Magazine article

July 1995

Its too late to say you knew The Presidents of the United States of America before they his it big. Unless, of course, you live more than fifteen minutes away from Seattle. "Fifteen minutes north or south of Seattle we're nobody," says President's lead singer and two string guitar player Chris Ballew, but this is likely to soon change. The Presidents ave spent much of this spring hammering out the details of a major label recording contract which should be almost locked up as you are reading this. "Basically, it's a done deal," says drummer and former Love Battery member Jason Finn. "We're very close to signing an intermediary agreement, which will..."

"Contract should be signed in three weeks," addes three-string guitar man and University of Washington masters' canidate Dave Dederer. Dave clams up when I ask him exactly which major label will be throwing thier weight behind the Presidents phenomenon, but later Jason recalls how nervous he was when he met Madonna recently. "Was that a business meeting?" I ask. "Yes," says Finn, and Dederer quickly adds, "Her business is pleasure."

I was last in line for Presidents on this, thier prearranged "Press Day." They've been sitting in Jenny Bendel's Queen Anne apartment all day, smoking cigarettes and eating cookies brought by the kids from Skagit Valley Community College Weekly. "What, no snack?" asks Dederer as I enter the room.

The previous Saturday I'd been at a Presidents show at the Crocodile Cafe which sold out in about twenty minutes. This band may cliam to be unknown anywhere fifteen minutes from Seattle or more, but inside the city they are the band of the moment. They routinely sell out the Croc and Moe, two of the largest club venues in town, even though they've been purposely saturating with show after show. "Lately we've been pushing it," says Finn. "We want to see if people will still show up."

"It's not a game" adds Chris Ballew. "If I had to choose a serious" President, it would be Ballew, conservatively clad on this day in khakis and a button-down dress shirt, but also sporting a shocking pair of silver glitter Doc Martens (Dr. Martens). Ballew and Dederer who'd played together in various projects over the course of many years, formed Presidents as another whim, another fun project, after Ballew had returned from Boston, where he'd roomed with Mark Sandman of Morphine. "I'd made a tape of songs off a four track and Dave liked them, so we started playing without a drummer," explains Ballew during our inter- view. Jason Finn, who'd been playing with Love Battery for many years, "begged to play" with Ballew and Dederer. So Presidents began playing, "...just forgetting about trying to plan, making records," says Ballew. "Saying, 'let's just have a show, then another show, then another show...'"

"Let's see if we can get paid and have some fun, get some free beer," chips in Dederer. This easy going philosophy lasted until mid-July of 1994. The Presidents has about five hundred demo tapes circulating around town when they had thier first headline gig. "It was on a Wednesday night at Moe," says Dederer. "Suddenly, there were like three or four hundred people there!"

"And they all knew the words to the songs," says Ballew quietly.

Dederer continues: "Then we played ASCAP showcase at Moe during Bumbershoot, and every industry person in town was there. Within twenty-four hours (of that show) we were talking to someone who wanted to sign us."

Things have moved exponentially quickening rate for the band last summer. Despite the almost nonstop major label speculations conected to the band, Presidents released a full length CD on local icon label Pop Llama last March. "I really wanted to know that we could put out a record together and have the expreience of doing it without the pressure," says Chris Ballew now. The CD, The Presidents of the United States of America has been in the Northwest Top Ten (so far reaching #4) for months. "It's likely that it might be re-released within the nect four months (by a major label)," says Dederer.

It's all gotten so hectic that Jason Finn has dropped out of Love Battery to concentrate completly on Presidents. Now he's sitting in a windowsill, holding his cigarette out the window, and he says, "It was over a period of months. It took me months to tell myself that I didn't have to do that if I didn't want to. I just didn't know how not to be in Love Battery. Still, I wake up and feel like I'm in Love Battery."

Dederer leans over and says with complete sincerity, "If you quit The Presidents, we'd have to break up. We'd have to change the name and start over."

So now everything is in place. The presidenst are poised for an attack on places more than fifteen minutes from Seattle. How large can they become? Huge, perhaps. Though the band would be quite happy to spend the next few years "playing the Moe's of the world," The Presidents appeal to a massive variety of people who range far beyond what's "cool" in Seattle. "I love out audience," says Ballew. "They're just people having a good time."

"How can this not pay off?" interjects Finn. "Do a little quick math. You've got ladies, longshoremen, little kids...," and don't forget Doogie Howser, Jason.

Doogie is a Presidents fan, it's true. If you don't believe me, ask anyone who was at the Crocodile show in late April. There he was, skanking heavily in the Mosh Pit, dragging on a smoke between songs, working up an enviable sweat. "He doesn't actually like being called 'Doogie.' It's 'Neil.' And I got him in, actually," says Ballew.

"I ran into him the next Monday after that show," says Jason. "I wasn't going to say anything, but he stood up and said, 'I just got your album yesterday! I love you guys!'"

Old ladies, longshoremen, little kids, University of Washington students, rock and roll scenesters... and Doogie. The Presidents may have found the perfect equation for success.
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