The Presidents Of The United States Of America - AGAIN!

Chris Ballew — vocals, 2-string basitar

Dave Dederer — guitar

Jason Finn — drums

Yeeeaaaggghhh!!! In the midst of an unpredictable year, what better band to resurface than the once and, if they have their way, future leaders of buoyant, absurdist rock. The newly reunited Presidents of the United States of America have been in the studio cooking up a new album (and a new launch-pad), featuring 14 songs including the recent hit single, Some Postman. The band’s lead fellow Chris Ballew admits to being influenced mainly by the Beatles; “I did not listen to anything else from 2 to 14 years old. I started playing the piano when I was four writing my first song at six, taking titles from books on the shelf like The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick. Then,when I hit 14,I discovered this guy in school who used to run around singing Sex Pistols records and I stopped him one day and asked him who it was.” It seems like in the 70’s and 80’s every school in America had such a guy. Chris adds: “I went from the Beatles to arena rock to punk rock.” Since the band’s split in December 1997, fans have been sending letters and e-mails urging the band to reunite, and asking why they broke up in the first place.

Truth be told, their decision to disband came as a surprise to just about everyone. Twelve months earlier, the Seattle-based trio had released II, the follow-up to their wildly successful 1995 self-titled Columbia Records debut. Recorded for $8,000 and initially released on indie label PopLlama, THE PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA went double platinum, rocketed all the way to #6 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album Chart, produced three top 40 hits (Lump, Kitty and Peaches) and a #1 single on Billboard’s Modern Rock Chart. The band also garnered two Grammy nominations and a heap of critical praise for its sense of pop savvy and quirkiness. Their videos blanketed MTV; they toured the planet, played a live MTV concert at Mount Rushmore, and appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Howard Stern Show and Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve. As if that weren’t enough, the second Presidents album simply titled II spawned another top ten hit, Mach 5, and the band contributed a rocking cover of Video Killed the Radio Star to the platinum-selling soundtrack to Adam Sandler’s ‘The Wedding Singer’. At the end of the line, PURE FROSTING, the band’s swan song for Columbia, included a cover of the Ian Hunter song Cleveland Rocks, which was used for many seasons as the theme song to the Emmy-nominated television series, The Drew Carey Show. For the average artist, such achievements usually mark the summation of a long and healthy career - if they’re lucky. The Presidents, however, accomplished all that and more in just a couple of years.

It was an amazing time and we’re proud of how hard we worked,” says guitarist Dave Dederer. “But as difficult as it may be to comprehend, it all became a bit overwhelming. It’s sort of a ‘be careful what you wish for’ kind of thing. We went three years without a day off and worked ourselves to exhaustion. Chris Ballew takes up the story; “Eventually, we reached a point where we had to take a break, so we went home and had some down-time. The option to get back together came along several times but it never felt right, then for some unknown reason it did. We made a record in 2000 for an online label called Freaked Out & Small, which was advertised as our comeback which it was not.”

In the five years that followed each President worked on various projects: Ballew formed a band with Young Fresh Fellows drummer Tad Hutchison, cleverly titled Chris and Tad. In addition, he built his own recording studio, where he writes and produces music for advertising, film and television. Dederer played with former Guns N’ Roses and current Velvet Revolver bassist Duff McKagan in a duo called The Gentlemen and in McKagan’s band, Loaded. The guitarist also worked on a benefit for Seattle non-profit Youth Care and served as a public relations consultant to Experience Hendrix, LLC. Drummer Jason Finn became a much-sought-after Seattle stickman, serving time with The Fastbacks, The Nevada Bachelors and The Gentlemen, amongst others. In between, the trio collaborated on a project called Subset, which featured famed Baby Got Back rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot. Though the three friends recorded the aforementioned album (2000’s Freaked Out and Small) for Internet start-up, the Presidents did not perform publicly for almost five years.

They came back together and Chris admits, “The only thing was to do a gig, then it snowballed into doing an album that was easier than previous records; we go to a big studio to get the drum sound and stuff, then I’d go home and finish it, the best of both worlds, then we went back to finish off; it was hard work but also fun as always.” The band also had time to remaster the debut album, re-release it with some outtakes and demo’s; and include a second disc with some visual stuff from Lance Mercer who is a photographer friend; visual clips for the singles that don’t get rotation on MTV anymore. Nine years later the songs - smart, tuneful and exhilarating - from THE PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA still hold up. “We gained back the rights to the record and thought it would be fun to put it back out there on our own terms,” says Ballew, “first time round everything went too fast, we were not on the same page, but now with some perspective we make it work. Also we are more in control of the agenda and the live shows have been ‘off the hizzle’ as Snoop would say. Live is where it’s at for us.”

For their new album LOVE EVERYBODY, the band recorded basic tracks at Egg Studios with Conrad Uno (Posies, Supersuckers, Young Fresh Fellows, et al.), and at Jupiter Studios with Martin Feveyear (Mudhoney, Mark Lanegan). Jupiter is Chris Ballew’s home studio, a shack in his backyard, and it is the band’s choice for polishing and rough mixing new tracks. The new songs run the gamut, though one tune, Some Postman, has already proven itself after being leaked onto Seattle’s KNDD and subsequently turning into a highly-requested local hit. Says Dederer, “I was blown away when we played two sold-out shows at the Showbox (ed: a 1200 seat club in Seattle). I expected it when people sang along to the songs from our first record, but the whole crowd was singing along both nights to Some Postman, which wasn’t commercially available at the time.”

The band was offered several record deals, all of which they decided to walk away from in order to have more control over their music and careers, and to keep it all local. They recently hired Seattle-based managers Mike Tierney and David Meinert at The Blue Team Music Management to coordinate the marketing and promotion of their new album which will be released on the band’s own PUSA Music label.

Does this mean the band is back together for good?

I think so,” says the lead singer. “We’re gonna take things at an even pace and not kill ourselves this time. The key is to keep everything fun and in perspective and cherish it and keep it all positive. If we can do that - and I think we can - I really don’t see us ever splitting up. Besides, (he laughs) we can’t play the break-up card again. We’ve already done that once. We have so many styles that come from our influences. I am so into Kraftwerk right now and also Spiritualized who just rock and relax at the same time, which is so strange… But there is no massive future plan; we have learned from the stuff we fucked up on last time; we are doing shows in the States and then two weeks in Europe. We will finish then take a break and go back to it again, the audience is going to still be there. There will be no more records unless its great songs, no deadline, we are doing some festivals like Pink Pop and the V Festival in the UK. Festivals are ok, club shows are more fun, we have been playing and people who saw us in 1996 have been coming back and telling us they have been waiting so long to see us again. Sometimes a lack of reaction does not mean people don’t dig you, they come up at the end and tell you how great you were. But in all honesty, festivals are worth doing for sure and we are the best version of the band we ever been, absolutely.”


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