Discussion: The Presidents of the United States of America

Written by Nicole Albertson - 27 April 2009

Breaking their years of silence, the Presidents of the United States of America released sixth album in March 2008, These are the Good Times People. Just back from a European tour and setting out to cross the US to promote their latest album, gutibass player Andrew McKaeg spoke with Swigged! about the fate of PoUSA, adventures in Moscow, and Twitter addictions.

The Presidents of the United States of America - "Rot in the Sun."

Read the interview after the jump!

Your most recent album These are the Good Times People, came out in 2008 and you recently got back from a European tour including a stop in Moscow. Did you enjoy it?
Just being somewhere that I’d only ever seen pictures of and you have an idea of what it’s going to be like. It was sort of like what I expected but it was not like that at all too. It was just kind of behind in a way. They have a lot of stuff that the western world has but it feels and tastes different. The venue was nice but everything we did, all of production and everything is a negotiation, not even really a language barrier it’s more of the tradition. A lot of people working but nobody’s doing anything. But the people were really nice and the show was fun. The audience sang along and they got really into it. It was just weird. It’s really dirty there. I don’t know if that’s just because they have such brutal weather. Also, when you take a cab, you don’t just take a cab. You go stand out in front of the hotel and hold your hand out and some random car pulls over. Then you negotiate a price for where ever you want to go and get in this dude’s car and they take you there. I asked someone we were with, “Are you sure about this?” She said, “It’s Russia.”

Well that’s reassuring. How were the fans in Europe?
They knew the songs and sang along. It wasn’t a very big show only 200-300 but they sang with gusto.

Weird Al Yankovic did a parody of your single “Lump” and now he is directing a video for PoUSA’s new album. How did that relationship turn from comedic to business?
Al is old friends with Chris. He got in touch with the band early on when he wanted to parody “Lump” which was “Gump.” He and Chris, they are both kind of similar in a way. They both are kind of wacky and crazy funny guys, but they take their art really seriously. So they really hit it off. Both of them are just super creative people and they just stayed friends. Chris was taking a trip with his girlfriend to L.A. and our record was going to come out soon and we were talking about video ideas. I sort of mentioned to Chris [that he should] talk to Al [because] he directs videos by other artists. I’ve seen other videos that he’s done and they are really good. And so he said yes. We wound up having him direct the first single for Mixed up S.O.B.

PoUSA is a pretty funny band. You guys are always having fun with people/things/events in your songs. This is no exception on your latest album These Are the Good Times People. So, who is the “Mixed up S.O.B.”?
That song is actually really old. Chris wrote it a long time ago. He was a starving musician in Boston as a college student. He got a 4track recorder and hit up on this idea that he would record people and they would pay him to record them. So he put up this sign and no one called him except for this one weird lady and he listened to her rattle on for 45 minutes on the telephone and he just said, “She’s a mixed up son of a bitch.” And that was his comment to himself. He wrote it down and made that little tune and he dragged it out when we were going through his archives to find new material for the record.

You joined the band in 2004 and soon after Dave officially left. Why did Dave leave and how was the transition?
I joined the band when Love Everybody was done and about to come out. They had just gotten back together a year before that and they’d done some shows. They decided to make a new record and as they were making the plans for the record to come out, it became pretty apparent that Dave didn’t really want to tour. So they thought, “Let’s see if we can find somebody to do the out of town shows and then Dave will do the in town stuff and the big important TV stuff.” That was the original plan. I would be the part-time touring guy and Dave would be the part-time real guy.

Is Dave still involved with the band?
Oh yeah. He’s a part of everything. All the old records, whether they license songs for whatever and all the stuff that he was a part of. About 3 months into the idea of Dave and I co-guitar playing it became really hard for Chris and Jason to have two different rehearsed versions of the band available. We’d go on the road and the songs would totally change. I think it just became really apparent to all parties that it wasn’t a functional model. And I think Dave was feeling the same way. So Dave eased out and I eased in. It wasn’t a weird thing. It was just sort of, “Ok I don’t want to do this, Ok I do.”

Do you have any crazy stories from the road?

I’m finding this very hard to believe.
We have a good time but we are semi-adults about the whole thing. At 40-years old it’s not really a manageable prospect to have a complete party all the time.

So you leave the kegs at home.
Exactly. We really have fun. It’s been personally so killer to go around the world and get paid to play rock n’ roll and visit all these places that I never would have gotten to go to. It’s a pretty unique opportunity. I count my blessings.

You are out on tour in the US again. What spots are you looking forward to and what do you expect from your fans?
I expect nothing but their wrapped attention at all times… I just hope that everybody comes out and has a good time.

PoUSA is pretty technology savvy. You have blogs on your site, Facebook, Twitter. But Jason Finn is rumored to be the Facebook/Twitter addict among the group.
I give Jason a really hard time about it because this is a guy who, when we first put up our Web site in 2004, we each had a blog. And Jason would never do it. Our manager was always bugging him and telling him he needed to do a blog. And he wouldn’t do it. It became this little game. But now he has become completely full circle and he is Mr. Facebook, Mr. Twitter, Mr. Constant Blogging. He goes on these runs and he tells everybody about them, he takes pictures and he’s a machine. But I think he really spearheaded that on our behalf.

Does he get a lot of feedback from fans or are you guys just making fun of him all the time?
No, no, we don’t make fun of him all the time, just some of the time. Yea, for sure. We were trying to remember what songs we had played in Europe and what songs we should play and he got the fans to submit set list ideas via our site. We always check it out. If they have suggestions, we consider them. Some songs we simply don’t know how to play so we won’t do them, but we can be encouraged.

What are the side projects going on?
Chris put out a kids record called Casper Baby Pants for young kids music. He took traditional folksongs and expanded on them, just trying to make music that was really geared toward 2, 3, 4 year old kids and it wouldn’t drive their parents crazy. It all drives you crazy at some point but I think he is super into that right now.

I’m in two or three different other bands that don’t do much when I’m gone and then when I come home we’ll get together with friends and play. I have a Humble Pie cover band, a good 1976 hard rock cover band. I have another band called The Black Panties, that’s like the heavy/hard/rock/punk rock kind of band. I try to play as often as I can. Finn is thinking of joining me for 70 Proof (Jul. 11 at the West Seattle Summerfest), which is 9 people, 2 drummers, and all 70’s hard rock covers.

That sounds like a lot of fun.
It’s really fun. We have wigs and mustaches and wardrobe. Four guitar players, a keyboard player; it gets out of hand.

So what’s your persona when you’re undercover?
I don’t have a persona per se, but it’s sort of this blend of Ted Nugent circa 1975 or something. It all comes together when you put on the mustaches and the wigs. But it’s killer because we really do the songs right and we use old gear. It's a lot of rock.

So what is in PoUSA’s future?
It’s my hope that we will reconvene maybe in the fall so we can get together and work on some new stuff and then get to recording next year. We are not in a real hurry to do any of that. We just do it when it feel like time to do it and no one is breathing down our necks to deliver a record, which I guess is good and bad.

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