Posies co-founder Jon Auer was recently in Nashville as a guest of another longtime Epiphone fan, Brendan Benson, for an all-star concert at the Ryman benefiting the David Lynch Foundation which featured Jack White and Jakob Dylan.
Jon and Posies bandmate and pal Ken Stringfellow, who also took part in the show, were the cornerstone of the modern incarnation of Big Star from 1993 until the death of founder Alex Chilton in 2010. Pop music, in other words, is in his blood. Jon is a tirelessly enthusiastic writer, singer, and guitarist and we're especially pleased to know he's a big fan of Epiphone. We spoke with him about the all-star concert, writing, Big Star, and his new duo with Tiz Aramini, Dynamo Royale.
Catch us a bit on what you’re doing right now
The main thing I'm putting my energy into is a new duo called Dynamo Royale. It's just the start of things but we have a record coming out this year. I'm excited about it. It's a very unique collaboration and I've been able to mix it up and do things with sonics that really sound intriguing and fresh to me.
I have to admit, strange to say in an interview with Epiphone perhaps, but it's not guitar-based at all. In fact, I play bass mostly and then supplemented the album with sounds and effects and a few synth touches.
My partner in the duo, Tiz Aramini, comes from a pretty serious classical piano background. She had the experience of 15 formative years at a conservatory in Europe and then discovered the Pixies, Juliana Hatfield, and PJ Harvey, and it kind of changed everything for her.
She plays the piano, Wurlitzer, Mellotron and we both sing and write. With her background versus mine, it's a pretty amazing collaboration. A true collaboration. We both have different strengths we bring to the proverbial table and we tend to do things that are extremely complimentary to each other.
Besides that--and besides doing solo stuff--a large part of my life is as a producer/mixer. I'm pretty much always working on a record for someone, somewhere, somehow. Right now, I'm finishing the mix of a record I produced last summer in Los Angeles with Stephen Becker from a band called Le Concorde. It's a new yet-to-be-titled project and I had Brian Young from Fountains of Wayne and The Posies play drums on it as well. Again, I was the bass player--I seem to be doing a lot of that these days.
Steve McDonald of Redd Kross was kind enough to loan us a bunch of his basses, among them a great Epiphone Newport. I just had to get that in there. At any rate, the Becker record is going to be fantastic as well. Brian Young and I also did a session together in Amsterdam recently with a friend of ours, Remi Vaissiere, for his band Cheap Star and I'm excited to get that finished and mixed as well. I think it's some of Remi's best stuff. Yep, I played bass on that too.
For decades, Nashville has been a source for inspiration to artists from many styles. What’s it like for you as an artist and writer to come to Nashville?
I have to say, Nashville has been very good to me. The first time I spent any real length of time here was back in 2003 when Ben Folds hired me to play on the William Shatner record he was producing at the time, Has Been.
That was something. Then, with the whole Brendan (Benson) connection, it's been great coming here to work or rehearse or play with him and there's the added bonus of playing with drummer Brad Pemberton then, too. He's fantastic.
I've even done a couple of Music Row writing sessions that a musician friend of mine from Seattle (now a Nashville resident), Lance Paine, put together around one of these trips. Jon and Sally Tiven and I wrote a song together around that same time, kind of an R & B soul number. I dig the place. It's a real music town in a very true sense.
How did you first meet Brendan?
I met Brendan in 2010 in Memphis. He was invited to play at a really special Big Star tribute concert at the Levitt Shell, the one that happened a couple of months after Alex Chilton passed away. I think Jody Stephens knew Brendan before that and had suggested him, maybe that's how it came about. Jody, Ken Stringfellow, and I did a lot of rehearsing with all the guests and then a fair bit backstage woodshedding as well, on the day of show.
I seem to remember Brendan checking out our vocal harmonies and looking like he was enjoying what he heard. Eventually, this lead to The Posies and Brendan touring the US together at the end of 2010 when the Posies released Blood/Candy.
Our relationship evolved quite naturally. Ken and I were half of Brendan's live band and we both played a Posies set and a Brendan set for the entire tour. With Brendan, I'd switch between guitar and bass and Ken would be on bass or keyboards depending on the song.
I guess that lead to us recording with Brendan at the beginning of 2011, in Nashville at (studio) Welcome to 1979, and a bulk of those session ended up on Brendan's What Kind Of World.
However, one of the tracks we did wasn't included but ended up on his latest record, You Were Right
, a song called "I'll Never Tell." I'm really happy to see that track out there. It was one of my favorites we did, a very slinky/sexy track, and I wasn't sure why Brendan didn't release it. Fast forward to a few months ago, and lo and behold we were invited to take part in this show at the Ryman and play on a couple of the songs we recorded. As a certain cigar-chomping TV icon once said: "I love it when a plan comes together..."
The Ryman concert was a circus of activity.
The organization was pretty full on and definitely well planned. It was kind of like a relaxed military operation or something like that. I mean, I got the schedule and it was five pages long, the show structure down to the minute, what side of the stage I enter on, etc. Pretty impressive stuff.
Much to my pleasure Bucky Baxter played on a lot of songs as well. His playing was incredible. Initially, I rehearsed the same day as Jakob Dylan did and watched him do the cover of "Loving Cup" with Brendan too. I went to dinner afterwards at a place spinning tunes, sat down at the table, and the Wallflowers "One Headlight" came on. I had to chuckle.
What are the Posies up to and how does that band figure in your thinking when you’re writing. Do you find that some songs immediately make you think: "I hear this with the Posies”?
The Posies are kind of a sporadic beast these days to be honest, it's just one of the things we do now, not the
thing. But when said beast does appear, it's pretty full on. We just completed a tour of Spain and Holland playing two of our older records, Frosting on the Beater
and Amazing Disgrace,
and I have to say that the shows were incredible. We have another Frosting
show in Seattle on January 10 and we've almost confirmed some European festivals next summer and there is talk of more after that but no plans firmed up. I guess the next major thing to happen is that Omnivore is going to reissue our first four records and give them the deluxe treatment with good packaging, extra tracks, vinyl - -the works. I'll be embarking on a serious trek through my old collection of Posies DAT tapes this month. I made a list from memory of what I think exists but I won't really know until I get there. Some of the tapes are labeled pretty well, some of them--not so much. Wish me luck.
What Epiphones are you playing right now?
The main guitar I've played for the last four years is an Epiphone Sheraton II
. It was a birthday gift from my extended family so it has some of that good mojo going for it. I used it on the Posies Blood/Candy
tour along with an Epiphone Dot
as backup and an Epiphone J-160 that I played on a couple of songs on stage and did all radio and television unplugged type of things with. The Sheraton has done me right and it even ended up on Brendan's last record too, on the song, "I'll Never Tell".
In fact, I tried a ton of other guitars trying to find the right texture for the rocking parts of that song and in the end, I tried the Sheraton and it fit the bill--won the contest. It's been to Singapore with me for solo shows, Japan for another Posies tour, and I used it with Big Star as well when Alex was still alive and we were playing. I even took it to Lithuania for a solo thing last summer. It's my proverbial "go to" guitar.
Before I had the Sheraton, I remember working at Ardent studios in Memphis in 2004, writing and recording the Big Star record In Space
and Epiphone figured heavily in that. One of the engineers there, Adam Hill, had a Riviera reissue and a J-160
acoustic that I wrote almost all of my contributions to that record on, like "Lady Sweet" and the two songs I helped Jody Stephens write, "February's Quiet" and "Best Chance We'll Ever Have." I wrote most of the riffs/chords to "Dony" on the Riviera
. I loved those guitars.
On another Epiphone note--I played bass on a few songs during the 2011 Brendan sessions and I wasn't really finding the bass I thought would work for the tunes in question so I called my friend John Davis (formerly of Superdrag, who also played with us at the Big Star Levitt Shell tribute show) and asked him if he might be able to help out. He showed up with a beautifully set-up black Epiphone Jack Casady bass
with flat wound strings that belonged to a friend of his and it was perfect, just what I was looking for. Ken ended up using it as well. In the end, I think it ended up on four songs of Brendan's: "What Kind of World," "Light of Day," "Bad For Me," and "I'll Never Tell." Brendan really dug the bass too. In fact, I think he bought one for himself after that.**
**He did in fact. Check out interview with Brendan Benson here.