Newly minted

By Eric Morrison | JUNEAU EMPIRE - February 21, 2008

While the country is still in the midst of deciding who will be the next commander in chief of the United States, we already have a new president in the music world.

The Presidents of the United States of America, the three-piece rock group that soared to the top of the music charts with their 1995 debut album, have been reincarnated with a new member just as the campaign season has kicked into high gear. Andrew McKeag, who has toured with the band since 2004, has officially replaced founding member Dave Dederer on the Presidents' latest CD, "These are the Good Times People," which is set for release on March 11.

Prior to the album's launch, McKeag, original drummer Jason Finn and founding vocalist and principal songwriter Chris Ballew are set to perform March 1 at Marlintini's Lounge in Juneau. This will be the band's fourth visit to Juneau and the first in almost three years.

The new president doesn't speculate on what element he brings to the band's newest incarnation, McKeag said during an interview conducted on Presidents Day after spending the morning putting together IKEA furniture.

"That's for other people to decide," he said. "I just love rock and roll, pure and simple. I try to bring as much of my thing into it, but still supporting the sound and that thing that was created with the original three guys."

McKeag filled in on the tour for the band's 2004 album "Love Everybody," after Dederer decided he wanted to spend less time on the road and more time with his family. To join the tour, McKeag had to learn how to play the guitbass, a traditional six-string guitar body that uses three bass guitar strings that Dederer helped pioneer.

"In many ways, what I do with it is very similar to what Dave did," McKeag said. "He created a language with the three-string guitar that I sort of followed. I mean, he and I sat together and he showed me how to play all the songs before I started playing with the band. So I think it's a continuation of what Dave was already doing."

Although already an accomplished musician, a three-string guitar speaks in a completely different language than a six-string guitar, McKeag said.

"It's tuned differently; everything is different," he said. "I really had to relearn to play guitar."

The Presidents still retain the unique sound that propelled the Seattle-based group to fame with radio hits like "Lump" and "Peaches," McKeag said. Ballew is still the lead songwriter, and some of the songs are revamped versions of lyrics written more than 20 years ago, he added.

"It's quirky, but I think we kind of get stuck with a quirky label to a greater degree than necessary," McKeag said. "Mostly it's just really fun rock and roll. I think Chris' goal when he puts music together for the Presidents, is just something that's going to make people happy and have a good time at the show. It's a vehicle for him to have a good time with a whole room full of people - for all of us to do that."

Marlintini's owner Ethan Billings said he wanted to bring the Presidents back to Juneau because the band's live performances bring the music to a new level.

"They're definitely a high energy band," he said. "These guys are just entertainers, man. Professional entertainment is what it is."

Also, the Presidents perform more intimate shows than many bands and will generally hang out for autographs or to drink a beer with the fans, Billings said.

"You can actually connect with these guys, which is a huge thing to be able to do with these kinds of musicians," he said. "You don't get that everywhere you go to see them."

Despite being an election year, McKeag said the new album is not intentionally being released during the presidential campaign.

"No, we're just geniuses at no fault of our own," he laughed.

The band, even with its seemingly political name, has remained virtually apolitical in its music. The band members each have their own personal political feelings, especially about the present political strife in the country, but the band's name was just intended to be funny, McKeag said.

"It's really got nothing to do with being political like Rage Against the Machine, or one of those kinds of bands," he said. "It was just a funny band name, and that's pretty much the end of that."

The songs on the newest album range being relationship-oriented tunes to some about old stories from the road. One song, "Warhead," is a 1980s-era perspective on the Cold War.

"Which is funny," McKeag said. "It's not political at all. It's just sort of a love song, but it's a silly little take on it. So the lyrics are so not of this era at all, but it's a 20-year-old tune that we had a lot of fun recording."

Juneau punk band The Bastards are scheduled to open the show at around 9 p.m. at Marlintini's. Tickets are $30 in advance, or $35 at the door, and are available at Capital Records or from the bar.

"We're going to try and play as many of the new songs as we can without bumming people out," McKeag said laughing.

The band, however, does intend to play the songs that helped earn it a Grammy nomination and sell millions of records, he said.

"We never let go of those," McKeag said. "That's another thing I like about this band, is that nobody is scared to play the hits. We know why people come to the shows - they want to have a good time, and they also want to hear 'Lump' and 'Peaches' and, you know, all that stuff. So we'll do it all."
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