Chris Ballew and Dave Dederer were performing under various guises before they met Jason Finn and formed what would unintentionally turn out to be one of the most loved rock groups to emerge out of America in the 90s.
The Presidents of the United States of America went on to produce six studio albums, their debut self-titled album proving a success with its hits “Peaches”, “Lump” and “Kitty”.
The trio’s over the top personalities, quirky abstract lyrics and experimental yet edgy sound won many hearts, and it seems that their on again-off again status and lineup change from Dederer to Andrew Mckeag, has done little to shake a dedicated following.
Frontman Chris Ballew is, in his words, “abuzz with excitement”, as he chats from his Seattle home, where he’s spent the day working on his latest solo project, kiddie band Casper Babypants.
“I’m working on a Beatles cover album and wrapping up the tracking part in the next week or two,” he explains. “It’s really fun; I’m twisting the songs and making them my own. I just did “Love Me Do” and turned it into a hillbilly song.”
The Presidents are also in full swing, with the band gearing up for their first tour in eight years.
They’re celebrating their comeback with an unexpected surprise. “We’re scrapping around in the hard drive, seeing if we have some good B-sides and oddities to release and um….we do!” Ballew happily announces.“We’re doing the debut album from start to finish and what we do beyond that I’m not real sure.” – Chris Ballew
“I’ve found some really amazing stuff, like jamming with Mark Sandman from Morphine in the studio in 1996 and all kinds of weird nuggets that might be interesting for the people that care.”
It’s not a lack of want that’s kept the band from our shores, as Ballew sets the record straight. “It’s not like we haven’t stopped trying, we were bigger in Australia than anywhere else in the world.”
“The excitement and the electricity in the air, that minute we played, was so great and memorable. We’ve always been trying to get back; it just hasn’t made sense financially. Suddenly the numbers are better and we can do it!”
He’s been here recently, touring Casper Babypants, and his fondness is clear. “Bottom line is I love the people in Australia, I love the attitude, I love the enthusiasm, I love the food, I love the country it’s just great. I love everything about it, so super excited!”
What can audiences expect from the tour? “You know I think we’ll throw out a couple of weirdos on the tour, we usually like to do that to keep ourselves on our toes. We’re doing the debut album from start to finish and what we do beyond that I’m not real sure,” he says.
“We like to kind of let it flow when the time comes; we don’t plan ahead a lot,” Ballew laughs.
He’s first to admit favouritism for the debut album. “I love that record from start to finish. When we reunited I had to listen to it and relearn my own songs, because I hadn’t played them for five years. My first impression on listening to my own record was ‘I love this band!’”
He’s also looking forward to the fun laid back nature of the music. “Back then we didn’t know we were going to fill stadiums so we made these dorky little dinky songs. To play a 40 minute chunk of dorky dinky is nice for me, because I’m not yelling my face off the whole time. I enjoy playing that record from start to finish a lot.”
Prayers for a new Presidents record may be answered and Ballew speaks frankly about it, “I’m talking to Andrew and Jason about maybe doing another record, where we really go back and listen to old music. Maybe do some Casper Babypants covers that are not baby-centric, but that are based on old folk music. So, you know that’s just whisperings right now, we’ll see.”
However, new material is conditional and for Ballew it’s all a matter of appeal, “the music I’m making for Casper Babypants is innocent lyrically, thematically. The Presidents music has innocence, but it also has sexuality, and the friction between the two is what makes the songs go. That friction is not interesting to me anymore as a songwriter. If we need that tension I’m not really interested in making more,” he remarks firmly.
Taking on that persona comes across as an uncomfortable prospect. “I’m just not good at that, I had to write a thousand songs to get one good one back in the day. That is the challenge, can the Presidents be simple and innocent or do we have to be, edgy and sexy?” Ballew questions with a laugh.“That world is crowded with all these bands looking for attention from the tastemakers. I’m tired of stroking the egos of the tastemakers.” – Chris Ballew
Children’s music on the other hand has been liberating for the songwriter. “I don’t have to convince anybody that I’m cool, which is so relaxing,” he sighs.
“With a rock band it’s just constant ‘look over here we’re cool, can you pay attention to us!’ That world is crowded with all these bands looking for attention from the tastemakers. I’m tired of stroking the egos of the tastemakers. I just want to be free of that; kiddie music is completely free of cool.”
The band’s colourful past includes performing with Sir-Mix-A-Lot under alias Subset, out of which spawned an unlikely collaboration between Ballew and Mike “Outtasite” Singleton. “I think that The Feelings Hijackers might be my favourite side project,” says Ballew.
“We really have this unique chemistry, Mike and I. He had the ability to run with my lyrical ideas that were incredibly abstract and weird. He had this really cool ability to accept weird.”
Ballew recalls another project fondly, “there was this other duo Chris and Tad that was maybe my all-time favourite. Tad is the drummer for Young Fresh Fellows, he is an amazing human being and we had a nice ten year run.
“We had the ability to be creative from scratch together and just say anything and be ridiculous. It’s a nice thing to have people to collaborate with where you can just be stupid,” he confers.
He’s not the only productive band member, as he mentions drummer Jason Finn. “Jason plays in this kind of a thing called w00tstock which is kind of a geek culture variety show. He does it with one of the guys from Mythbusters (Adam Savage) and this guy Wil Wheaton, all these nerd culture people.”
It’s going to be a busy year ahead for the band, as Ballew rattles off the plan. “We’re pulling out some hidden B-side stuff in the coming months, through our website. We just hired a marketing guy who’s going to guide us into the world of communicating better with our fans. We’re travelling into Australia and then we’re doing the north east and the west coast of the US in April and May. But then summer is going to be blissfully quiet, we are going to retreat to our little caves.”
And what will he be doing in his down time? “I’m going to my tiny cabin I just bought on an island and I’m going to just be barefoot and walk in the sun all summer,” not too shabby.
The Presidents Of The United States of America hit Australia for a national tour this weekend, dates and details below:
The Presidents Of The United States of America 2013 Australian Tour
9 March Gold Coast @ Coolangatta Hotel
14 March Adelaide @ HQ