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caption: Ken Stringfellow performs on Wednesday, October 6, 2021, at the Clock-Out Lounge in Seattle.
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Ken Stringfellow performs on Wednesday, October 6, 2021, at the Clock-Out Lounge in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

As sexual misconduct allegations dog Ken Stringfellow of the Posies, the band breaks up

This story contains depictions of sexual violence.

The women who say that Ken Stringfellow hurt them – bit them, forced himself on them – first describe his charisma.

It’s like taking a warm and luxurious bath, an ex-girlfriend said. And when he leaves, it feels like being dropped in ice water.

Three women have accused Stringfellow, of the Posies and REM, of sexual misconduct. Stringfellow “categorically” denied these allegations.

His bandmates said they believe the women, and that they are in the process of breaking up the Posies, a power pop band that has been beloved in the Northwest music scene for three decades. The Posies played a sold-out ZooTunes show last summer, and before that, to a sold-out audience at the Neptune.

One of the women accusing Stringfellow said that he forcibly had sex with her in a men’s room at a hotel in San Francisco.

A second woman, who was sleeping in a hotel room upstairs when this occurred, said she was in an abusive relationship with Stringfellow beginning in 2015.

A third woman said that Stringfellow bit her arm as she drove him back from a show, leaving marks and bruising. She also said that she woke up early one morning to Stringfellow having sex with her.

Stringfellow, who is 52, responded to these allegations at the Bothell recording studio where he works and lives part time.

“I have never been into anything kinky, into anything rough,” he said. “I experienced extreme violence firsthand as a teen. I'm sensitive to aggression, and it's not something I can be around. I am not down with violence. I don't want to hurt anyone, ever.”

This is how Stringfellow presents to his audience, as well. He is tall, but slouches, as though to make himself appear smaller, and speaks in hesitant and soft-spoken manner. In one song, he wrote, “You who reject masculinity; baby, I’m with you as soon as you forsake virility and aggression too.”

Those lyrics could be an anthem for indie pop, a genre that was, in a sense, a response to the coke-and-sex fueled heyday of rock ‘n roll. It was clean, or supposed to be, with musicians who called themselves feminists and made sensitive emo guitar music.

And yet, Stringfellow had a reputation for pursuing women, and for bragging about having sex. Was it just locker room banter? Those who toured with him say now that they didn’t question it at the time.

The three women who accuse Stringfellow of sexual misconduct became acquainted this summer and decided to tell their stories, with their names on the record. They said they felt compelled to share in the hopes that others may recognize signs of abuse in their own relationships, and that slowly, as these stories are told, the scales tip more toward justice.

KUOW interviewed 20 people for this story, including the three women, their confidantes at the time, Ken Stringfellow, his ex-wife, and musicians who have toured with him. We reviewed dozens of medical records, communications with doctors, and emails and texts from the time these alleged incidents took place.

Among those interviewed were seven women who said they had been intimate with Ken Stringfellow at some point since the 1990s, and that he had not been abusive. Among them, four said that despite that, he bit them (which they said was unwelcome) and had been controlling.

Kim Warnick, Stringfellow’s ex-wife, and of the bands Visqueen and the Fastbacks, was among these women.

“He never put a hand on me, but at the end of the day, it was horrible – what I had to deal with because of all his infidelities,” she said. “Never ever marry a man for his voice.”

Leslie Hatton, who hooked up with Stringfellow in 2000, said she was made to feel like a conquest in an encounter that involved him bringing another woman to her apartment.

At dinner with the band on the day they had sex, Hatton said that the Posies’ manager joked that Stringfellow’s status as “the biggest slut in rock and roll was in jeopardy since he’d only screwed 19 girls that year.”

“No,” Stringfellow said, according to Hatton, “today makes 20.”

Hatton was humiliated and would later write about the experience in a 2017 essay.

In an emailed statement, Stringfellow wrote:

“I would never want to harm anyone with whom I have a relationship – sexual or otherwise. Consent has been the foundation of every sexual relationship I’ve had, and violence has never been a part of any of those relationships. It simply is not who I am as a person who respects women.”

caption: Ken Stringfellow, right, plays with Marky Ramone, on tour in 2016.
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Ken Stringfellow, right, plays with Marky Ramone, on tour in 2016.

I

t was a cool early October evening in 2015, and Holly Nixon had packed her new Western shirts and cowboy hats for her upcoming tour.

The next day, Nixon would spend 12 hours in a VW SportWagen with Ken Stringfellow, her musical partner and sort-of boyfriend.

Nixon and Stringfellow had produced “The Record” at his home studio in France, where he lives most of the year. Their album was twangy Americana, an homage to Willie Nelson (Willie’s daughter said she loved it), with lots of duets.

The tour would be a grind, 29 shows in 32 days, but Nixon didn’t mind. She loved touring. Before they left, Nixon and Stringfellow met up at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco. There was an after-party in the Marker Hotel lobby, but Nixon turned in around midnight because she would be driving the whole next day.

Before going to her room, Nixon spotted a petite blonde woman she knew through Stringfellow, Kristine Chambers. Chambers had been in an open relationship with Stringfellow.

Chambers was the widow of a revered musician and had partnered with Stringfellow to produce an album of her husband’s unfinished songs. Holly Nixon had helped raise money for the effort.

Chambers attended the after-party but didn’t speak with Stringfellow until he came up to her as she was calling an Uber to leave.

“Don’t call just yet,” he said, according to Chambers.

He maneuvered to put his hand up her dress, she said, but she pushed him away. She wasn’t interested in hooking up with him that night, she said, because she was on doctor’s orders to refrain from sex.

“I have to tell you something,” Chambers said. She wanted to explain about the procedure but didn’t want the men nearby to overhear. She walked Stringfellow to the elevators across the lobby.

“I had a female procedure done; I can’t have sex with you,” Chambers said she told him. In response, he grabbed her, she said, pulled her into the men’s room next to the elevators, and started kissing her.

She said she pulled away.

“I told you, I can’t have sex with you,” she said.

“I know,” she recalled him saying.

Stringfellow pushed her to the floor inside a stall, she said. Her head hit the tiles. She said he then pulled down her underwear and bit her vagina.

“He was biting me,” Chambers said. “It was very painful.”

On the bathroom floor, he had sex with her forcibly, she said.

When he couldn’t reach climax, she said, she stood up, and so did he.

“He turned me around and shoved me up against the wall,” she said. “He came up from behind.”

“Let me in,” Stringfellow said, according to Chambers.

“I’m trying,” she said. She just wanted him to be done.

Chambers said that when it was over, she emerged from the bathroom stall and looked in the mirror to fix her hair.

That night, Stringfellow returned to the room he shared with Holly Nixon.

Stringfellow smelled like sex, Nixon said. “I’ve never been so angry in my life.”

“Did you just have sex with Kristine downstairs?” she recalled asking. “He was so drunk. He said, ‘yeah,’ laying on the bed.

“I said, ‘Are you serious?’ and he said, ‘It’s your fault. You left me. I didn’t know where you were.’”

Nixon took a bottle of limoncello and threw it into the bathroom. It shattered everywhere.

“I packed everything,” Nixon said. “All these stupid outfits and cowboy hats I had. I tried to get my car out of the garage, but I couldn’t get my car out, because it wouldn’t open until 7 a.m.”

She sat in the lobby crying. At 6 a.m., Stringfellow convinced her to stay.

S

tringfellow told KUOW that what happened with Kristine Chambers in the bathroom at the Marker Hotel was consensual.

In a statement issued with his wife, he wrote, “As a family, we view sexual assault as a very serious issue. As an ethically non-monogamous married couple, we are particularly attuned to the importance of consent and communication in relationships.

“Over the years, Ken has had consensual and respectful sexual relationships with other women, including the women making the allegations. Our commitment to each other made room for him to do that.”

In the days following the Marker Hotel lobby party, Chambers and Stringfellow exchanged messages on Facebook.

“I was outmatched physically and deceived emotionally, too. And I’ve not even gotten one apology,” Chambers wrote.

Stringfellow replied: “I am definitely sorry about it. I really didn’t want the evening to go that way at all.”

He apologized again later that week.

“I’m really sorry about the scene on Saturday,” he wrote. “I was pretty much blacked out. It’s not an excuse, but the place I could be responsible was to not drink that much; what happens after that, I definitely can’t control.”

Concerned about swelling from being bitten, Chambers wrote to her doctor, an OB/GYN at Kaiser:

“He sort of pushed me to the floor,” she said. “I could have stopped him. But it would mean I would have had to make a scene, become loud, which I didn’t want to do for many reasons … there were still people we knew nearby, mostly men.”

Her doctor responded, “My first question and concern was whether it was consensual. If not, then I hope that you take action as needed.”

“Consensual?” Chambers replied. “I think it’s not really a black and white issue. I told him I was advised not to have sex, he pulled me in the bathroom and started kissing me. I didn’t know it would go further. It’s very difficult to gain control over a man 5’11” who is incredibly drunk.”

She said it took her three weeks before she said out loud that it wasn’t consensual. "I had finally realized the trauma I had experienced," she said.

H

olly Nixon first met Ken Stringfellow in 2010 during a layover at an empty gate at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. After chatting briefly, they exchanged contact information.

Four years later, Nixon contacted Stringfellow to share her first solo record. He responded enthusiastically, she said, and the two teamed up to make an album.

They toured in Belgium and Holland, which is where they first became intimate. Nixon said she rebuffed him at first, but that he was persistent. Both say that they became enamored with each other.

In October 2015, after the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, Stringfellow and Nixon had the first stop of their cross-country tour together. Their relationship progressed, Nixon said, becoming “more dramatic, abusive, and destructive.”

By the end of the tour, Nixon became pregnant unexpectedly. She said that Stringfellow pressured her to have an abortion, promising her they would be together.

Nixon flew to Seattle for her abortion because the wait for the procedure in Arizona, where she lived after the tour, was too long. Records show that Stringfellow paid for the procedure.

Nixon tried to end their relationship several times. Once, according to messages shared with KUOW, Stringfellow threatened to jump in front of a subway train if she didn’t respond to him. When Nixon ended the relationship in 2017, records show that Stringfellow harassed her with emails and phone calls.

Scared, Nixon went to a domestic violence shelter in Minneapolis where she lived, and was told a protection order wouldn’t help, because Stringfellow lived most of the year in France. To this day, Stringfellow portrays Nixon to others as a "vindictive ex."

After their relationship, in an attempt to lay low, Nixon stopped playing music.

I

n January 2018, two years after the Marker Hotel incident, a woman named Kristi Houk from Birmingham, Alabama, went to a Posies show in Atlanta.

“I’ve been a fan of Ken’s music since I was a teenager,” Houk said. “I had a rocky childhood and music was my way of coping with the world, as it is for many people.”

Houk had met Stringfellow nine years earlier after a show and been unsettled, she said, when he suggested they go back to his hotel.

Houk put that behind her when she went to see the Posies perform in Atlanta. She didn’t interact with Stringfellow at the show.

The day after she returned home to Birmingham, Stringfellow messaged her on Facebook. That connection turned into an affair.

One night that next summer, as she drove Stringfellow back from a show, he grabbed her arm.

“He bit my arm all the way down, continuously biting me while I’m driving the car,” Houk said. “I’m like, what the hell is happening?”

The next morning, around 4 a.m. while she was sleeping, she said that Stringfellow started having anal sex with her.

“Now, I didn’t tell him to stop,” she said. “But I kind of squirmed … and got out of the situation.”

The relationship faded after that.

She wondered: Had other women been treated like this? She recalled Stringfellow mentioning Holly Nixon, and she connected with her on Instagram.

Nixon, in turn, mentioned Kristine Chambers, and they connected with her, too.

Then in July, Houk spotted a Facebook post written by a woman who had been involved with Stringfellow. She was Kristi Coulter, a Seattle author.

“I had a longish romance with someone who would mention every few months that the Me Too era was a scary time to be a man. ‘Anyone can say anything and ruin your career’ ... Coulter found this fixation odd, because she didn’t believe Stringfellow would harm anyone.

Her post continued that he would talk about “a crazy ex.”

"There were a few crazy exes, but I knew the one he meant. He'd talked about her for hours on our second date, told me she'd threatened to make grim public allegations against him after they'd split. She'd sounded almost too evil to be plausible, and I had been horrified by his ordeal.”

After reading the post, Houk wrote to Coulter:

“I’ve been following you for a year now. I believe we share a mutual person in common. I’ve hesitated to reach out, as I know it seems creepy, but after reading your post on the Me Too movement, I had to send this message.”

Coulter was stunned when she heard the women’s stories, and rallied them to come forward as a unified front.

“I had a sense of survivor guilt for avoiding assault myself,” she said, “and for believing the crazy-ex narrative. I felt a moral obligation to stop him from hurting anyone else.”

Coulter got word to the other Posies, including Jon Auer, who co-founded the Posies with Stringfellow. When Auer heard that his friend Kristine Chambers was among the women making an accusation, he called her right away. They spent nine hours talking over several days.

"I left the Posies very quickly after hearing from Kristine about what happened to her,” Auer wrote by email. “What she described to me was super disturbing, and it made my position immediately clear.

“I confronted Ken about it on a phone call on Aug 4, 2021, and cancelled our upcoming shows, and flat-out told him that I wouldn't be working with him anymore," Auer said.

Auer canceled plans to perform at a grand reopening show at The Crocodile Café, harkening back to the band’s set during the venue’s opening night in 1991. A nearly finished album has been shelved.

Drummer Frankie Siragusa also left the Posies, which he made public on his Facebook page. He had been a longtime Posies fan when Stringfellow recruited him to be their new drummer in 2015. “Jon and Ken were heroes of mine in the 90s,” he said.

After Siragusa learned of the allegations, he wrote to Stringfellow that he was leaving The Posies. He told KUOW he no longer wanted to be associated with his long-time hero.

“I had a ton of tour posters hung up and framed on my walls, and lots of Posies stuff from tours on display in my house,” Siragusa said. “I took them all down.”

Resources for victims and survivors of abuse:


KUOW’s Jeannie Yandel contributed reporting

KUOW Online Managing Editor Isolde Raftery can be reached at iraftery@kuow.org.

KUOW Reporter Ashley Hiruko can be reached at hiruko@kuow.org.