Jason Finn Interview 2005

Text: Frank D. - 2005

In December of 1997, you called it quits. What happened? Was it just Chris Ballew leaving or were you tired of the entire circus around you as a band?

Well, that was a kind of “it’s all out of control” situation. We just had a problem saying no, basically. It was like the management and the label were sort of keeping us a little busier than we could handle. We didn’t take a break after the first album, which was a big mistake on our side. Especially Chris felt crushed and drained. He had no inspiration left. Well, it actually surprised me too, you know. It was right here where I’m standing now, in my living room, where Chris said “I..I can’t do this anymore”. Now looking back, it had probably been better for us to take a year off or something. But oh well, it happened. It did give us time to really recharge our battery.

Did the success of that first album surprise you, like a “What the hell is going on?” type of thing?

Hahaha. Well, it was a unique and surprising experience. You can’t predict that kind of success. On the other hand, it’s hard to explain, but we kind of knew that that was going to happen. It’s like we were in “The Zone”, you know? Everything was just going right in that 18 months period. We made that little record and everybody like it here in Seattle and then all the major record companies were circling around us...it was a very strange feeling. We felt like it didn’t matter if we play naked or reggae, they were going to like it. It almost felled ordained, you know?

Lords of MetalYet, it all went out of control. Why come back together as a band?

Well, we didn’t perform as a band for four and a half years and that is a long time to reflect and rest up. We all kept pretty busy in the Seattle scene, but it’s not the same as your first love. It seemed very obvious to us that we would come back together again. So we did one show together in 2002 and we were wondering if anybody would even care. And it was like old times, but better. We had a lot of fun and we felt like we could do things on our own terms now. We now feel like we can do a good job, but less and don’t have to do a half job everyday.

But in 2000 you released an album called ‘Freaked Out and Small’. How does that fit into the picture?

Oh yeah...you know, we’re always forgetting that album. We don’t even play songs of that record. Not that we don’t like it, but there’re a lot six string and four string instruments on that album and we usually don’t have the right stuff with us to play those songs on stage, so that makes it kind of difficult. And it was kind of a strange situation. We were asked by this online record label to do an album. So it took eleven days to put that record together from start to finish and we never played a show. We just finished the record and said, “Here you go!”, you know? We didn’t really get back together. The record was kind of out there on its own.

So, we didn’t see that as our comeback album. I mean, we didn’t take time to do shows or tour or that kind of stuff. It’s a pretty cool record, though. I kind of wish we’d put it out when we were functioning as a band. In fact the album was kind of an obstacle when we released this new record ‘Love Everybody’. You know that we ‘re on our own record label now, right? Maybe it’s boring, but the retailers said “Well, we have that other record of yours from 2000 and nobody bought it”. That was really harsh. It was perceived as a lack of momentum on our part, I think. But I think we did a pretty good job the last five months of getting rid of that label. The forces that be of US radio have been very supportive of us and we did a lot better with this album.

You chose a more local approach of things: no big management, no major record deal. Why?

We felt like the music industry was changing. It’s getting worse and worse. The record companies are being squeezed by the Internet downloading and file charring. They are doing all they can to keep their profits up, you know. They are talking about commissioning touring and it is already so hard for a band. I mean, you starve to death unless you’re selling millions of records. It just feels wrong and we’re too old and too crabby to deal with that. We don’t need to sell millions of records. We just want to do our thing. We just want to get the message across to the people who are interested and want to hear it. And now, we can do things exactly on the level we want.

The new album is called ‘Love Everybody’. Where did that title come from? Has the baby on the cover anything to do with it?

Well, it’s simple. It’s the title of the first song on the album, which is a classic rock thing. And it was a very inclusive friendly kind of title. And the baby? Well, it’s not somebody we know personally. A local photographer here in Seattle, Bootsy Holler, was doing some photos of us and we were looking through her books. And there was that baby staring at us. That was THE baby. Hahaha. All of our own kids are too old to pull it off. They all have hair and stuff hahaha.

The sound is somewhat different from the previous albums, more mature in a way. It’s a more rock orientated. Do you recognize that?

Yeah, I hear that. It’s more aggressive than before. We had more time to work with things now. The first album we went into this tiny studio and cut 25 songs in a couple of days. It was fun to do an album like that. You keep on riding that wave. But with this album, it was like ”Let’s work for half a day and the next half we go and pick up the kids from their soccer practise.”

You know, we now have the miracle of computers now. That’s great! For a drummer it’s fantastic, because you record different versions of the drum track and then you pick the best pieces and make a whole new track with them.

Lords of MetalDid you use the computer a lot?

Yeah. We did both the drum and rhythm track in the Jupiter studio here in Seattle and after that we took the files and went to Chris’ home studio (The Snack Shack), which is a little shack in his backyard. It’s.....well, very small hahaha. So we put the tracks we had in de computer and put down the guitars, the vocals and stuff and then carved it up. The computer is our friend. Thank God for computers.

As said humour is obviously still an important item in your music, what role does humour play in your normal lives?

Well, it isn’t a ploy. You know, it’s important. When we’re together we’re always laughing about stupid stuff. I think we sometimes irritate people who are with us on a plane hahaha. But especially Chris is always energetic and filled with joy. Fun is a sort of natural inspiration for him. But having said all that, I don’t think we have to sit down and say, “We have to make a funny record”. It just happens, so you could say it comes from the inside.

In that respect you guys are totally different from the other bands which derived from Seattle in the early/ midst nineties. I mean, Soundgarden or Alice In Chains, there wasn’t really a happy streak about them.

Yeah, if you stand us next to those bands you’re right. But for an other part, those guys are not all that unhappy, you know. That was just the way, everybody sounded back then. We were kind of fighting that in some way. We weren’t really part of that scene. It was more a reaction. Besides, Chris had been living in Boston for a couple of years and he played in a band called ‘Super Group’, which was hilarious. They never rehearsed and just improvised on stage. I heard a tape of them and it was pretty funny. They’d definitely been drinking hahaha.

Ok, let’s go to the songs on the new album. One of my absolute favourites is ‘Jennifer’s Jacket’’....


...Who is Jennifer and how is the jacket doing these days?

Hahaha. Well, I don’t know the whole story. But at one point in time, when Chris was still living in Boston, there was a Jennifer and a very worn out piece of clothing. I know Chris hasn’t talked to her since. So we don’t know how the jacket is actually, but it was ready to fall apart ten years ago, so....

You know, it is one of my dreams to play this song live with a couple string- and horn players hiding on the side of the stage. They spring out at the end of the song and play this huge orchestral piece at the end. It’s probably not going to happen, because it takes a lot of organisation, but a guy can dream, right?

Your immediate reaction was “Cool”. Why?

Well, it is kind of an interesting choice. It is not a song a lot of people bring up. Like the younger kids choose other songs, but people our age bring it up all the time. It wasn’t supposed to be on this record, because of its lighter, stripped down nature. One of our plans for our next record is to make a whole album with songs like that, with acoustic guitars and stuff. But this song came together in the Shack and we went like “Ok, let’s put it on there”.

So this is a little preview of things to come?

Yeah, I think so.

Lords of MetalThe most commercial song on the album is ‘Some Postman’. Where did the story for that song originate?

Well, Chris was collaborating with a friend from Boston, Barbara ..... I can’t remember her name right now, but she lives in Boston and is also a songwriter. And, again thanks to computers, they were sending each other Pro Tools files and at one point Chris had send her a file and asked her later if she had listened to it. And she said she never got it. Chris went like “Oh yeah, some postman is grooving to it now! ...... I got to go!” and ran downstairs and wrote the song hahaha. It’s about an evil postman. She came to one of our shows in Boston and she got a lot of grief about it hahaha. And a lot of free drinks too. Chris saw her and pointed her out and asked, “Well, here is my song about a postman, where’s yours?” That song is probably going to be the first single in Europe too, I think.

If you could name one song that defines The Presidents as a band, what song would that be?

Oh man. You know that’s the first time anyone asked me that question. Good one! Euh, but not easy.... I think I go for ‘Dune Buggy’ from our first album. It’s about a spider driving a car. It’s a mid tempo funky track and the crowd really loves it although it was never a commercial single or something like that.

So the reaction of the crowd is the benchmark?

Well, it’s one of them.

If you picture yourself in 20 years, where will you be? Sitting on the back porch?

Hahaha, yeah there’s definitely going to be a back porch involved...and hopefully a big barbeque too! Hahaha

Not in the music business anymore?

No, probably not. It’s like this: we’re on some kind of five-year plan now. It’s like four years, three years and work less and less. So in twenty years it will be like if you like The Presidents you’ll have to come to Seattle for our annual show hahaha.

Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?

Yeah one thing. I’m really looking forward to come to Europe. We haven’t been there for over eight years. You know, I’m embarrassed to say so, but we were over there a lot in 1995/ 1996 and we had to get extra pages for our passports and stuff. And after a while we looked at Europe and thought “Oh no. Not again.”, because we were so tired that all we saw was another long plane flight, and another and another. But now, we’re all fired up. I got my sleeping pills, so I’ll get on the plane, sleep, wake up get off the plane and I’m ready to go!

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