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MUSIC: Ventura County | ROCKTALK

Patriots' Calling

Presidents will play their zany originals at Ventura Theatre.

April 03, 1997|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lincoln may have been funnier, but the Presidents of the United States of America have more fun. The Seattle-based trio will bring their weird repertoire of songs about cats, frogs, boll weevils and other critters to the Ventura Theatre on Monday evening. Opening will be those pop-punk veterans with over 15 years experience, Red Kross.

Remember Nixon's "I'm not a crook" speech? Or Ford falling down the stairs? Or Reagan's decision that catsup was a vegetable? The Presidents are sort of a laugh track/soundtrack to such shenanigans. The music is, more or less, Goofball Rock in the same vein as the Ziggens, Nerf Herder, the Uninvited and King Missile.

The Presidents' self-titled debut album was a hit and earned them a Grammy nomination. And despite ending up on the Perot end of the vote, the album went platinum on the strength of original songs such as "Peaches," "Naked and Famous" and "Lump," about a blank girlfriend. The band also does raging covers of the hilarious "We're Not Going to Make It" by Traci Lords' Ex-Lovers and "Kick Out the Jams" by MC5. The Presidents' new album, "II," is climbing the charts and the first single is "Mach 5," an ode to the animated Speed Racer's car.

Playing the presidential angle to the hilt, the band has played a cable special on Election Day, and taped a show at Mt. Rushmore for MTV that was broadcast on Presidents Day. The current tour kicked off on George Washington's birthday.

The band includes guitarists Chris Ballew, Dave Dederer and drummer Jason Finn. Ballew, the main songwriter, chatted about life as a President during a recent phoner from Chicago where the band had a gig.

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After having such a big hit with your first album, was there any pressure to make the second?

The only pressure we had came from ourselves. We went into the studio right after we got off the road because we'd been playing the songs for awhile. We recorded it once in the summer, then again in the winter--the last time with more drinking and less thinking.

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How 'bout those Mariners?

Yeah, I just really discovered that I liked baseball last year. We're going to make our third album maybe in the summer, and I'm sure we'll schedule it around Mariners' games. The songs are there, and they're all ready to go. We're not playing them yet because we don't want to play them into the ground. But they're in an envelope tucked away.

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What was it like doing that Election Day special on Comedy Central?

That was fun. We were on "Politically Incorrect" with Bill Maher, and we played three songs. We tried to get Conan O'Brien, who is supposed to be an accomplished guitarist, to play "Lump" with us, but he ducked out. He got shy on us. We'll have a gig every four years, anyway.

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Where do the Presidents fit in with the Seattle music cosmology?

It's such a diverse place musically. There's jazz, rock, pop, noise, and everything else. To ask how we fit into the Seattle scene is an oxymoron because no one fits in, and everyone just does their own thing. There's a lot of clubs and an audience. People definitely go out, pay money and see music in Seattle, which makes for a very diverse scene.

That's what made it possible for us to become professional musicians. We used to just play on the weekends to have fun. Some people thought that we were this concept band. But we just do what we do--and as it turns out, people wanted to hear it.

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Describe Presidents' music.

It's family music. We're getting a lot of families to our shows lately. Parents bring their kids and they rock out together.

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What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

Put everything you've got into your live show. If you can't do it live, then you're doing the wrong thing. If every song is not 100% successful to everyone in the band, drop the song and try something else.

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What's next?

More touring, but soon my wife is having a child and we won't be touring at least for a year or until the baby turns into a person. I'd even get an office job to stay with my family. I'm not going to miss this.

BE THERE

The Presidents of the United States, Redd Kross and Custard, Mon., 8 p.m., at the Ventura Theatre, 26 Chestnut St. $15. Call 648-1888.

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