Chris Ballew: The Mr. Skin Interview

Nov 5, 2004 - Author: Mr. Skin

In this election year the choice is obvious. Cast your vote for The Presidents of the United States of America. The poppy punks who waded through the Seattle grunge scene to top-40 hits with "Lump," "Kitty," and "Peaches" are back with their first album in four years. And Love Everyone is packed with their trademark snappy punch.

The band split up in December 1997, but their presence is still felt in popular culture as their cover of the Ian Hunter song "Cleveland Rocks" was used as the theme song on The Drew Carey Show and kept heads bobbing. Now reunited, the band will re-release their eponymous debut this fall, and a DVD that will include hit videos, live footage, and interviews is also forthcoming.

In the middle of touring for the new album, lead throat and songwriter Chris Ballew took some time off to talk with Mr. Skin about the lustful temptation of Lindsay Lohan (Picture: 1), iconic nude scenes, and how he almost killed Madonna's Chihuahua.

Hi, Chris, this is Peter Landau from Mr. Skin
Hold on, I'm going to plug in a headset so I can use my hands.

That's appropriate for Mr. Skin.
Tell me what Mr. Skin is.

Mr. Skin is a web site that reviews movies, but only the nude scenes. We fast forward to the good parts.
Sounds good. Sounds great. I'm all for it.

You took a sabbatical to raise a family.
I have two kids, seven and four. We're entering the golden age of communication and cooperation and teamwork and happiness. It's a good time.

What do your kids think about their father being one of The Presidents of the United States of America?
You know, it's always been this way for them. I think they think it's pretty cool, but they play it pretty cool. We just get along. We have bands together, actually, so they're already in bands so they're not really fazed by it. I have a band with my son called The Light Bulb Fantastic and a band with my daughter called The Strawberry Finger.

Very psychedelic.
They are pretty psychedelic bands, too, pretty primal. We have a bunch of songs and play at family gatherings. It's pretty fun. Augie writes songs; he's always singing. Everything he's doing he's humming under his breath and singing words and stuff. He's written a bunch of songs. He's got a great song called "Oh, Man, Oh, Yes We Can," which is about cooperation. [My daughter's] main song is called "Pretty Song," which is just her singing in this unknown language that nobody understands but her. The Strawberry Finger is more conceptual. It's her dancing and me playing, more of a performance thing. The Light Bulb Fantastic is Augie on drums and me on piano or guitar, whatever the song calls for, more of a rock band.

Your new album is called Love Everybody. So do you love everybody, and since this is Mr. Skin, stick to the actresses that you love.
That's easy. Right now I have a new favorite, brand new favorite! Lindsay Lohan, yeah. How old is she?

Can't be more than eighteen.
Makes me feel like a dirty old man. But she's an amazing-looking--I won't say child--person.

Is this the influence of your children?
No, no. I saw that movie Mean Girls on an airplane and she's just scintillatingly hot in it. So she's my new favorite actress.

Can you put your finger on what it is about her that turns you on?
Oh, I can put my finger all over it--body, hair, eyes, lips, little chunky, which I dig, the full package. I was without a celebrity fantasy target for a few years. And, believe it or not, the one I had before this was Janeane Garofalo (Picture: 1). Much different, but not really so different if you really look at them both; they have the same type of sexy fireplug look. I don't go for the Uma Thurman (Picture: 1), the tall skinnies, or Cameron Diaz (Picture: 1) and all that stuff. I like the Amazon Mini, I guess you'd call it.

What about classic actresses?
An early one is Jessica Lange in King Kong (Picture: 1). That's a fantastic moment. I remember going to that with my parents and I don't think they were aware that that was going to happen. It was family movie night. Man, that image of when King Kong pulls her little dress down--it's seared itself into my brain.

If I remember correctly, that sequence of pictures was printed in Time magazine, which blew my young mind.
Those are amazing moments in cinematic history.

Skinematic history.
Skinematic, there you go. Oh, Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Picture: 1 - 2 - 3). I'm not breaking any ground there, of course. That's a huge moment, spend forty minutes watching and re-watching--I just want that on a loop. The thirty seconds before it happens and the five seconds after on a loop that I can just watch all day; actually that'd be a great screensaver.

So was King Kong the first nude scene in a mainstream movie you saw?
Yeah, that would be King Kong. It's not a movie, but I remember sometimes they would not edit The Benny Hill Show properly for the American television audience. There was this one scene where these girls were showering outside and Benny rode by on a bicycle and accidentally took the shower curtain off. That was excellent. I actually saved up my allowance and bought my own TV when I was a kid and had it in my room. And I'd wake up at four in the morning and watch TV for an hour just to see what weird stuff was on. One night I saw some of that on some UHF channel and they were rerunning Benny Hill. This was in the mid-'70s or late '70s. I remember saying, "It's worth it! It's worth waking up! I saw something amazing! Incredible!"

You've mentioned a few, but are there other skin scenes that have left an impression on you?
I like that sex scene in The Matrix Reloaded.

Was that at the rave?
Yeah, yeah! When they sneak off and get busy with all their plugs. That's pretty good. Ain't nothing wrong with those Matrix movies, I'll tell you. I just bought a movie called Eugenie, something like descent or journey of a young girl…

Eugenie ... the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion; a classic.
I kind of fast-forwarded through it. I haven't sat down and watched it yet.

Marie Liljedahl, who plays Eugenie, is a beauty (Picture: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4).
Yeah, there are these funny scenes of her at the end, like, lost on the island running around naked. Lost. Nude. That's kind of great.

Are you a fan of sexploitation?
No, not really. We played an in-store at a place in Portland and they gave us a discount on DVDs and I was like, wow, this looks exciting. But, no, I don't have a cache of that kind of stuff.

Well, this just might start a new obsession for you. Now, obviously, you're a rock star, so as a good journalist I must ask about how wild the backstage antics get at The Presidents of the United States shows?
No, we're so responsible it's crazy. We're the kind of band that's early to sound check. We're very professional. When we do two or three shows out on the road you have to actually get some sleep or you'll lose your voice, fall down and break your leg, especially the way we jump around. Jason Finn, the drummer, he's going have way more detail on that front than me and Dave Dederer. He's the bachelor. I've been married since the whole thing began. I got married in October of '95 and we got signed in the spring or early summer of '95, right before that. I've been a good boy.

What about your fans, those Janeane Garofalo-looking fans that throw themselves at you?
Sometimes at a party there's someone who's draping around, but generally our fans are very levelheaded, smart, nice, straight-ahead folks. Either that or they're backwards-baseball-hat-wearing drunk frat guys who won't leave you alone.

Do you have any famous fans?
Drew Barrymore (Picture: 1) called me up one time. She was very nice. We did the song "Video Killed the Radio Star" for The Wedding Singer--great kiss in that movie. Not a nude scene, but a good kiss that time when they were rehearsing. She and Adam Sandler, after the movie wrapped, were probably sitting around having a couple of brews and calling everybody associated with the movie and thanking them. So I got a call from her and she said, "We're really into you and your music and your band, and thank you so much for all your positive energy." Having never met her, she was gushing quite profusely. It was a very nice compliment, and so far that's the only call from an actress I've received.

Have you done other music for film?
That experience of doing The Wedding Singer and the theme song for Drew Carey led me to start my own company writing music for TV and movies and licensing music to commercials and stuff like that.

I wrote the theme song for the new Andy Richter show on Fox, Quintuplets. And as the phone rang I'm searching through music for John Stamos's new show. I'm always submitting stuff. I did a song for that Dana Carvey movie The Master of Disguise, which was not the greatest movie in the world, in fact, one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

[Dog barks.] Sorry, I have a little Chihuahua that barks whenever somebody comes near the front door.
I almost crushed Madonna's Chihuahua. I'm not sure I want to tell that story because I don't want her to know how close I came to crushing her dog. But I'll tell it anyway. It's been a few years. We were courted by Madonna and Columbia Records at the same time, couldn't figure out who to sign with, Maverick or Columbia.

She came to see us live and we went to meet with her. She was late and we were restless, so we were tossing a little football around in the parking lot. Somebody cracked open the door and said she's here, come on in. I was lagging behind, throwing the football in the air and catching it. The door was propped open and I kind of threw the ball to myself and jumped into the building through the door and landed. Through my heavy leather boot I felt something next to my foot. I looked down and her dog was right there. I mean, I could feel it through the leather boot, it was that close. My heart went into my face. I almost crushed her dog. I don't know if she still has it, but at the time it was her pride and joy. She didn't have a kid yet. She'd pose in magazines with her dog. So I almost killed it.

Once I got my composure we did have a meeting and she was very smart, very cool, and very sexy and totally got us, but we ended up going with Columbia for various reasons. But I did almost kill her dog.

Have you ever written any "blue" material?
Oh, yeah, tons. I have. I never hold myself back from writing whatever comes into my head. I figure it'll be useful someday for some project. I have lots of non-Presidential material. As we're speaking I'm archiving years of recordings. I have 2,500 pieces of music and about 800 or so are songs with lyrics and of those there are quite a few that are not appropriate for underage children.

Maybe "The Blue Album" will come out one day. Would you include a song about Mr. Skin?
I have a song called "In My Skin." It's kind of an instrumental. It has very few lyrics. My son is in it actually. I'm the drum player. But yeah I could write a song for Mr. Skin, sure.
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