FOREWORD: Seattle’s Presidents of the United States of America played dorky hook-filled minimalist pop. Bassist Chris Ballew had played in an early version of Beck’s band and alongside the late Mark Sandman (of Morphine) in unheralded Supergroup before the Presidents got crowned temporary pop princes in ’95. Though ‘96s II didn’t do as well, it still had several catchy ditties, but none could match the nifty one-worded novelties from the colorful debut (the pussy-petting “Kittie,” goofy dry-humping “Lump,” and “Peaches”). They’re playing out a string with three albums released since 2000. This article originally appeared in New Review, a small NYC mag gone bankrupt. It was my first cover story.
On their cover of the MC5 classic, “Kick Out The Jams,” the Presidents of the United States of America make their rock ‘n’ roll pledge: ‘Well, I been elected to rock your asses to midnite!’ And though they hail from distortion-packed grunge capital, Seattle, this good-natured trio (Chris Ballew on two-string bass, Dave Dederer on three-string guitar, and Jason Finn on drums) has a less abrasive, brighter, and gimmicky sound.
“We have no dark, brooding songs,” Dave emphasizes. “We want our music to be listened to by little kids and old ladies alike. When we play live, we want people to walk away from our show with a couple of good choruses ringing in their heads. The Beatles were great because they turned pop music into an art by being total studio masters. Another band that did this was XTC. I loved them. And yet XTC refuses to tour and play their songs to a live audience. They prove that music doesn’t have to be a mainly live thing. Unfortunately, two or three generations of kids have made studio-crafted pop music that lacks urgency when performed live.”
In stressing how important good live shows can be for establishing a following, Chris recalls, “When I was in Beck’s band, we did a show with a bunch of acts. Green Day got up to play a twenty-minute set after us. Their show was so incredible they decided not to stop. The crowed went wild.”
Though such events qualify the band as witnesses to rock history, Dave is aware of how people’s tastes change over time. “Who knows what will come next? Whatever tickles people’s fancy is fine, even if it’s sometimes unpredictable. It doesn’t matter what music you listen to. It’s all valid on some level. But sometimes there’s too much editorializing in music. People try to break it down into simply defined categories. Our attitude is this: Here’s our roots, you decide what you think it is.
As to what will come next from these Presidential ‘officials,’ Dave says, “We have a whole albums’ worth of material and we’ll release it within a year. There will not be any lush, pretentious songs in the bands’ future.”
When asked if there were any artists he’d like to record with, Chris replies, “Ringo Starr because he was the humorous Beatle; he had no big head trip. He just played well and supported his band.”
“All of us have a sense of humor, and it comes across in our music,” Chris continues. “I write most of the lyrics. The imagery I use comes from daydreams and boredom, tapping into typical fodder like boy-meets-girl type of songs.”
Of the bands’ arduous-sounding name, he says, “Dave and I were searching for a name while playing live without the benefit of a drummer. In between songs, we’d make up names, and this one stuck. I like it because it’s long, odd, memorable, and dorky. It almost has the sound of a jet plane taking off.”