful statement. 

KS
Kind of an opposites attract kind of thing.

LK
Get out ahead of it.

KS
We made the album ourselves in Jon’s home studio, and we were going to make it as a demo to give to potential musicians to see if they could join our band, because we were having a hard time describing what we were doing in the context of the state of music in 1987/88. And when we finished that demo, a friend of ours was like, “It kind of sounds like you made a record.” Like “Oh, really? Oh yeah, maybe.” So we got it together and released it as a homemade cassette and it went completely viral, in the sense that we dropped a couple copies off here and there with different people in different places, just trying to do the thing that every band, and every artist does. 

LK
Yeah.

KS
I mean, nowadays it’s a little different, because it’s not relying on the physical medium. But in those days it was the same idea: you’re trying to play your stuff for people and hope they hear it. So we dropped the thing off at a radio station, these two idiots from a small town, you know, in the middle of nowhere, drop it off at a big Seattle station and like, two days later, they were playing it. The kind of thing that’s not supposed to happen ever. 

LK

Yes!

KS
So all of a sudden, we’re like, “whoa!” It just started blowing up, and once that happened all these other things started blowing up. So sure, it was consistent with our general goals. But that wasn’t really supposed to happen. It wasn’t supposed to work that well, that fast. So then we were just kind of fielding things from that for the rest of our lives, basically. 

LK
Yeah, still fielding. 

KS
And the other part that I have to put into this mix that we could never have foreseen, because it was definitely one of those things that if you told the 1988 or 1987 me that this was going to happen…nobody in Seattle would have believed you if you said three years from now, this will be the biggest place in the history of music, and between three or four bands from here there’s going to be about 250/300 million records sold.

LK
Bonkers, isn’t it!

KS
We’d be like, “Get out of here.” Because Seattle is really a backwater. It’s kind of why it became so successful. It is a backwater with a lot of interesting people, and a lot of interesting mixes of cultures, and it’s a fresh kind of West Coast kind of start without the baggage of all the older places in the sStates and blah, blah, blah. There’s many reasons it happened, but it happened, you know, basically as we arrived, and that was just another thing that accelerated everything that was happening to us. It just happened to be that we were a band that was in the coolest place ever to be at that moment. It’s like London in the 60’s. I mean, really, the world’s attention was there and if either of those things hadn’t happened, we really would not be talking right now. I’d probably be working for Amazon, and I’d probably be making a lot more money and going,” Oh, I wish I’d done music.”

LK
Well, I might not be sitting here as a musician, either, because that kind of music had such an influence on me as I was growing up too. But you were making music that was very different to the music that people might associate with Seattle, even now. So did you feel that set you apart in some way?

KS
Yeah, we weren’t from there. So, you know, we came from a smaller town. I moved to Seattle to go to university when I graduated high school in 1986. Some of the bands that we… Soundgarden existed, but they were quite different at the start, probably a little more like The Cult or something like that. At that point they hadn’t really found their true voice yet. In 1986…I don’t know if any of the other bands…the bands before the bands existed, like Green River and Bundle of Hiss and all these kind of bands, but anyway I moved to Seattle and was still very tied to Bellingham. It’s just 90 miles away, but it’s a world of difference especially in the pre-internet age where info and culture didn’t flow quite as freely from place to place. 

LK
Yeah. 

KS
Anyway, so I hadn’t grown up like so many of the people in the bands that we know – Nirvana is a separate issue – but you know, Pearl Jam, The Presidents of the USA, Mudhoney, you know, a lot of those people they even went to high school together, a lot of people from the music scene in Seattle went to one private school. A private, posh high school here in Seattle, which is not something people know, but… 

LK
No, I didn’t know that. 

KS
Anyway, it’s a very, very tight scene and they’re just a little bit older than me on the average. So Seattle, which had very restrictive alcohol laws, very little going on all ages wise…a couple years before me they could start going to bars and seeing all the cool shows, and cool record stores and stuff like that. We had cool record stores in Bellingham, but not as cool as Seattle and there wasn’t the information to know which records to get in Bellingham. So in a sense, you know, you had to kind of stumble through it yourself a little bit more where we came from, whereas you had a scene in Seattle with people telling each other you know, “Oh, check out this band, check out this record. Let’s go see this show. Let’s go do that.” And that made them a little hipper. Well, a lot hipper really.

The problem with being hip is like, hip is like a duration…it’s hard to maintain, and not that I’m saying that that the people in those bands are uncool now, because that’s not true, either, I’m just saying that if you’re too dialled in, you’re going to nail the zeitgeist for your time, which is good in certain ways. But if you’re not that dialled in, you can look at it a little more from the outside and maybe not be so tied to one period, which I think in the end has benefitted the kind of career that I want to have. You know, I’m not trying to reheat Paul McCartney’s soufflé, as he said.

People do have some associations with our music from the time we sold the most records, but not in a “we’re gonna just play the cruises now” kind of vibe. I feel like for what I do, especially working with lots of younger artists and stuff like that, I’m still in a continual now of my career, which is aided by some of the then but it’s not, you know…there’s still a now. We still treat it like it’s a now.

LK
Yes. You’re not a tribute act for your own self. You’re making stuff that’s you, I think.

KS
Amen. 

LK
Yeah. May we all have that in our futures, you know? Because, yeah, that’s a really good point to make about the zeitgeist stuff. Because, of course, it benefitted some of those bands hugely. But if you’re thinking about having a music career over your lifetime…but then I don’t know that people necessarily think that far ahead. I certainly didn’t, and I’ve been reflecting a lot on the fact that I felt like I was kind of auditioning to be a musician and a songwriter “one day”. Even while I was releasing albums with my former project between 2010 and 2019. And that seems ridiculous to me now, because I was always doing the thing that I wanted to do one day…because I was doing it. 

KS
Yeah. 

LK
So I was wondering…I thought this would be a good question for you: was there a moment where you and maybe you and Jon looked at each other and said, “We’re musicians now”. Or “We’re a band now,  this is really happening”?

KS
Well, no. I mean, here I was having done a lot of music already in high school and played in bands and done recording, thanks to Jon’s studio and a few other things, and yet I just didn’t imagine, I didn’t really see…I didn’t really know what careers looked like. All those people whose records I was buying, they seemed to be a very different species of creature. They were just a whole ‘nother thing, and I didn’t really imagine that I was one of those. I mean, I figured there was some kind of specialness that they had that I would never have access to, or whatever. And then our band just kind of happened and then we were, like, basically riding this crazy avalanche logjam ride, you know, and we never had time to think about it.

I was going to university you know, students out of high school with absolutely no clue as what to get from that experience, just completely lost. I had the opportunity to go, I was always a very good student, my noodle is fairly functional. But I didn’t really know what to go for at all. My eyes were so wide, in a certain way – that I was so naive, that kind of was a good thing, in a sense. And of course, I didn’t develop any great attachment to university, so when our band was suddenly happening I was out of there like a shot. But I was just kind of floundering in a sense, you know, with no plan anyway, then the band – things just started happening, we just got more and more popular, things started getting crazier and crazier and we got a record deal and all this kind of stuff and then we were just working. I don’t think I ever contemplated it for one second, though I can tell you that, yes, of course being different and in many ways all through school, I did not fit in ever, anywhere. And then we were an odd kind of platypus-like entity in the zoo of Seattle. You know, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, but not really the same as everything else. So, you know, just always feeling super different. So yeah, I had a little bit of imposter syndrome and not really feeling like we were a real thing. Like it couldn’t possibly…we couldn’t. When I saw one of my records on a shelf, I was like, well, that’s like a fake record, and the rest are real or whatever.

LK
I relate to this so well, yeah.

KS
Over time it just kind of disappeared, and I can’t really say when it disappeared, but at a certain point, you know, just so many things happened to kind of dispel any words in my own head about it not being real. And I worked at it. I mean, opportunities came – the opportunity to be part of R.E.M. is such a huge thing, not only because at that point they were like this mega band, but they were one of my nearest and dearest and favourite bands growing up. And that is the huge part for me, more than their success. Wonderful thing, but it was more that they’re one of my favourite bands. I mean, there’s just no way around it. And so I wasn’t gonna screw that up! I didn’t have a ton of experience, I’d never done anything like that. I mean, even playing with Big Star, which I had done to that point, was cool and great and I did it with great love there, you know, again, perhaps my favourite band ever, and I love those records and was so careful about helping them come back to life on the stage. But still, I mean, yeah, doing something with a band of that nature, that’s that big, playing those big events, headlining Glastonbury and all these kind of things is quite intense for someone who has not had that experience and didn’t just grow into it. I just got thrown into it and so I had to really learn on the fly how to handle that kind of situation. 

LK
Yeah.

KS
And after a few years of doing that and, you know, they kept asking me back and my playing improved leaps and bounds almost immediately, just by virtue of the quality level of musicians I had around me too. So, after a certain point I couldn’t really claim to be an imposter. I mean, I was doing the thing and with great care, and people were coming to me with all kinds of requests like play on this, do that, you know…and it just kind of went on from there. So I’m not saying like, “Oh, I’m so great.” I’m just saying that eventually…my insecurities didn’t derail me and make me basically reject myself from the gig through fear  – and fear makes you do stupid things. I was occasionally afraid, but I just kind of rolled with it and said “I can’t screw this up. They’re too important to me.” 

LK
Yeah, yeah. I can relate to that because when I was, let’s seeeeee…14, I would listen to Tricky’s “Maxinquaye” album on a cassette tape in the playground, and I got to play for him and I toured the world with him playing bass. 

KS
Wow. 

LK
And I was in my mid 20’s maybe when that was happening, and there’s no way I would have believed anyone – like even between the age of 14 and maybe two minutes before I was asked, I would never have believed that would ever happen to me, and then going to play these huge places. That is fucking terrifying. I was very scared. But you just really have to work your way through that don’t you, because it means so much more to do a good job for this person who’s trusting you to play, you know? You can’t fall apart in front of thousands of people who are hearing their favourite music as well. So it always felt…I’ve played with various people, but his were definitely the biggest crowds that I’ve played for. And just knowing that people are coming to have that amazing, special experience and you get to be part of that – but you have to really show up. That’s a really good learning experience, I think.

KS
Yeah.

LK
Yeah. Scary. 

KS
There’s not even an experimental phase for it.

LK
No, straight in!

KS
Although I have to say that the way that R.E.M. worked – and that’s why it was the perfect situation for me to fall into, in that sense – for something of that scale, they weren’t really interested in…I mean, they could have had anybody in the world playing their band at that point. And they weren’t really interested in the Berkeley grad who’s got all the chops and all this kind of stuff. For one thing, I mean, because that’s just…I’m not there. But at the same time, they want a vibe and they themselves didn’t come from like, some trained thing. I mean, maybe Mike Mills has the most educated – in a musical sense – background. But you know, they’re all largely kind of self taught or whatever. And it’s more about the art and the vibe and the emotion and everything like that.

So anyway, what I’m saying is, is that early on, you know, if I made some little mistake on stage, it’s not like they stopped and everyone turned and like, “What the hell?” You know? They just didn’t care. So once, there’s that kind of thing too…I’m not saying they didn’t care, but I mean, for one mistake or whatever…I mean the proportion is correct, you know? They’re very easy going. And it wasn’t like having some drill sergeant or something there screaming in your face. And basically, you relax. If somebody was like, while you’re playing bass or piano or whatever, if somebody was standing there saying, “Don’t make a single mistake, if you make a mistake, you’re out.” If they’re saying that, you’re going to make nothing but mistakes. 

LK

Yeah. 

KS
And, like, even if it’s pretty hard music, if someone is in a jam situation and nobody’s even paying attention beyond just the general vibe of the whole room, you’re going to play the most brilliant stuff of your life, because you’re yourself, you know?

LK
Just to have a nurturing, supportive environment. 

KS
That trust was big. 

LK
Yeah, that’s lovely. I met Peter Buck a couple of years ago, I got to support Filthy Friends in London and he was one of the loveliest musicians I’ve ever met. I just was so struck by that, because it’s not that I expect really successful people to be mean, but I have met some who are mean, and I don’t know if they were mean before they were successful, or they’ve always been mean, or what, I have no idea, I couldn’t tell you…But it’s just such a tonic to me to meet someone who’s so amazingly successful, but has the time and will take the time to speak to you, and watch your band play, and be cool, and have a nice chat. Like that they went through all that but are still decent people, basically.

KS

Yeah, they’re pretty much normal. They put a lot of work into normality. I think, you know, coming from where they come from: Athens, Georgia is a small town. I think it benefitted them in many ways, that they could kind of go disappear there when necessary. And yeah, they’re just really decent people. It was a great experience and I can’t imagine, you know, almost any other experience, if I had somehow been asked to join some other band of a similar stature…first of all, I wouldn’t have been – unless it was the Beatles – I don’t think it would have been something as close to my passion as R.E.M. was, so there’s that.

So that would have been already a different experience, and then it would have been more corporate in a sense, and R.E.M. was not corporate – even making records with them when they had this famous huge record deal, the biggest deal of all time at the time it was made, and blah, blah, blah. So, you know, a lot of stuff was riding from the record company’s point of view on each release, and, you know, they didn’t treat it like, “Guys, we’ve got to make the biggest record of all time.” Like they just weren’t…they’re just kind of normal, making records with anybody of my friends from that time would have been a similar experience, except the conditions in which they were able to do it. But as far as the attitude of just let’s have fun in the studio, let’s create something cool. In fact, they’re probably a lot less uptight than many of the indie bands that I had worked with at that point, you know.

LK
I think that shows in the music you all produced together, you know, it’s incredible stuff. But that’s just one small aspect – well, not small, because it’s huge, obviously – but of your career. So you also work on your own solo albums, is it 13 Posies albums, or is it the 14th on the way? Or is that the 13th on the way? Is it on the way? Is it coming? 

KS
Oh, yeah, it’s actually our ninth album. 

LK
What? What list have I been reading?

KS
There’s probably live records and stuff on that list.

LK
Oh yeah, okay. Oh, only nine then!

KS
Yeah, well, I mean, it is kind of odd in 30 years, but we have rich lives…I will say this! So a lot of different things now in the mix, and right now we are a three piece and none of us live in the same country. We live in three different countries on two continents. So yes, stuff is a little less frequent. It takes a little effort to get together, shall we say, but we still do it. But yeah, we have this record that we actually started in 2019 and pretty much we worked here at the studio that summer, came back in the fall, did a little more work and then went off to woodshed and add a few things – the things that you do nowadays in your home studio, blah, blah, blah. And then we got together in February last year, to basically do all the rest of the recording, and that was at our drummer Frankie Siragusa’s studio in LA. I don’t know why I’m pointing that way…

LK
Maybe it’s that way…

KS
Over there, somewhere…it’s in LA. So I would say about 90% of the recording we did all together in the studio together, not sharing files, not doing all that – it’s just a few bits and bobs that we kind of shared a little bit from a distance, which is a very typical thing to do. So we made the record really together. And then right as that recording was all done, then the pandemic stuff happened and everybody was just trying to recalibrate and figure out what the hell they were going to be doing and where they were going to be based for like, the whole time.

I was on tour and had to scramble to get home to France just before everything shut down and that was, you know, quite a thing. And a similar story for Jon in a sense, and so there you go. So that kind of slowed everything down, and then we kind of came out of the fog of just trying to figure out what the hell’s going on, then we kind of get back in our plan of mixing and then it just took a long time. I think people were not as focused and so getting comments on mixes and stuff like that just took a while. So here we are a year later. But we also were like, well, we can’t tour so we didn’t really want to release the record until things are well along. And so that seemed obvious that there’s at least a year in there that there was going to be nothing doing touring wise. So that also went into the process of why the mixes didn’t happen lickety split fast. And so then, you know, we tried a couple things a couple different mixers and settled on the three people that ended up mixing the record, one of which is Frankie, our drummer.

Anyway, so now that’s all done and now we’re going to get together and play together, which is really exciting. And then as the mixing got done, I think we finished the mixing right before I came back to the States, which was the beginning of June, and I just hit the ground running here with just non-stop, just like balls to the wall sessions, like the days that I’ve described to you – 15/18 hour days just working my ass off, which was the point of coming here, in a sense. You know, I mean, of course, I went and visited Mom for a couple days, but generally I’m here to work hard, earn some money and come back with something to show for it, bring home the bacon as it were. So I’m not here to, you know, futz about really. So anyway, but I’ve been working so much that I haven’t even had time to get in and like, my next plan is to shop the record and approach a couple labels that I think would be a good home for the record and see what they have to say and then go from there. So that’s the next thing.

So also part of the next thing is the whole other side of the personality of the record, and one of the big reasons why I’m staying, we got these shows that came in – I’d already planned my travel in fact, when the offer for these shows came in. So I extended my trip by a week or so – a couple weeks – because then I thought well, after the shows are done this weekend, we should stay together for a week, the band, and we have this opportunity to be together when the weather’s really nice. So we have all these options about doing photos, videos, all that stuff we’re going to need.

The whole idea of what we’re doing next week, it’s quite ambitious in that of course it’s going to be done in one timeframe, the videos, photos and all these little extra bits but we also are going to try to interweave a little bit of a storyline through all of it. Even though the album itself doesn’t have a concept, just for fun, that’s like going to be our easter egg is to kind of put a little narrative behind the whole thing that we’re doing.

LK
That’s great. Do you enjoy that side of stuff as well? The visuals and whatnot?

KS
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s gonna be super fun and it’s only a 10 hour day. 

LK
It’s like a holiday for you!

KS
And the sun goes down and that’s it, you know. I’m not doing any of the video editing, so I’m off the hook. 

LK
This is it.

KS
I probably would still be catching up on whatever mixing I didn’t finish today. But yeah, not your fault! I’m just saying that I’ve got a few things on my plate. But there’s time next week in the evening to catch up on work and do all this stuff. It’s all fun. It’s all good.

LK
Yeah. And so what’s the reasoning behind not mixing The Posies album? Because you mix so much other stuff…

KS
I think it’s basically a way to keep things diplomatic between Jon and myself. 

LK
Yeah. 

KS
So neither person feels like someone who doesn’t have their best interests in mind, you know, might have their own best interests in mind isn’t in control of the outcome. So it’s a diplomatic way to give it… Well, the thing is, though, I also wanted just to bring in some outside stuff, just for perspective reasons. Because we made the whole record together, maybe it’s nice to hear what a mixer will do with it, if it’s someone you trust, so we had a couple great mixers. I mean, I can mention it here. Chris Walla from Death Cab for Cutie – formerly of Death Cab for Cutie – mixed about half the record and then we had Adam Hawkins, who’s best known for mixing twenty one pilots, mix a couple tunes. But he’s kind of at a whole ‘nother level so therefore also a whole ‘nother level of expense, so we couldn’t afford him for the whole album. But he’s kind of like the guy you want to get to mix your singles. He did a fantastic job, and it was really fascinating to see what a mixer like that brings to your songs, you know, and just the kind of choices they make. And that was a real interesting learning thing.

And then we had some other songs that, yeah, we just kind of felt like maybe keeping that closer to home for a couple of tunes. There are too many things that we would have to interpret or explain to another mixer, things we kind of wanted to preserve. Once that’s going to an outside mixer, you let them, shall we say…you know, field dress the venison as it were, like they choose what to cut off and what to leave. Sorry for all you vegans out there. Whereas maybe we might want to preserve certain things rather than explain like, “Oh, yeah, you can’t touch this.” That just seems a little weird to tell to a mixer. So we just had Frankie do it. Because also then he’s not one of the songwriters. So he’s not favouring – he’s very objective in that sense. You know, he doesn’t play favourites between Jon and I. 

LK
Yeah. 

KS
And so that kind of keeps things relaxed in that sense, and he’s really talented. So there’s that too. 

LK
Yeah, what multitalented bandmates you have, it’s great.

KS
I did mix some stuff, though, by the way. 

LK
Oh, did you? 

KS
I did mix some stuff on the album “Blood/Candy”, the album two albums ago that came out 10 years ago, I mixed two or three of those tunes.

LK
Yeah. Did Jon do some as well then? 

KS
On that record? He does, yeah.

LK
Oh he does. I thought so.

I read a brilliant post on your website recently, where you call out a journalist for negatively targeting yours and The Posies’ work in a really unfair way, and I really enjoyed it because you wrote a line, “I believe you had a preconceived notion of what that album, the product of my personal artistic vision should be as if your tastes are something I should keep in mind when pursuing my artistic vision.” And I just really love that. 

KS
Yeah, because there were two things: he’d done a trash review of my solo album and then later made this blog post about his favourite powerpop things and put us on the list, which is cool. But the post was all about how we were mean to the audience at this one show he went to, which seems a little unlikely to me just based on our basic personality, but anything’s possible, whatever it was is a long time ago. But I was like, really? Like, you know, 30 years of doing all the outreach that we do and building our fan community the way we’ve done it, you know, we’re notoriously easy to work with from the venue point of view, blah, blah, blah, like, that’s what you’re going to put out there for the world to see? I’m like no, I’m not having it.

Because it’s weird, there’s something that I have to mention right now that it’s a bigger picture than just about my band. We started as these wünderkind, you know, wünderkinder I guess would be the plural, who are like these teenagers who had this viral album blah, blah, blah. They’re so brainy blah, blah, blah. So ever since then no matter what we do, basically it’s like a disappointment to a certain kind of critic. Like they’ve decided. And I personally think it’s a jealousy thing. Like with my solo albums and our band’s stuff we’re held to these weird standards that no one else is held to, like one guy in a review of the album, “Blood/Candy” went on and on about how we had this guitar solo that served no purpose, and it was so short, blah, blah, blah. And that guitar solo…I was like, I can’t remember which Elliott Smith song it is, but there’s a guitar solo the exact same length on this Elliott Smith record. I’m sure this guy would never have made that complaint about the Elliott Smith record. I mean, “Nowhere Man’s” guitar solo is pretty short, but we’ll let that one slide…it’s a couple bars longer than the one on our record, but I’m just like, I don’t understand why everybody else gets a pass except us in a certain way.

And like all the things that you’re led to believe about what makes… like what are record critics traditionally rallying against? They’re sniffing out the corporate, disingenuous fakery and insincerity of the artists that we don’t want, and we want the stuff that’s real and true and gritty as well. So, we’re not particularly gritty but the truth is in there, you want to eliminate all the fakery in showbiz and you know, we’re a band that at this point we’re not signed to a label, we do everything ourselves, we handle all of our stuff. We don’t have a manager, we’re super self contained. We’ve created our own albums. I mean, we are exactly what these critics should like. But it’s not good enough. And I think it’s partially to do with the fact that we’re not particularly gritty. But then again, at the same time now, like, if you look at Pitchfork, I’m going on a little tangent here, but just give me a break – you know, like, if you look at Pitchfork, it’s all about The Weekend or Tyler The Creator or even like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift, it’s that Pitchfork, you know, which is supposed to be the arbiter of taste is all about super mega mainstream artists. I mean, no offence to any of them. I have no skin in that game. I don’t begrudge anyone’s success, or anyone’s ambition. You know, Max Martin writes a lot of The Weekend’s songs and stuff like that – I mean, it’s about as mainstream as you can get these days, even if the result can be interesting. I’m just saying we can’t win either way.

When we were really successful people ridiculed us because we were signed and blah, blah, blah, we’re not as cool as XYZ. And then now that we’re independent it’s not good enough, for whatever reason. So I kind of, at a certain point, have to sort of push back against that and say that I’m not buying it. I do think some people are sort of jealous of the life that I’ve lived at times. And if you are a struggling musician who’s best output could be as a critic because nobody wants to hear your music –  and I’m not saying that about this particular journalist, I’m saying that this I think is not an uncommon situation for some journalists – and you see, this guy’s played with all these big artists that you love, Neil Young, blah, blah, blah, you know, he lives on an island in France, and blah, blah, blah, like, screw this guy, you know, basically. I can see that.

There’s one other thing that I want to bring into the mix here that I think is relevant. And I think it’s always been relevant, I just didn’t understand it for what it was and instincts that led me to do certain things. Kind of, we’re in alignment with this particular dynamic, shall we say? Our band is called The Posies, yeah? I mean, it’s not called like Nightsabre or something like this, you know?

LK
MANFLOWER. 

KS
Yeah, it’s just a real contrast to the very masculine aspects of, shall we say, a lot of the grunge thing. There’s a lot of swagger you know? Chris Cornell was a manly man. I mean, great band and no offence to that kind of thing. But look, I’ve been harassed and even physically beaten as a young person for just perceived androgyny. You know, like, basically that was a good enough pretext to basically approach me with violent intent or even enact violence as a young person, right? 

LK
Yeah. 

KS
I suffered a lot as a kid from this kind of thing. I suffered it all through growing up, you know, I was kind of slim and effeminate and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. And there’s like this tribal thing that happens, especially from a small town and you need to prove your loyalties to the tribe by going out and attacking the weirdos, the people who don’t fit in. And a lot of the pretext for those attacks is homophobic. So like, I’ve seen this, and though I’m not a member of the LGBTQ community, I might as well be because I’ve seen what they see in terms of the negative side of how society treats people in that context, shall we say.

Anyway, our band is called The Posies and you know, we just didn’t… our band, in a sense, very early on, because we were young and playing a lot of all ages shows, too, but we didn’t quite fit into everything else that was going on in the punk scene, and the punk scene was very masculine, too. You know, we could name exceptions from that era – but they were exceptions. Most of the punk scene were dudes, you know, thrashing each other, the bands were kind of whatever. I mean, maybe politically, you can move one band’s vibe from one to the other from left to centre to right. But in terms of presence, we’re talking like a largely male presence, a largely aggressive male presence. Our band didn’t really have that and so we became kind of a safe space for a lot of different kinds of people, you know? Our shows, you knew you weren’t gonna get harassed, and you know there weren’t going to be dickheads there, this kind of stuff. So, this is kind of a cool thing and we kind of went on from that. With that in mind, in a sense. I mean, we kind of felt it, but we were just kind of working on intuition and it’s how we are is that way.

So anyway, I’ve always had this theory that one of the reasons I think people have had such a difficult time with our band and and just want to find something to criticise about it, as it just happens to be these critics are 99.99% male, is misogyny. I truly believe that you will have a harder time living in a world with a band called The Posies doing what we do if you have misogynistic tendencies, and maybe you aren’t even aware of it, you’re not self aware enough to own it. But I really do believe that’s the thing. And I think that it irks people, that we are different. It irks people that we’re a band called The Posies. Now, a lot of people – even very, you know…my Dad is a very traditional not fussy guy, you know, he votes Republican, blah, blah, blah and he has no problem living in a world with a band called The Posies. I mean, I know it’s his kid, but he’s been behind us 100% of the way. So I really feel like it’s not about even conservative versus progressive values. I really think it’s, if you’re not set straight with the fact that things can be like this in this world, things can be soft, gentle, you know…not everything subversive presents itself as “Hey I’m subversive, yeah I’m the Soy Bomb guy getting on stage with Bob Dylan”. You know, there’s subtlety in that and I really do think that that’s been an issue in how critic treat us, believe it or not.

LK
Yeah, that’s really interesting. And the reason I brought that up is because I just really appreciate that you’re actually saying something back to a critic. I don’t have anything against critics per se, either. It’s just that I really appreciate you being honest about how that makes you feel, and how unfair it was, and how it can affect you. Because you also made the point that, yeah, “you the reviewer are the interface between me, the artist trying to survive and the public who might be interested in this album…every bad review is essentially a threat to my livelihood”, which is exactly the right point to make.

KS
Yeah

LK

I’m just interested to know, because, obviously, you’ve been doing this a while…it seems to me that the power and perhaps the value of press for music has obviously changed dramatically, even in just the last couple of years. So what role do you think it plays in reaching a wider audience these days for you? You obviously benefitted greatly from that being behind you at a certain point? 

KS
Yeah, sure. 

LK
It’s changed a lot.

KS
So I think that it’s still important, just the players have changed and we have good relationships with some and not with others for some reason, like we had a couple of reviewers at Pitchfork who were really behind us. My album “Touched” and my solo album “Soft Commands” got incredible reviews from Pitchfork, and nowadays I don’t really have an in there. The Posies’ recent work, my recent solo work hasn’t merited a review. So we don’t exist to that world which of course, okay, maybe it’s never gonna happen, but that would obviously be a nice bridge to…I mean they will sometimes bring up stuff that would be relevant to us in a sense, like, they will talk about XTC or Elvis Costello or something like that, and I think people who like that music who don’t know about us yet would enjoy our music, for example. I know those are older artists that we’re talking about here.

But you know, there are younger artists too who cite a lot of the same influences as us too, especially Big Star, you know? Continually. It comes up every generation of bands or artists mention Big Star as a touch point and do Big Star covers. So I mean, if you’re interested in Big Star we might be an interesting band to know about, etc. So yeah, these kinds of things, I think could be great. Obviously, the big dailies and stuff like that are a little bit tougher, but I’ll tell you, now that they’re struggling, they’re a lot friendlier. 

LK
Are they?

KS
Yeah, sure. With these last shows we were in the Seattle Times, which would have been quite a rarity. We were in the Bellingham Herald, my hometown newspaper which never writes about us – never ever. I’ve been banging on their door for years and finally we get some coverage because of the the nature of these shows, you know, Bellingham reopening to live music. But yeah, I mean, they’re aware of their fragility, so they’re a little more folksy these days.

LK
Yeah, and happily we have lots of other ways to reach people anyway. But that stuff’s always…you know, I always hope for something, some big press thing to magically happen for me and it never does and it doesn’t define my experience of any record I put out, but… 

KS

Touch wood – hasn’t happened yet. 

LK
Yet. Exactly.

Do you have three tracks of yours that you would be interested in sharing with people who might need a bit of a jolt, or a sort of way into your catalogue? As vast as it is?

KS
Yeah, sure. Yeah, absolutely. Let’s see here. Well firstly, people should check out The Posies so let’s come up with a Posies song. I’m sort of waffling between doing something old, or something more recent, but actually we were kind of talking about this earlier so let’s tie it together. So on our 2010 album, “Blood/Candy”, which I do believe you should be able to find on all the streamings and all that, there’s a song called “For The Ashes”, which I think is a really nice song. It’s a little bit cryptic, but don’t worry, all of our music is – lyrics that is. That’s one of the songs on that album that I mixed, and as further poignancy that rhythm section Matt Harris and Darius Minwalla are both passed away so it’s nice to put their music out there. They were great musicians and lovely people. Matt, the bass player on that song just passed away in February. So, yeah, let’s put a little tribute out to Matt and Darius there and a really nice song. 

LK
Lovely. 

KS
Then we should probably check out something from my solo work and there’s quite a few things out there. Well, we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this year, which happens to be the 20th anniversary of the release date of my second solo album “Touched”. 

LK
Oh, my!

KS
Yeah, it was released on 9/11 and there’s a whole thing about that. So maybe we should check that out. We can check out the song “Find Yourself Alone” from Touched. That’s a nice one. 

LK
Okay. 

KS
And then I think we should get something that’s sort of from the music production world, and this is something that’s been released recently – I think it’s really cool. So one of the things that I’ve done, I’ve done this a couple times but I think this is maybe perhaps the the most interesting, or maybe the best result or whatever.

Anyway, during the pandemic, I posted about saying, “Hey, I’m not going anywhere. I’m in my studio in France, I’m looking for projects, bla bla bla and ready to do some studio work to keep me alive here.” And a lot of people responded and so I just did a ton of stuff, which is great. A guy named Joe Puleo who is mostly a writer and a very high level track and field coach – he’s written a couple books on the subject, etc. – but being a writer he’s dabbled in things that are more lyrical, etc. He’s like, “Yeah, I’ve got this idea for some lyrics I’ve written, would you be able to turn them in to a song?” All he has is lyrics, no melody, no nothing. And he sent me a song.

Basically, he’d written about Gabriele Grunewald, who was a champion runner who was diagnosed with cancer and continue to compete, even as she’s having surgeries and all this kind of stuff…and she just refused to give in, she became a real inspiring figure. She eventually did succumb to the illness, but she continued to compete for three or four or five years while carrying the diagnosis and the treatment and all that stuff, so he wrote this song called “Not Today”, which is a quote of hers…the doctor said “Hey, I think you’re gonna…this could be your organs trying to fail and she’s like, “Not today!”” kind of thing. So right to the end, she was fighting. So we ended up doing an EP of songs after we did this one. But this one is the one that started it, so I think it’s worth checking out.

So basically he sent me a Word doc with his lyrics and I invented the music and melodies and then I played everything to execute the stuff except for the drums, which I sent off to Frankie, our Posies drummer to do, and then I mixed everything and so it’s like, the music is 100% my composition, the lyrics are 100% his composition, and then the music is 95% my execution, including the singing, so it’s really cool. Check it out. That’s up on all the streaming. So the song is called “Not Today”. It’s an EP – “Ken Stringfellow Imagines Puleo”, something like this. Go check it out.

LK
How did you approach that then? So you get a Word document, and we’ve talked about how you don’t have this inner critic telling you every day “you suck at this, you can’t do it”, because you’re someone who makes a lot of things. How do you approach that, when someone sends you a bunch of lyrics? Did you talk to him about the kinds of things he liked, or anything like that?

KS
Oh, no, no. He just said, “I’m gonna send you a song, I’ve got an idea to write the song” and he told me a little bit of the story, and the thing is my call to action had been so successful that actually, I was working like crazy. And so stuff just kept coming my way and so it’s not like I had even time to like, “Okay, got the Word document, let’s think about this for a while…I’ll go and take a couple days and go off to a cabin and think about this”. I know, like, I opened the thing, but what’s cool is, I was so in the zone, or just things were firing because I was working so hard…I opened the Word doc, on the day that I was supposed to do the first… that I just scheduled like a half day to basically write the song, make a sketch demo and send that off to Frankie so that I could do the rest of the recording on another half day, and then it’d be one day for recording, right? So I had a half day to figure this thing out and I swear to you as Jah is my witness, I open this Word doc and I could hear the whole thing.

LK
Amazing.

KS
I can hear every single aspect of the music, reading the page, and I was like “Holy crap!”, grab a guitar that sounds like it’s capo 4, like I heard this kind of “Street Fighting Man thing”…and I grab my guitar and put the capo on the 4 and then go “Okay, that’s the right key, blah, blah, blah” and then I was writing it faster than I could…I was thinking it faster than I could play it. I mean, it was like it wrote itself instantly. 

LK
Yeah.

KS
I think I had the demo made in 45 minutes…yeah, just acoustic guitar and the melody, but I could just hear the whole thing – I changed only one thing from his lyric which is it just said “cry if you like” on the beginning of the chorus, but I heard it as “cry cry cry if you…” – I heard some extra cries. I heard it like that instantly. It was so weird. 

LK
Wow. 

KS
So yeah, that was that and then I sent it up to Frankie and then I recorded it…I think it was a Friday and he said “Can I have the weekend to get the drums done?” So I sent that off. He did the drums, sent it back to me Sunday night, Monday morning I would have gone in, and then a half day of doing all the instruments and singing, and then probably mixed it the next day. 

LK
Why not? 

KS
Mmm.

LK
Get it done. 

KS
Yeah.

LK
Schedule it and it’ll get done. 

KS
Well, there’s the thing. 

LK
That’s what your life sounds like – because you’re planning stuff in, aren’t you? It’s not happening randomly.

KS
I can’t really fluff a day without consequences. Everything is like…it’s like a freight train. So if I move one car, they all get get moved. So I have just do it. I can’t really wake up like, “Yeah, not really feeling it today.” No, I have to be on.

And when you have bands coming into the studio, you know – I’ve done some online shows…so everybody should know that The Posies have their first ever online show that’ll be live in the studio on July 24th. Now that’s at 6pm Seattle time. So that’s like 2am UK time, but it streams for 24 hours if you can’t tune in live, so if you go to The Posies Instagram @ThePosies (although you should be following my Instagram @KenStringfellow)…the link in the bio has tickets to that online show…and that’s the cool thing – so I’ve been doing online shows here in the studio during the last months and since a few months now, we’ve been able to have two – count them two (!) live guests in the studio with me. So we have just enough space because of the distancing rules and blah, blah.

So yeah, I’ll do a show and that means rearranging the whole studio to do that and setting up a PA for the guests and setting up the live stream. I play guitar and grand piano, it’s all mic-ed up and I need a mixer and all this kind of stuff. So I’m doing that and you might think that after an exhausting day…. and let’s say that for the last couple shows I even have a ticket where I will write a song for that show on any subject that you send me. So usually I was writing two songs the day of the show and getting those ready for the show plus requests, which might be deep cuts that I have to kind of relearn because it’s something so obscure and old I haven’t played it in 20 years…

LK
Yeah. 

KS
All that and you might think, well, maybe he’ll schedule the day off the next day to put the studio back. And no, no, the next day after any of those shows I’ve got a band coming in, we’re tracking drums, doing the whole thing. So I’m just not one to rest and I think this is a very funny thing, because many people who aren’t musicians, they’re always like, “Wow, so are you gonna take some time off after the tour?” And I’m like, “No… I mean, do you take time off after going to your job?” No, you got to keep working. I do at least. You know, I’m not making $10 million on my tours, generally speaking so far…I’m open to the idea…

LK
Yeah!

KS
But generally, just back to work. I mean the only difference is my day job isn’t… I’m not making Xeroxes in a legal office, I’m basically working in the studio but I got to just keep going – but I’ve always kind of been like that. Anyway, I like working – it’s fun. It gets more fun the better you get at it, too. So all that I’ve learned in the last year, doing nothing but making records as opposed to doing tours and stuff like that and fitting in making records where I can. All I’ve done is make records for the last year and a half, and it’s done wonders for my skills. I’ve learned so much and my mixing is so much better. My recording is so much better than it was a year ago, and that’s fun. You feel more like a wizard, like the sorcerer’s apprentice.

LK
Yeah, it just feels like constantly levelling up if you actually just do stuff. I feel the same. I haven’t created anywhere near the same amount of music as you have but I have plans to, you know? And the only way you do that is by doing it. You can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Because sometimes it does and that’s a nice day, isn’t it? But if it doesn’t strike you still have to do some work, don’t you?

KS
Yeah, absolutely. Well also for writing something like a Posies record, I have to now set aside that time. I don’t really write a song and go, “Oh, maybe one day I’ll use that in a Posies record”. Pretty much my creative stuff is at full tilt at all times for whatever project I’m in, so I don’t have any more bandwidth than what I have. So when I’m working on somebody else’s record I’m trying to just do the best job I can, but all my concentration is in it and so it’s not like at the end of the day I’ve got this idea for a song. That’s just the way it is.

So basically, I block out time when we’re thinking about a Posies record being on the horizon. I block out maybe 10 days to just futz around, and in those 10 days…knowing I’m only going to have six songs on a Posies record…I will get into the writing thing and let it all… whatever: any frustration, joy, anger, sadness, fear that I’ve had in the last two years is bottled up in there. It’s ready to say stuff right away. So the inspiration is there.

But sometimes, in those 10 days, I might sit at the piano, grab a guitar and do some playing and maybe there’s an idea that’s kind of there, and then at the end of the day, maybe I got nothing and it’s gone. If I can’t finish it that day, forget it. Next day is a new day, pick something up and all of a sudden, could be the same old stupid chords – here’s C and G again – and yet, for some reason at that moment the way I’m playing them is connecting to something that my subconscious wants to tell the world and get off my chest. So you just go with it.

Because for me, writing Posies songs or solo songs it’s not the same as writing with someone else, or for someone else. I put a lot of care and emotion into what I do, and there’s always stuff bubbling up, but with The Posies, this is like my legacy thing – it’s got to be my “Big Statements”. So it means that I need to go one level more open, and it’s quite intense, I can’t just jump into that emotional state. So, there are times writing the Posies record where I just felt this incredible sadness. I mean, you get into that stuff…that’s the stuff we push down the most, the most negative stuff. So if you open those chambers, wherever they are in our subconscious, and let those start free flowing, that’s putting a lot of…basically like the septic tank is backing up into the bloodstream in a way. So I was like, poisoned for a couple days of “God, I just feel so sad”. Not even depressed, but actually mournfully sad. That’s just what you get for opening up those things, which is why I need to give it space because I also just can’t then just jump into something else so easily.

LK
Do you tend to keep that kind of writing away from your family life? Because it sounds like you do compartmentalise that – by geography, mostly.

KS

No, no, I got a place to hang, I’ve got my own studio in the house in France. So I can go off…my studio is basically two rooms, essentially. There’s a control room and a live room but they’re repurposed bedrooms, basically. I can be isolated enough in there and of course I come in, I leave the room – I don’t sequester myself in there for days on end, but I am in kind of a different mindset. But my family is very cool, they’re used to all these different processes and it doesn’t really freak them out, and I’m just open about it to them.

I was working on one song on a record that I’m really, really proud of and Aden, my daughter – who at the time I was writing it…that had to be early 2019…so she was 14 at that time –  so she hears me working on the song and she comes downstairs and tells Dominique my wife, she’s like, “Daddy’s working on this song. It’s so good. So good. I think it’s like, the best thing he’s ever written but it’s so sad.” It is kind of a heartbreaking song. But that’s the stakes. A really good song, for me, it’s got to be something that I can’t even make it through a performance without tearing up. So that’s a sign that I’ve really got to someplace deep, you know?

LK
Yeah, if you can’t move yourself, how are you going to move others? I feel the same about my stuff.

KS
And now I’ve played the song a couple of times live, solo and with The Posies and one fan (now I’ve done it in a couple of these online shows) what did she say… you know you can see chats coming up in the online show…?

LK
Yeah.

KS
And she says “Oh, I know this one. It’s the fork in your heart song.” That’s not a lyric, it’s just how she feels about it, she mentioned that phrase.

LK
I love that. That’s a great phrase.

Just to finish off, in your bio…I keep I keep quoting yourself back at you but you write so beautifully in prose as well as in lyrics…

KS
Thank you.

LK
…in your bio you say “there’s no reason for me to make records. Because obviously, they’re expensive and they take time” and all that. So, what keeps you making them? What keeps making you write Ken Stringfellow songs and Posies songs and other songs?

KS
Well…is it a George Bernard Shaw quote? “The world is only moved by unreasonable men.” Sorry, it’s dated with gender from that time period, but let’s say unreasonable people. But how else are we going to move the world? The fact that people are irrational is why things change. It’s like, the only news that comes in. I’m not saying that every irrational act is good, obviously, because some people do destructive things with their irrational thinking…so all the more reason that we need to introduce some x factor and some new ideas and new ways into the world that are positive…the more the better.

We don’t want to live in a perfectly reasonable, static world – that would be a nightmare. That’s what every dystopian type thing tells us: pay attention to those thinkers. We don’t want that world. 

LK
No, absolutely. Well, thank you for bringing so much wonderful music into our world and I hope everyone listening goes…and if they haven’t already, if they’re not already aware of all of it, there’s such a wealth of stuff to discover. So, thank you so much for coming and having a chat. I knew this would be so interesting. I’m sorry we didn’t get to do this in person when I met you, was it five years ago or something? But that never happens at gigs, though, and that’s why this podcast exists because I never got to have those chats. 

KS
Exactly. Yeah. 

LK
Thank you for taking the time.

KS
My pleasure, thank you for having me. For the 90 minutes we’ve been talking we’ve probably covered 2% of all the stuff…

LK
I know!

KS
There’s a lot! There are some cool things that I’ve done that I’m proud of. People should just check out what I do, just check out what you do. 

LK
Thank you. 

KS
Hopefully this will get people to dive deep.

LK
Yeah, hopefully and you know what? I hope this podcast is gonna keep going. So maybe in a couple of years you could be a recurring character and come and tell me more if you like. You’re always welcome. 

KS
With great pleasure. 

LKThank you so much!



LK
Well, clearly that conversation could have gone on for many more hours, but I think we covered some really interesting stuff! What a career, and I love the idea of the continual now of your own work – really something to strive for, I think.

As always, the deluxe show notes page for this episode is on my website at penfriend.rocks/ken and two free Penfriend songs are waiting for you there as well.

Do come and say hi any time on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram – I’m @penfriendrocks everywhere, including YouTube, where I’m challenging myself to upload a new video every week for the next 10 weeks. I’ve said it out loud now, so I have to do it! Ok…it’s happening!

If you’re new to the podcast and want to keep listening, I think episode 43 with Lou Barlow and episode 41 with Juliana Hatfield would follow on very nicely from this one. But, you know, you choose!

Giant, humungous, massive, huge thanks to my Correspondent’s Club for powering the making of this show and all my music. You’re the best.

I’ll be back in two weeks time with a fresh new episode for you, so I hope to catch you then!

Take care, keep cool, keep safe, lots of love.

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Ep44: Ken Stringfellow (The Posies / R.E.M. / Big Star) on saying “yes”

Ep44: Ken Stringfellow (The Posies / R.E.M. / Big Star) on saying “yes”

Podcast
Thanks for visiting!

How to listen




A fixture on the music landscape, indie and otherwise, since the debut of his band The Posies in 1988, Ken Stringfellow has over a quarter century of experience as a performer, composer, producer, arranger, programmer and more.

In addition to his 8 albums with The Posies and 4 solo albums, Ken spent a decade touring and recording with R.E.M.; he was also involved in the rebirth of Memphis cult band Big Star, playing with Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens from the band’s first reunion shows in 1993 until Chilton’s death in 2010.

Ken has played onstage or in studio with such artists as Neil Young, the Afghan Whigs, Mercury Rev, Thom Yorke, John Paul Jones, Patti Smith, Wilco, Robyn Hitchcock, Ringo Starr, Damien Jurado, Nada Surf, Brendan Benson, Mudhoney, the Long Winters…a very long list indeed. In fact, Ken has appeared on over 300 albums (totaling 9 million sales), and performed in 96 countries.

** The Posies play their first livestreamed gig this Saturday 24th July 2021 – watch live or at any time over the following 24 hours. GET TICKETS. **

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • putting in the work – how to be a super productive musician
  • the importance of treating everyone the same in the studio, regardless of fame or experience
  • going viral in the late 1980’s, and how The Posies’ outsider status in the ’90s Seattle scene has led to longevity for the band
  • how sharing a stage with your musical heroes gives you no choice but to level up

Things to do next:

+ Follow Ken on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and why not book him to work on your music?
+ Follow The Posies on Twitter and Instagram.
+ Listen to “For The Ashes” (The Posies), “Find Yourself Alone” (Ken Stringfellow) and “Not Today” (from Ken Stringfellow Imagines Puleo).





This podcast is powered by my Correspondent’s Club. Thanks to every single member for your support!

+ Sponsor a future episode here.

Get your copy of my new album “Exotic Monsters” right here.

+ Get two free songs immediately when you sign up for thoughtful letters about art and music.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTubeTwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo


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“Why I’m still not playing gigs in 2021” [VIDEO]

“Why I’m still not playing gigs in 2021” [VIDEO]

Letterbox Music News Process

As an independent songwriter, producer and musician, releasing my new album this year was more of a challenge than usual. The UK government left venues with no choice but to re-open on “Freedom Day”, 19th July 2021, but I won’t be playing gigs for a while.

Watch my first vlog in NINE YEARS, with love and respect for venues and music supporters plus some big sky escapism…


THANK YOU for visiting my website! I’m Laura Kidd, a music producer, songwriter and podcaster based in Bristol, UK. It’s great to meet you.

Get your copy of my new album “Exotic Monsters” right here.

+ Get two free songs immediately when you sign up for thoughtful letters about art and music.

+ Browse episodes of my music podcast “Attention Engineer” here and subscribe via your favourite podcast platform.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTubeTwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo

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Ep43: Lou Barlow (Sebadoh / Dinosaur Jr / The Folk Implosion) on building a body of work…however the fuck he wants to – Transcript

Ep43: Lou Barlow (Sebadoh / Dinosaur Jr / The Folk Implosion) on building a body of work…however the fuck he wants to – Transcript

Podscripts

SPEAKERS

Laura Kidd, Lou Barlow


Lou Barlow

You know, I think especially the older I’ve gotten and the more records I’ve put out, the less I criticise myself about how I come up with songs, and the more I just am fucking grateful that I can do it at all. (laughs)

Because I used to really get hung up on stuff like that. I’d get hung up on how long something took or other things that I compared myself to, or peers that I compared myself… You know, standards that I was putting myself up against. And I just… less and less and less and less of that. I’m just like, you know, I’m just building a body of work. And I can do it however the fuck I want to.

Laura Kidd


Absolutely, yeah.


Laura Kidd  

Hello and welcome to episode 43 of Attention Engineer.

I’m Laura and this is my podcast. Hi!

Attention Engineer is a show where I share deep conversations with fellow artists about creativity, grit and determination. My aim is to consistently remind you – and remind myself – that creativity really is for everyone….because it really is.

Let’s kick that inner critic where it hurts.

I’m just back from four days away. Away. Out of my house, and in someone else’s. Yes! I drove all the way from Bristol to Suffolk to spend some time with my parents and my sister having not seen them since January 13th 2020. It was…surprisingly normal! After the initial “whoah, I’m hugging someone who isn’t my husband” bit, it was amazing how quickly things felt completely normal – in the house, anyway. Obviously all precautions were taken while travelling, I did my first lateral flow test before I set off – and then another one when the first one didn’t react to my…sample…and I recently bought lots of really comfortable masks off an Etsy seller in a bid to leave the house more and start reintegrating into the world after a very hermitty year and a bit. So, it was a big deal to go so far, to spend some time with other people. It was a lovely weekend and I’m very thankful that we were all healthy enough to do that.

I will be staying cautious and seeing how things go over the coming weeks and months, and I’m not ready to ditch masks or social distancing, personally, but we have to do what we feel is right. It was lovely to get a glimpse of what life could be like again, and just to have a bit of hope makes such a difference, doesn’t it…

Back in The Launchpad, I’ve now finished my 30 day digital reset and am very reluctant to re-engage with all the digital bits and bobs. I feel so much better: calmer, happier, more focused, less tired, less stressed. The intention was never to just have a 30 day break and then dive right back in to my old behaviour anyway, so I’m taking a few days to figure out what my new rules are for all the platforms, to get the good bits from them and avoid the negative behaviour that those addictive technologies inspired in me. The ceaseless scrolling, the checking, the re-checking, the vicious cycle of Twitter to Instagram to Facebook to email and back again. And again. They’re designed to do this to us, and I don’t want to play any more. So, I’m figuring that out at the moment.

I recently asked a question on Instagram Stories: what’s currently stopping you from embarking on your next creative project? The overwhelmingly popular answer was: time. It’s the most valuable thing we have by far. So, what are we spending our most valuable resource on?

This feels like a good moment to say a massive thank you for choosing to spend some of your precious time listening to my podcast. I’ve been making this show for a year now, and I’m so glad I’ve persevered. Launching big projects is always risky, but I try to turn towards fear and resistance these days. If something scares me a bit, it’s always worth exploring. Whether this is your first time listening to Attention Engineer or your 43rd – thank you so much.

It’s time now to introduce you to today’s guest – and there’s a bit of a story behind how I came across his solo work in the first place. If you own a copy of my new album “Exotic Monsters” on CD or vinyl, and you’re someone who likes to read the thanks section, you might know that I dedicated that record to Amy Balmain. I think Amy first saw me play at Hope and Social’s garden party in 2011, but I didn’t meet her properly until 2012. I was making the single cover art for a song called In This Boat and I wanted to make a paper boat out of maps, so I tweeted a request to see if anyone could help. Amy got in touch and we arranged to meet at Victoria Station. She was travelling to work, I think, from Brighton, and was in a hurry, so we stood on the concourse for a few moments surrounded by a whirl of commuters rushing past in all directions, a pocket of calm amongst the chaos. Amy pressed a big folder stuffed with yellow and blue maps into my hands, smiled widely and then was gone, lost in the crowd. When I looked inside the folder I was amazed to find nautical maps of Portland, which is where I’d taken  the photographs of the lighthouse Portland Bill for the inner sleeve of my album Little Battles.

Amy remained very supportive of my music over the years, her name often popping up on Pledge campaigns and Bandcamp pre-orders. In 2018 she commissioned a cover song from me as part of the Brace For Impact Pledge campaign, and when she sent through the name of the song and the artist I was delighted to listen to something completely new to me – I find it far more fun to cover songs I don’t already know. The song was “Home” by Lou Barlow, from his 2005 album “Emoh”, and I had a really fun day making my own version for Amy, and thanked her for introducing me to Lou’s excellent solo work.

She was really pleased with the cover, which made me very happy, and towards the end of 2019, when I was touring with Robin Ince, I got to enjoy a big squeezy, smiley Amy hug in Shoreham by Sea. If I’d known that would be the last time I saw her, I would have held on a little longer.

Amy passed away at the end of last summer, and the world is a poorer place with her gone. It might not always feel like it, but we all have an effect on the people in our lives, and even though we only met a handful of times, she had a big effect on me, and it always felt like a great compliment that she enjoyed my music. Knowing that she enjoyed Lou’s too, I just had to invite him to be a guest.


After decades on the road and the never-ending hustle of life as an artist, Lou Barlow has tapped into a new confidence in the chaos. In 2021, the concept of balance feels particularly intimidating. Now more than ever, it’s clear life isn’t just leveling out a pair of responsibilities. Instead, we’re chasing after a flock of different ideals with a butterfly net. On Barlow’s new solo album, Reason to Live, he has come to an understanding of that swirl rather than trying to contain it.

After albums with Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., Folk Implosion, and under his own name, listeners may have felt they knew the construction of a Barlow song, even that they knew Barlow himself. “People have this vision of me as this heartbroken, depressed guy, but this record feels so true to who I am, to this rich life I now have full of people I love,” he says. “The songs culminated over the last five years to show that music has returned to its central comforting role in my life. Now I’m home.”

This one’s for you, Amy.


Laura Kidd

So just to get started, please could you introduce yourself to the people listening?

Lou Barlow  

My name is Lou Barlow. I’m an American musician, currently residing in Massachusetts. Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Laura Kidd  

Very nice. I have only been to Boston. So I don’t know where Greenfield is.

Lou Barlow  

It’s on the other end of the state, in the farmlands and rolling hills.

Laura Kidd  

That sounds lovely. That sounds really nice. 

Lou Barlow  

Some people like it! (laughs)

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) Yes!  We’re speaking just a few days after the new Dinosaur Jr. album came out. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. 

Laura Kidd  

And a couple of weeks before your new solo album comes out…

Lou Barlow  

Yeah!

Laura Kidd  

…as you well know. So how are you feeling about all of these things right at this moment?

Lou Barlow  

Depressed. 

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) Why is that?

Lou Barlow  

I don’t know, there’s just something about when records come out and I’m in the midst of it. It’s like, I get really excited, I mean, I love making records. It’s the funnest. I love it, you know, just being so immersed in something, and then tweaking it and becoming so proud of it really. And then when you realise you’re in the midst of it being released into the world, I just know, there’s just gonna be things, it’s… I want to say this without seeming like a very negative person, because I’m not a negative person…

Laura Kidd  

Right.

Lou Barlow  

And I believe that’s supported by the fact that I continue to be a musician and I love the process. But releasing something into the world is like, I then have to sort of gird my… is gird the right…? like, “gird myself”? 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah! Steel yourself.

Lou Barlow  

Then I have to steel myself for the inevitable disappointments and backlashes. Because that’s also part of the process, is that I put something out, and then I have to realise what I didn’t achieve with that, and what I want to do next. And I sort of live in this wonderful bubble until the point when a record is released, where I’m like, this is it, and this is the pinnacle of what I can do at this point. And this is my next offering to the world. But then I have to go through and just disassemble the whole thing and figure out what I didn’t do right and figure out what I want to do right the next time around. 

Laura Kidd  

Mm-hm.

Lou Barlow  

I love the fact that I can actually fool myself or just be in the bubble as long as I can. And actually, this time the bubble has been lasting quite a long time, because I’m very proud of both records. And I’ve been living with them for quite a while in this state of pre-release. But now that it’s coming down, I feel this sort of self-inflicted anguish kind of setting in. I was just complaining to my wife about the particulars of a Pitchfork review of my songs on the Dinosaur Jr. record. You know, it’s coming. I’m like, “Oh God, that again!” I don’t wanna… when do I stop? Because…anyway.

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) We’re just meeting now, so you don’t know about this, but I’m putting my fifth album out the week after your new solo album comes out, right? The reason I’m laughing along – and my regular listeners will know why – is because basically, I think I do this podcast to reassure myself that everyone else feels exactly the same way…

Lou Barlow  

Okay.

Laura Kidd  

…and I’m not completely bonkers. Because, I don’t get Pitchfork reviews, but whatever reviews I do get, they’re never quite worded right. And they never quite get it, obviously. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. 

Laura Kidd  

And I think it’s just a common thing. And for me it’s not about controlling what people write about what I make. Because if they like what I make, I try and think well, the intention was good, they liked it. But there’s all those particulars, like you’re saying. You might think I’m just this crazy woman far away in Bristol giggling at you, and why is she laughing at me? 

Lou Barlow  

Oh, I… (laughs)

Laura Kidd  

I’m just nodding and appreciating what you’re saying very much. And it makes me feel better. That you know, 20, 30 years into your career, you’re still feeling this way. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah.

Laura Kidd  

Sorry! (laughs)

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. (laughs a lot) No, I’m glad some good comes from it…it’s useful to actually hear that from other people.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. It is.

Lou Barlow  

Like, I love it when I see really successful musicians complaining about reviews. 

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) 

Lou Barlow  

Or battling with other bands, you know. I love it. I get so much vicarious… it’s so hilarious to me because I’m always like, Jesus, you’re huge, what’s your problem? (laughs)

Laura Kidd  

Yes. Exactly.

Lou Barlow  

(laughs) What can you possibly…? 

Laura Kidd  

It’s almost like we’re all human and the same kind of things hurt us in the same kind of ways.

Lou Barlow  

I know and they just never stop and then just no matter… you’re never quite sealed away enough, you’re always vulnerable. 

Laura Kidd  

Yes, of course. 

Lou Barlow  

That’s what it is.

Laura Kidd  

And if we weren’t vulnerable, then I don’t think we’d be writing songs. So it’s that kind of thing, isn’t it? The thick skin. I don’t have a thick skin. And I know that that’s not a bad thing. Because it means I can write music that means stuff to me and to other people. It does mean though, that things do hurt me. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah.

Laura Kidd  

But it’s interesting you talk about really successful musicians, because that’s how I think of you as being. Do you not see yourself as being as successful as these other people you’re talking about? 

Lou Barlow  

No. 

Laura Kidd  

Oh, okay. (laughs)

Lou Barlow  

(laughs) I mean, I’m not talking about accolades and reviews, to be honest I’m just talking about my life, the lifestyle that I’m attempting to support: putting my kids through school, paying medical bills.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah.

Lou Barlow  

I still, in a lot of ways – actually in all ways – I live on a razor’s edge with what I do, and I always have. And a lot of that is due to just me being an idiot, probably, or just making a lot of poor decisions as I went along, both personal and business wise. But I don’t want to get caught up in that. 

Laura Kidd  

No.

Lou Barlow  

I also know that, yeah, I do think I’m successful. And I’m very grateful for what I have. I just wish I’d made some better decisions along the way, so I didn’t feel quite as vulnerable as I do. You know, I just wish I was a little smarter. (laughs)

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, we’re not gonna dwell on it, but I do think it’s useful for people to hear that just because you love a musician doesn’t mean that they have all the money in the world and can do whatever they like. That’s it, you know. Everyone’s a person.

Lou Barlow  

I mean I still have so much I want to do as far as just like building my own studio and gear. And, you know, the fact that I still just work in such a basic way and that I have so little at my disposal, gear wise and stuff. It’s my own fault. But you know, I do wish I… there’s a lot that I’d like to do, which is great, too. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah.

Lou Barlow  

It’s great to still have such intense desires about what I want to get and what I want to do, you know.

Laura Kidd  

Definitely. And you have very neatly segued into the thing I wanted to talk about, which was not just the new album, but you are well known for recording at home.  And I record at home, and people like you recording from home and at home have really influenced me in doing that. Because it shows that you don’t have to have a shiny, shiny, posh studio recording of something to make it worth something to someone else, you know.

Lou Barlow  

Mm-hm. Definitely.

Laura Kidd  

Hopefully we all do know that. (laughs) So I was just wondering, was the new album recorded at home as well? 

Lou Barlow  

My solo record? Yeah. And actually even even the Dinosaur Jr. record was recorded in J’s house.

Laura Kidd  

Okay. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah, I mean, the solo record, I did do it at home. But there was one song that I recorded on the road, you know. I do the final mixing… I do have a studio in the area with a guy that I really trust that I’ve worked with for years, and I do take my sessions to him. And that’s that’s where I sort of finalise the project. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah.

Lou Barlow  

But yeah, as far as the recording… yeah, for sure, at home.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. I was talking to Juliana Hatfield last week for an episode, who is one of my one of my absolute favorites. And we were talking about how having no limitations can be a bit of a problem. So she was saying that she hates GarageBand because she used to record on an 8 track I think. 

Lou Barlow  

Mm-hm.

Laura Kidd  

And she was cool with that because the limitations are there. But with GarageBand or Logic or whatever you use, you can obviously have infinite tracks, infinite sound options, infinite everything. So do you have any any ways to stay focused enough to finish songs and finish albums? Do you set yourself parameters or rules or anything like that?

Lou Barlow  

Well, I work on Pro Tools LE, so it’s this really basic version of Pro Tools. I think I only have 16 tracks. 

Laura Kidd  

Okay.

Lou Barlow  

So that’s it. And I tried to acquaint myself with another digital audio workstation and I couldn’t do it, it was like learning another language. I know Pro Tools really well, or well enough to do the basic things. But because I can’t figure out how to upgrade, because everything is all online now and Avid, that owns Pro Tools, are a huge pain in the ass (laughs) and they are aggressively difficult for artists to work with, unless you have a lot of resources at your disposal. So I work with an absolutely bare minimum Pro Tools.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah.

Lou Barlow  

I like that. I like that I have that limitation. I do like the limitation of having, you know, a 16 track limitation on what I do. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah.

Lou Barlow  

So what else was I saying? So you were saying, as far as recording at home..?

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, just how do you stay focused enough to complete things? I mean, I know you’ve been doing it for a long time. So there is that, there is the repetition of it.

Lou Barlow  

Well, for this new record, for instance, I composed the songs for this subscriber project. So I did a thing, you know, with my record label, where every month I came up with a new batch of songs. And this could be like, archival releases, it could be anything I wanted. But I kind of put myself to the task of like, every quarter, you know, every three months, one of these monthly instalments would be new songs. So it had very strict deadlines. I had to be like, you know, if I’m going to do these four new songs, they have to be done at the end of the month, you know, because it’s going to be on cassette, or it’s going to be on vinyl. So because making physical product is such a… you have to really plan these things out these days. And the turnover is pretty intense…

Laura Kidd  

Yes.

Lou Barlow  

…it takes a long time, it can be very drawn out. So I had to sort of play within those guidelines, and those deadlines, and it was awesome. So every quarter, when I would write four new songs, or two new songs, I had a deadline. So that was great. I did a lot of things like I used to do, and actually I used cassettes a lot. Because I do have that limitation of 16 track, I would take a mix, I would record instrumentally, and then take those tracks and dump them onto a cassette player.

Laura Kidd  

Right.

Lou Barlow  

I could get that feel of the cassette, which I’m so in love with still, and I would take back from the cassette onto the Pro Tools, so then I would have a two track. I would then have 14 tracks in order to finish my vocals and whatever embellishments that I think need that kind of digital clarity. 

Laura Kidd  

Mm-hm.

Lou Barlow  

So I was able to work between the two, but then also with this deadline. So it was like, you can’t sit there and tweak the part. I mean, there’s a very limited time to sit and tweak the most perfect vocal performance. And also, if you just bounce everything down to a two track cassette, it’s like, no, you’re not going to be tweaking those backing vocals now and you’re not going to be messing with that guitar, because you put it onto cassette. And now you’ve also thrown off the tempo and everything so you can’t tweak that stuff. So good luck trying. That’s how I did this record. 

Laura Kidd  

Right.

Lou Barlow  

I did it in that way and like, the immediacy of it, and then also just the feeling of like, that’s what it is, man. Sorry. (laughs) I love that because it really did make me… because these digital ways of working can just make you the ultimate navel-gazing, nitpicking…you know.

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) I think it makes you commitment-phobic in a way. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah, it does! 

Laura Kidd  

Because you can just record a clean guitar and go “I’ll figure the sound out later”. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. 

Laura Kidd  

Whereas for me, I feel like I need to create the sonic world as I’m going, as I’m collaging and layering stuff up. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah, exactly.

Laura Kidd  

Otherwise, I might not write the vocal that fits the song because the sound isn’t there for the guitar yet and stuff like that. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah.

Laura Kidd  

So yeah, that’s a really cool way of doing it. Now is not the time for me to pick up my computer and walk around my little studio and show you my tape recorder. But it’s in the corner. 

Lou Barlow  

Oh, you have a tape recorder?

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, I got obsessed and bought some stuff off eBay last year.

Lou Barlow  

What specifically did you buy? Reel to reel, or?

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) No, no, it’s cassette. 

Lou Barlow  

It’s cassette? Oh, cool.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, it’s got two decks. And it’s got really good ins and outs and stuff. 

Lou Barlow  

Oh great.

Laura Kidd  

So I can do exactly what you were describing. I did it in a song that didn’t make it onto the new record, but might be on the next one. 

Lou Barlow  

Nice.

Laura Kidd  

But I was gonna ask you actually, when you were talking about the tempo, because yeah, when you record the tape back in, it’s just gonna be slightly out, isn’t it? It’s gonna be whatever it is. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah.

Laura Kidd  

And that’s kind of cool, too. I think that sticking to tempos all the time, it’s not very human. Although it can work really well.

Lou Barlow  

No, I remember when I first started, the first 10 years that I was working on Pro Tools I’d just be like, can’t we just pitch something down? And they’re like, no, actually. I’m like, why can’t you? I mean, to me, that’s like… it takes away. I mean, we so often reference older recordings and the magic of the 80s, 70s, and so much of that has to do with these little things that aren’t quite right, that aren’t directly on.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah.

Lou Barlow  

And also the temperament, like how temperamental these tape machines can be. And then also how, The Beatles being the most obvious example of this, but pitch control is a really big part of what the atmosphere is of those records. You know, altering the pitch of the tape machines, between overdubs and mixdowns and whatever is a large part of what we recognise as listeners as being these sort of magical textures.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, well, atmospherics is a really interesting word to use. Because I think the fact that anyone, and I think this is a good thing, but anyone could create very high quality sound into a computer, it doesn’t mean that atmosphere is not important anymore. And that’s the magical part of it, for me, anyway.

Lou Barlow  

Yeah.

Laura Kidd  

Hearing that a person made something, hearing the breath and hearing…not big mistakes, but imperfections and stuff. Because otherwise, it kind of gives this impression that life is so perfect, and I’m not perfect, at all. (laughs) So it doesn’t sit with me very well. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah.

Laura Kidd  

I just love your description of how you made that record. It’s even more interesting. 

Lou Barlow  

Cool, awesome. 

Laura Kidd  

Good work! (laughs)

Lou Barlow  

Whoo! (laughs) 

Laura Kidd  

Staying on the subject of this brilliant new album of yours, the press release has a quote from you about music having a central comforting role in your life, which really resonates with me as well, as a songwriter. Is that what the song “In My Arms” is about? Because it sounds like it could be a love song. But to me, it sounds like it’s about music.

Lou Barlow  

I realised yesterday, the song is about my music.

Laura Kidd  

Okay.

Lou Barlow  

About my guitar, practically. I mean, it’s about my guitar, it’s about a tape machine. It’s about a guitar and a tape machine! That’s it.

Laura Kidd  

(laughs)

Lou Barlow  

And the song opens up with a sample of a cassette recording I did in like, 1982. And when I was first discovering my strumming styles, and I was first layering things onto portable cassette recorders, and then playing them back out through a larger cassette recorder through the speakers and then recording it back into the portable cassette recorder. And then how when I did that sort of rudimentary multi-tracking thing that I did when I was, I mean, 1982 I was 14, 15? (laughs) But when I did that, that was when I just got addicted to it, I guess you could say, or where I just really became very impressed with myself. 

Laura Kidd  

Wow. (laughs)

Lou Barlow  

You know, I was like, “Oh, I love that I love the way that sounds”. And I would just be like, I don’t know of anything that sounds quite like that. Maybe just me just with my sort of idiosyncratic way that I strum this classical guitar that only has four strings on it, maybe this is my path forward. Maybe this is my way into this mysterious and intimidating world of music. Maybe that’s my way into it.  And it was. But it’s so funny, even when we talk about digital, all these ways of recording are changing and evolving over the years. And how it can really remove you from the process. With this particular project, I was like, I’m going back to the beginning. And I’m going to find that spot. And “In My Arms” was the last song that I recorded for the record and basically it’s almost like a love song for the project. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. Mm.

Lou Barlow  

I’m going to do a video for it, so I’ve been trying to think about what the song is about,  what images would work with it, what can I do to bring out the emotional part of the song. And I just had this realisation, like, wow, this is about my music. This is about my youth. I don’t know if I’ve ever had any lyrics that were so blatantly self… I mean, I’m just like, this is my gift. You know, there’s a line: “What is this outrageous gift?”

Laura Kidd
Yeah, I love that line.

Lou Barlow
“You’re in my arms again”, and I’m like, wow, that’s really uncharacteristic of me to be so bold, but that’s really what it is. Like, I when I heard that, when I was 15 years old, and still what I hear today, when I do allow myself the time to go back and listen to things that I’ve done and immerse myself in my own output and my own history, it’s a very satisfying and very ego boosting. And for me, it’s such a big part of the foundations of me, the basic foundation that keeps me going and gives me the strength to continue to move forward, you know?

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. I love that you put it at the beginning of the album as well, because it means that we can just get right into that feeling that you’ve had at the end of the project, and then kind of go through it as well with you. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. I was able to think about it enough and able to, the first time really ever, to form almost like a concept around a record. And a concept other than just like, “This is me and my feelings”, you know. Because in a way, a lot of the lyrics on the record are pretty obtuse. I mean, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. Some of the songs are incredibly personal, some are very political. But I just feel like I took the pressure off myself to be intensely autobiographical the whole time and make it more… you know? And then focus on textures too.

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) Yeah. When it comes to the meanings of your songs, then, if they’re not so autobiographical that it’s obvious to you when you’re writing them, does it ever happen that six months later, a year later, 15 or 20 years later, you realise what the song was really about? 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. 

Laura Kidd  

Right. Because that happens to me. And I just think, how did I not know myself enough to know that that was what the song was about?

Lou Barlow  

I did this song once – it’s not on this record – where I thought, you know what, I’m gonna be like a Nashville songwriter, because they put themselves into the place of other people. This is what real writers do, they become characters, you know?

Laura Kidd  

Yeah.

Lou Barlow  

This is what Bob Dylan, this is what the real guys do, the real men and women that write these songs. They put themselves in there. So I’m gonna do that. I’m going to pretend that, you know…

Laura Kidd  

Be a proper songwriter. (laughs)

Lou Barlow  

Yeah, I’m gonna be a Nashville writer for this one. And I’m like, I’m gonna pretend I’m a guy with a girlfriend named Pearl. And I’m gonna sing the song for Pearl, you know. And so I wrote this song, and I just really thought it was a completely contrived piece of songwriting. And then I recorded it, and then I realised it was one of the most autobiographical things that I’d ever done. In fact, it basically was a prediction of the arc of this insane change that I had to go through. And probably the closest, I mean, the most uncomfortable truth that I was living with, was addressed in this song. And somehow it only came out when I thought I was being somebody else. It’s kind of shocking. So how do you explain that away to yourself? Or do you? I don’t. I don’t know. 

Laura Kidd  

You don’t? Well, because sometimes when I think about songs of mine that are like that, I think, I suppose this is my subconscious knowing things that it’s trying to tell me. Like, I know what’s going on, obviously, because it wouldn’t have come out like that. I don’t think it’s magic as such when a song comes out. 

Lou Barlow  

No.

Laura Kidd  

I mean, it’s magical, but it’s not like, you know, someone else speaking through me, that’s not how I feel. 

Lou Barlow  

Right.

Laura Kidd  

So it must be that I know more about myself than I give myself credit for. But it’s sort of on another level that it’s not quite up in the brain yet. 

Lou Barlow  

Right.

Laura Kidd  

So I feel like I can tell myself things about what’s going to happen. But yeah, I should have just known. And then I feel like not a very good adult, because I didn’t figure it out a bit sooner, but it was in a song. (laughs)

Lou Barlow  

It’s another kind of weird thing.

Laura Kidd  

I suppose it’s just…everything’s in there, you know?

Lou Barlow  

That’s one really good thing about forcing yourself to be quick sometimes. And forcing yourself to finish something, without spending a whole lot of time just gazing and picking at it, you know? 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. 

Lou Barlow  

If you do it real quick like that. I’ve had many instances of that, like, “Well, that was really tough stuff, I didn’t like that at all, it’s too bad”. But then a bit later, you’re like, “Oh, okay. It’s good I did that, good that I pushed myself”. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. So do you write things quite quickly, do you feel? Because I think people who aren’t songwriters might look at say, a solo album comes out here and then maybe six years later another solo album comes out, and then there’s another gap. But it’s not like in between you’re working on that solo album the whole time, because you also have several other projects that you play in and write in.

Lou Barlow  

Yeah, it’s odd. I mean, it’s all different. I mean, there’s another song called “Over You” on the record. It’s based on a melody and a lyrical nugget that I came up with in 1982. (laughs) So that’s like ’92, 2002, 2012, that’s almost 40 years old. 

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) Wow.

Lou Barlow  

I mean, that song has been in my head that whole time, you know. And there’s another song, it’s called “Clouded Age” – I started writing that song in, like, 1997. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. 

Lou Barlow  

And it was just always in my head in some phase of completion until something just, you know, really kicked in. And I finished it in, you know, 2020. But then there’s other songs on the record that I wrote in five minutes. I mean, top to bottom five minutes, you know.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. It always a mix, isn’t it? 

Lou Barlow  

It’s a real mix. You know, I think especially the older I’ve gotten and the more records I’ve put out, the less I criticise myself about how I come up with songs, and the more I just am fucking grateful that I can do it at all. (laughs)

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, yeah.

Lou Barlow  

Because I used to really get hung up on stuff like that, you know. I’d get hung up on how long something took or something seeming tossed off. And I’ve had a lot of standards on other things that I compared myself to, or peers that I compared myself to, or standards that I was putting myself up against. And I just…less and less and less and less of that. So I’m just like, you know, I’m just building a body of work. And I can do it however the fuck I want to.

Laura Kidd  

Absolutely. Yeah. And so was that hard work? Was that actual, intentional work to stop comparing yourself to those people who were your people you would compare yourself to?

Lou Barlow  

It was intentional, yeah, because it made me miserable. I think that’s another thing too. I mean, it could be a consequence of, you know, I’m a father, and maybe a consequence of becoming a parent, a consequence of becoming older and not being able to drink as much as I used to, not being able to smoke pot like I used to, maybe not do all of these things. It felt almost necessary, challenging or inciting my creativity. I guess the less that I do of those things, and the more that I’ve just focused on the kind of pure joy I get from recording. So yeah, some of it, it’s intentional, but it’s like, it’s just, I don’t want to be a bitter guy. (laughs)

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, that doesn’t sound fun.

Lou Barlow  

I really don’t want to be that, you know. And if I do get to a point where I’m more comfortable in my life, you know, like, where I do have things that I want, some little boxes that are checked off and some more security that I can bring to my family and myself, I hope that when I do get to those points, I never want to look back with any kind of bitterness. I don’t know.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, I’ve been working on this. The reason I ask these questions is because, obviously, I’m interested for myself. So the last couple of years, I’ve definitely been trying to plan in more time for reflection and trying to spend more time off the computer and stuff. Of course, the pandemic has meant that jumping right back on the computer…it kind of gives me a free pass. So it’s been a bit more of a struggle, because there’s obviously loads of benefits to that and to feeling connected. And none of this is in any judgey way to anyone else. It’s just I know that I’m more happy when I’m not looking at constant streams of information. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. 

Laura Kidd  

And so I find that when I’m away from that a bit more, little things that are written somewhere or things I’ve seen online or whatever just mean so much less because there’s so much more going on in my life, basically. So it’s interesting to hear you say that having a family has affected you in a positive way in that sense, too. Because obviously, if there’s more stuff going on then the crappy parts of music or whatever become a smaller part of your life, don’t they? They just become less of a big deal. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah.

Laura Kidd  

When there’s children who need you, that’s much more important. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. (laughs)

Laura Kidd  

Obviously.

Lou Barlow  

I know people who are musicians and stuff who don’t… I mean, there’s plenty of people who are parents who still are in their own little zones and do whatever they want. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. 

Lou Barlow  

But, yeah, it’s been a slow process to be perfectly honest, it’s been very slow. And it’s all, you know, two steps forward, three steps back, four steps forward. I’m always kind of disappointed in myself. (laughs) But overall, making records and stuff, it’s just such a…it’s a real bright spot.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. And you’ve made a fuckload of them haven’t you? What is it…more than 20? A lot, a lot more than 20 I think. Do you even keep track? Because I know you talk about building a body of work, which I really respect, because I feel the same way about my stuff. Do you keep a track? Do you have a number of albums you want to get to, or a number of songs that’s like, I’ve done it now, I’ve made 1000 songs?

Lou Barlow  

No.

Laura Kidd  

No?

Lou Barlow  

I don’t think it matters. I’ve never really thought that that meant anything. When I hear “prolific”, it’s like, so what? (laughs) Who cares? What does that mean? To me, the one thing I think I have is I am on the quest for an undeniably beautiful song. And it’s always amazing how that standard just changes and evolves, depending on what I listen to, because I try to expose myself to all kinds of music that I’ve never heard. I really like it. And I love Spotify and stuff for that reason, because you just have this wealth of just random shit you’ve never heard whether it’s from the past or right now, you know? So I just love how my idea of what’s perfect is always evolving and always changing. And I do really like that I don’t have any real sacred cows, you know. I love Neil Young, because he’s so beautifully fallible and honest. And so erratic. And the way he switches between these extremes. He’s definitely my guy, as far as that goes. And he’s said a lot of things that I really appreciate about the songwriting process. I don’t know where I’m going with this. 

Laura Kidd  

It doesn’t matter. It’s really interesting.

Lou Barlow  

I mean, like, my son, he’s into music, but he’s really into rap. So we’re listening to a lot of new rap. And then I’m playing him old rap. So I’m finding that rap sort of re-entered my life. I mean, it’s been in and out of my life as a pretty intense inspiration. Not so much wanting to sound like it or ever wanting to rap or anything like that. But I think what I’ve always loved about rap is how the best of it always has the most interesting experimental recording techniques that are happening, it has the most off the cuff spontaneous things that are happening, it has some of the most incredibly insightful and honest lyrics that are happening. It also has the opposite of that all just happening at once. (laughs) And that’s been kind of cool lately, my son kind of, I wouldn’t say forcing me back into the world of rap. But in a way, kind of, because I wasn’t really listening to a lot of rap. It just wasn’t what I was listening to. But now he and I, we’ve got a little Spotify playlist that we work on together. You know, we’ll play things and he’ll be like, “Should we put that on our playlist, Dad?”

Laura Kidd  

Oh, that’s so cute!

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. I’ve turned him on to Wu Tang. He turned me on to Biggie Smalls, because I’d never listened to that.

Laura Kidd  

That’s great that you can be influencing each other that way, because you’ve obviously got all the bands that were so important to you that you can share with him, but he’s gonna bring you new stuff. That’s cool.

Lou Barlow  

I love the way kids process music, you know, the way they listen to what they think is cool. It’s so interesting to me.

Laura Kidd  

Are they into your stuff?

Lou Barlow  

No.

Laura Kidd  

Does that upset you? 

Lou Barlow  

I’m not gonna play it for them. I don’t want to sit and listen to myself with them. 

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) No, fair enough. 

Lou Barlow  

Occasionally we’ll get in the car when I’m listening to mixes or something. If I’m in the midst of a record, I’ll be listening to mixes and stuff and they’ll get in the car like, “It’s you, oh my god”. “That’s me.”

Laura Kidd  

(laughs) I was talking to someone recently who’s got kids, and he was saying that it’s funny because his kids couldn’t understand how the thing he did around the house, which is just singing silly songs to them, could also be his job. Because they sort of thought, “But you just sing us nursery rhymes, that can’t be your job”. Like, “That’s not a real job, Daddy” sort of thing. 

Lou Barlow  

Yeah. 

Laura Kidd  

So I was just wondering if they have any sort of idea that that is a job, like being an artist is a job? Because I grew up not surrounded by artists, I didn’t know any. So it took me a really long time to realise that it’s something you can do for a living.

Lou Barlow  

Oh, me too, me too, totally. I had some music lovers in my family, but not musicians. And actually no real artists generally.

Laura Kidd  

That’s interesting. So it is just making it up as we go along, isn’t it? And somehow it’s worked out okay.

Lou Barlow  

I don’t know. My little one’s really funny. She’s five. And she’s, like, a songwriter. She’s throwing rhymes out all the time, she’s trying to rhyme things. I feel like I kind of keep my creative life sort of under wraps, because it’s such a self involved thing. And it’s difficult. I mean, I do want to try to give as much as I can to my kids, you know. It’s tough. But, she’s improvising all the time, like really funny little melodies. And she knows to repeat things, she seems to understand the rudiments of verses and choruses, and just does these wonderful mashups of little bits of things that she hears off of TV shows or Taylor Swift songs or Kacey Musgraves songs. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how that goes with her, you know? 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. 

Lou Barlow  

But it’s always about that cusp. You reach that cusp at some time in your life. You can have all that music and love music and whatever, but you sort of have to get over a bump at some point where you’re like, “I am now going to do this in front of other people, and I am now going to fail. I’m gonna fail. I’m going to be embarrassed. And I’m just going to continue to do it”, you know?

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. Yeah, that can be very hard. I often feel sad as well. I often hear from people who’ve come to my shows, saying things like “I used to play guitar when I was a kid, but then I stopped” or “I used to draw when I was a kid, but then I stopped,” and I think there’s so much repairing we need to do of ourselves when we become adults. And we have to, well not have to, but we have the opportunity to go back and find out how creative we were, but it was kind of punched out of us by life or, you know, a parent not being encouraging or teachers not being encouraging or whatever, or not be able to get over that shyness at an earlier age. But there’s creativity in everyone, it’s not a thing that only special people can do. So it seems to me like kids are full of that stuff. And then sometimes it just gets less and less as they get older, unfortunately.

If you were going to suggest three pieces of your own work to get people into the headspace of your musical world, what would they be?

Lou Barlow  

There’s a song called “Certain Dance Circumstance”. That’s on Spotify. It’s a four track recording. I would recommend that one. I don’t know why.

Laura Kidd  

Don’t need a reason.

Lou Barlow  

No, no reason. “Waltzing With Your Ego”, which is a song by The Folk Implosion, and “Someone You Love” by The Folk Implosion.

Laura Kidd  

Thank you. I just want to say thank you so much for this conversation. It’s been really interesting. I really appreciate you doing it.

Lou Barlow  

Yeah, sorry about the internet. 

Laura Kidd  

No problem. I’m generally sorry about the internet, but it can also be good. (laughs) so thank you. Hope it goes wonderfully with all these new records. 

Lou Barlow  

I hope so too. Thank you.


Laura Kidd

I highly, highly recommend you go and listen to Lou’s stunning new album “Reason To Live”, and I’ve made a deluxe show notes page for this episode at penfriend.rocks/lou with videos and links.

If you’re new here, do make sure you visit my website penfriend.rocks to pick up two free songs and receive thoughtful letters about art and music.

My new album “Exotic Monsters” is out now, and you can find all the information on my website.

If you’re interested in listening to another episode of Attention Engineer right away, I recommend Episode 14 with Sadie Dupuis and Episode 37 with Ryan Miller.

This podcast is a rare ad-free zone, but I do welcome sponsorship from listeners, so if you’d like to find out more about that go to the Sponsorship page. Thanks!

Speaking of which, hugest thanks to my Correspondent’s Club for powering the making of this show and all my music.

I’ll be back in two weeks time with a mystery guest…so I hope to catch you then!

Til then – take care!

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Ep43: Lou Barlow (Sebadoh / Dinosaur Jr / The Folk Implosion) on building a body of work…however the fuck he wants to

Ep43: Lou Barlow (Sebadoh / Dinosaur Jr / The Folk Implosion) on building a body of work…however the fuck he wants to

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A founding member of the groups Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion, Lou Barlow is credited with helping to pioneer the lo-fi style of rock music in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His stunning fourth solo album “Reason To Live” is out now.

After decades on the road and the never-ending hustle of life as an artist, Barlow has tapped into a new confidence in the chaos. In 2021, the concept of balance feels particularly intimidating. Now more than ever, it’s clear life isn’t just leveling out a pair of responsibilities. Instead, we’re chasing after a flock of different ideals with a butterfly net. On “Reason to Live”, he has come to an understanding of that swirl rather than trying to contain it.

After albums with Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., Folk Implosion, and under his own name, listeners may have felt they knew the construction of a Barlow song, even that they knew Barlow himself. “People have this vision of me as this heartbroken, depressed guy, but this record feels so true to who I am, to this rich life I now have full of people I love,” he says. “The songs culminated over the last five years to show that music has returned to its central comforting role in my life. Now I’m home.”

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • letting go of self-criticism and comparison to focus on creating a body of work
  • making albums at home – how combining digital tools with cassette tape recordings makes for something unique
  • the quest for an undeniably beautiful song
  • the self-inflicted anguish of releasing music into the world

Things to do next:

+ Wrap your ears around Lou’s new album “Reason To Live”
+ Listen to “Certain Dance Circumstance” (Lou Barlow) and “Waltzin With Your Ego” and “Someone You Love” (The Folk Implosion)
+ Subscribe to Lou’s YouTube channel, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.





This podcast is powered by my Correspondent’s Club. Thanks to every single member for your support!

+ Sponsor a future episode here.

Get your copy of my new album “Exotic Monsters” right here.

+ Get two free songs immediately when you sign up for thoughtful letters about art and music.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTubeTwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo


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Ep42: Shingai (Noisettes) on finding creative freedom through generosity

Ep42: Shingai (Noisettes) on finding creative freedom through generosity

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Transcript to follow…


Content warning: two brief mentions of suicide, in the context of having lost friends.


Shingai is the legendary front woman and bassist from the Noisettes. Dubbed “The new afrofuturist pop goddess” by Rolling Stone, her debut solo album “Too Bold” was released in October 2020 and marks a new chapter of her journey. This sonic odyssey through an effervescent soundscape fearlessly infused with a soulful yet spontaneous spirit is the sound inspired by Shingai’s London, Bantu and Zimbabwean heritage.

Leading from the heart, “Too Bold” transports us to a higher vision of the future while acknowledging what it will take for us to get there. The album treads many paths and themes about rising above perplexing times, being resilient, standing your ground and confronting the struggle – an invitation to keep the optimist alive within us and try to be better in every way.

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • making music that’s a movement, too
  • the importance of creativity in a happy household, and how music helped Shingai navigate a childhood packed with grief
  • stepping off the major label conveyor belt and making music against the odds as an independent artist with integrity
  • the detrimental effect of social media and influencer culture on everyday creativity

Things to do next:

+ Listen to Shingai’s latest album “Too Bold” on Bandcamp or via her website
+ Follow Shingai on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
+ Listen to Noisettes’ back catalogue





This podcast is powered by my Correspondent’s Club. Thanks to every single member for your support!

+ Sponsor a future episode here.

Get your copy of my new album “Exotic Monsters” right here.

+ Get two free songs immediately when you sign up for thoughtful letters about art and music.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTubeTwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo


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Ep41: Juliana Hatfield on drawing without looking

Ep41: Juliana Hatfield on drawing without looking

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Transcript to follow soon.


Attention Engineer is back after a short break and, in keeping with my continuing quest towards a life of digital minimalism and mindful productivity, will now be beaming into your ears fortnightly. Visit this page if you’d like to find out about the other things I’m going to be making and sharing alongside this show…


Juliana Hatfield is an artist whose work has been part of my record collection for as long as I can remember, encouraging and inspiring me to share my innermost thoughts and record my own music. In 2018, I was beyond delighted to be invited to support The Juliana Hatfield Three in London and Bristol, and it was a huge treat to get to speak to Juliana for this episode.

Juliana Hatfield is a musician and songwriter who has been releasing excellent albums since 1987, first with Blake Babies, then The Lemonheads, then solo. I first heard Juliana’s work via The Juliana Hatfield Three, whose 1993 album “Become What You Are” spawned two hit singles, “My Sister” and “Spin The Bottle”, which was used in the film Reality Bites.

Alongside seventeen solo albums, Juliana’s extensive back catalogue also includes work under the name Juliana’s Pony, and collaborations with Matthew Caws of Nada Surf (under the name Minor Alps) and Paul Westerberg of The Replacements (under the name The I Don’t Cares). She’s also worked with Aimee Mann, Susanna Hoffs, Tanya Donelly, Exene Cervenka and John Doe. She even had a part in a Christmas episode of My So-Called Life…

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • writing about the truth, rejecting society’s expectations and demonstrating alternative ways of living
  • finding creative freedom in limitations
  • sensitivity as a superpower
  • home recording – Juliana’s tough transition from analogue to digital recording, and how her new album “Blood” is her most misanthropic yet

Things to do next:

+ Grab your copy of Juliana’s brilliant new album “Blood” here (or wherever you get your music)
+ Visit her website for information on upcoming live streams, back catalogue and art work for sale





This podcast is powered by my Correspondent’s Club. Thanks to every single member for your support!

+ Sponsor a future episode here.

Get your copy of my new album “Exotic Monsters” right here.

+ Get two free songs immediately when you sign up for thoughtful letters about art and music.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTubeTwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo


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Penfriend in the charts…look what you did!

Penfriend in the charts…look what you did!

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Look what you did! THANK YOU. This is a childhood dream come true…and I couldn’t have done it without the support of music fans. WHATTTTTTTTTTT!

There’s way too much smoke and mirrors in this business, so in keeping with my mission to show what can be done with honesty, focus and perseverance, I’d like to share some stuff with you. This stuff doesn’t happen by magic!

This record was funded through contributions from my Correspondent’s Club members and Bandcamp sales, and took 18 months from writing the first note to mixing the last song.

I wrote, produced and recorded the album alone in my home studio The Launchpad in Bristol. It was mixed by Dan Austin and mastered by Katie Tavini. Drums on 4 tracks were played/recorded by Max Saidi, piano on 3 tracks were played/recorded by Catherine Anne Davies.

On the visual side, the album artwork illustrations and layout are by Alex Tllbrook from concepts by me, and my logo / wordmark and the Penfriend animation were designed by Miritte Ben Yitzchak. I directed and edited my videos with help from Tim Bailey.

“Exotic Monsters” is released on my own label, My Big Sister Recordings, with distribution by SRD. Vinyl/CDs were beautifully printed by DMS, with cassettes and the demos and rarities discs by Band CDs. All other merch was printed by Awesome Merchandise. 

You don’t need fancy gear to make music, and you *can* learn how to record yourself, if you want. “Guerilla Home Recording” by Carl Coryat is a very approachable book, and YouTube is your teacher!

My home setup is very simple. I’m not sponsored by the following companies, but would highly recommend all of them.

I record through A Focusrite Clarett interface with Shure and Sennheiser microphones on my Fender Princeton guitar amp. I mostly played my Fender Jazzmaster and Ernie Ball MusicMan St Vincent guitars and my trusty Precision bass, which I record through my Sansamp DI pedal. Synths: Teenage Engineering OP-1, Casio VL-Tone, Roland System-8, Korg Minilogue and Native Instruments soft synths. Drum machine: Native Instruments Maschine Mk2.

As for getting the word out – artists, set up a mailing list NOW and stay in touch with the people who like what you do. Treat them like VIPs – they are VIPs. You can only do so much at once, so figure out what actually works and what you enjoy, and step away from the screen the rest of the time.

Learn how to do Facebook ads, or hire someone who can do them for you. Check out Indepreneur – their courses are brilliant. Ads don’t have to be gross, I promise – they help with discovery; we’re not selling crappy products that will break.

I’ll be making a video series soon to help encourage other artists of all stripes, so subscribe to my YouTube channel for that.

I can’t thank the supporters of my music enough for showing up for me over the past few months. Launching a new music project ten years into releasing albums was always going to be a gamble, but it’s refreshed my drive to keep making music long into the future.

Creativity isn’t for a select few – we all have a voice. If you have something to say – say it. Experiment and find your medium. Have fun. Reflect. Get to know yourself better. Let’s support each other to be the change we want to see in the world.

Thank you so much for supporting me.

If you’d like to listen to “Exotic Monsters”, it’s here for you.

If you’d like some free music and thoughtful (e)letters, visit this page.

Thanks so much for making release week amazing, I hope you enjoy the musical world I made xxx

THANK YOU for visiting my website! I’m Laura Kidd, a music producer, songwriter and podcaster based in Bristol, UK. It’s great to meet you.

Get your copy of my new album “Exotic Monsters” right here.

+ Get two free songs immediately when you sign up for thoughtful letters about art and music.

+ Browse episodes of my music podcast “Attention Engineer” here and subscribe via your favourite podcast platform.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTubeTwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo


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Ep40: Laura Kidd (Penfriend) quizzed by Miles Hunt (The Wonder Stuff) on “Exotic Monsters” and always going deeper…

Ep40: Laura Kidd (Penfriend) quizzed by Miles Hunt (The Wonder Stuff) on “Exotic Monsters” and always going deeper…

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Welcome to a very special episode of the podcast, where my friend Miles Hunt of The Wonder Stuff turns the tables on me and steals the host microphone to quiz me on my new album “Exotic Monsters”!


[Content warning: as always, some friendly swearing.]



In this conversation, we discuss:

  • being a doing person – how completing little projects gives me energy
  • the role of letter writing in my life from childhood to now
  • taking the time to get things right in your work, so they won’t haunt you forever
  • facing up to your ghosts, and finding new freedom through music

The three pieces of my own work I recommended are:




This podcast is powered by my Correspondent’s Club. Thanks to every single member for your support!

+ Sponsor a future episode here.

Get your copy of my new album “Exotic Monsters” right here.

+ Get two free songs immediately when you sign up for thoughtful letters about art and music.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTubeTwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo


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