Winning The Vote -- The Presidents, A Band That Insists Rock Is Fun, Releases Its Second Album

Monday, November 4, 1996

Special To The Seattle Times

The Presidents of The United States of America wouldn't have voted to bring out their second album, "II," on Election Day tomorrow.

"It was the company's idea," groans drummer Jason Finn. "We've been telling kids all year to get out and Rock The Vote and now it's like we're saying, `No, buy our record.' "

Finn, one of the most amiable, well-liked and ubiquitous rascals in the Seattle music world, shrugs and lets it go. After years of knocking around with bands such as Skin Yard, Paisley Sin, Love Battery and the Presidents - when he wasn't slinging and drinking beers at Seattle's Comet Tavern - he understands how the music business works, or at least how it thinks.

He and his fellow Presidents, Chris Ballew and David Dederer, have always been willing to do whatever it takes - within reason.

When the Presidents formed some three years ago, tales of their live show at clubs such as the Crocodile Cafe and Moe's began attracting an immediately increasing audience.

Onstage, the Presidents were positive, unbridled, uninhibited and infectious. Ballew's songs were curious, comic, subliminally sexy morsels about fruit, cars, bugs and animals. They kept it simple, using instruments that had half the normal strings and drums with no cymbals.

Still, they could crank out high-volume, high-velocity tunes that were more novel than novelty, and extremely attractive. After all of the angst-driven, shoe-staring grunge groups that oozed through Seattle, the Presidents were a ray of rain-filtered sunshine.

They saw no reason not to have a good time; rock is supposed to be fun.

When they independently released their self-titled debut CD in early 1995, there was a ready local market. The record was picked up by Columbia the following July, remastered and remixed, and by February was a Top 10 national hit.

The singles "Lump," "Kitty" and "Peaches" became regular radio fodder, and MTV brought the band more recognition.

The record went double platinum and the Presidents garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Performance.

They also went on the road for a year, traveling the United States, Europe and Australia. During that time they managed to record "Super Sonics," which became the theme song for the then on-fire Seattle basketball team, and a new album's worth of material.

Two months ago the band was hip deep in getting the new recording ready. Their reps had gathered a ragged gaggle of rock writers - local and imported - to listen to the rough mixes of the work at Stone (Pearl Jam) Gossard's Studio Litho.

Promo pictures still had to be taken, a cover still needed to be designed and executed, the recording still required a final mix and sequencing, and there was the inevitable video to shoot.

Still, sitting on the floor in the control booth, punching up raucous, wall-smacking tracks such as "Lunatic To Love," "Twig In The Wind" and the first single, a funny car-fueled tale of pre-teen toy destruction tagged "Mach 5," Ballew, Dederer and Finn were all smiles.

Something exciting and shared was going on.

"I liked the first record," Dederer said later, in his diplomatically genuine, straightforward manner, "but I don't know that I would have bought it. But I'd buy the new record, and I never buy records, especially new records. It rocks. It almost rocked too much. We had to tone it down."

"I think the first record was the best we could make at that point," Ballew concurred. "It's a great document of what we were then. What we are now is more of a rock band. . ."

"With songs formed by a year of touring," added Finn.

"We know a lot better how to use the studio," Dederer continued, "and I'm a way better guitarist.

"And I'm a way better singer," said Ballew. "I even took lessons."

"In tap dancing," finished Finn.

Today the Presidents are back out on the campaign trail, although home is hard to leave. Dederer has just purchased a suburban house his wife had been in love with since she was 6.

"It's the only thing I ever really wanted to buy if we were successful," he said.

Finn has entrusted the two living plants in his luxurious bachelor digs to a friend. Ballew and his wife are expecting a child.

But there's a new product to push and the dreaded sophomore jinx to overcome.

There's reason for optimism. "II" is a solid, musically sophisticated work that maintains its rudimentary rock roots while furthering Ballew's gift for the sublimely silly and the band's arranging and performing talents. Unlike musicians who put a lifetime of material in the first record and then scramble for scraps on the second, Ballew has bales of new songs.

"It's almost a burden," he said. "I have so many ideas going on."

Ballew has always said he likes to walk because he can find a song under any rock in Seattle. He said that's still true.

"But now I've taken up running. There's so much more to see."

Return to PUSAbase homepage