Play date with the Presidents
Nobody has ever accused the Presidents of the United States of America of being mature. Now more than ever, the frontman of the fun-loving...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Presidents of the United States of America 8 p.m. Saturday, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St, Seattle; $20 (206-628-0888 or www.theparamount.com).
Nobody has ever accused the Presidents of the United States of America of being mature.
Now more than ever, the frontman of the fun-loving pop-punk band is enjoying his second (third? fourth?) childhood, moving near the quirky neighborhood of Fremont to reset his life after a divorce. Chris Ballew's house is two blocks from where he grew up, and he arranged his bedroom in the same layout — blue sheets, dark lighting. The 42-year-old even rescued an old clock from his parents' home because he missed its ticking.
"It's the house equivalent of a handheld tape deck," said Ballew, about his two-story cottage. "It's little and it does the job, everything is within hand's reach." There's also the same goofy charm the Presidents are known for, completed by "Pee-wee's Playhouse"-like decorations — a yellow door, polka-dotted and crustacean curtains, a hanging papier-mâché bee, a painting of a chicken with boxing gloves, not to mention the framed PEZ dispensers. If the couch started singing along, I wouldn't have been surprised.
It is with this silly and retro mind-set that the band created their latest album, "These Are The Good Times People," out in stores today. They hoped the record would sound seamless from their 1995 self-titled debut album that featured the hits "Lump," "Peaches" and "Kitty."
Although the age of the audience hasn't changed — teens to 20s — the Presidents haven't really changed either.
"We've been at this point for so long that we never have been fashionable or have had the right jeans on," said drummer Jason Finn, 40. "I'm not saying our music is timeless or for the ages, but maybe it's something in our attitude. We're comfortably different on the outside."
Adds Ballew, "We've been comfortable with a degree of irrelevancy. We're not scrambling with time."
"If you know the band, and observe us, we're very down to earth," said the newest member and also the youngest at 38, guitarist Andrew McKeag. He is actually the least silly, by a minuscule amount. "But that doesn't mean we're normal."
To which Finn answers gentleman-like: "Grab me a scone." And changing his demeanor, added, "I'm the furry little angry man."
"And Andrew is the furry tall angry man," said Ballew.
"Chris is just weird," said McKeag.
Like their music, conversations with the Presidents are anything but serious. Most of their stream-of-consciousness answers don't make sense. Like instead of up-to-date jeans, Finn said they all wear "weird corduroy half jorts [jean shorts]."
As for the message of their new album?
"Be a toad, download," said Ballew.
"Take a bit out of crime," said McKeag.
And the only one that made sense: "Be kind, rewind," said Finn.
The songs on the album are a rewind, taking us back in time. For example, the first single released from the album, "Mixed Up S.O.B.," and the second song, "Ladybug," are songs that didn't make it way back when, now rearranged and reworked.
And the subject of the album, says Ballew, goes back to "animals and functional females."
"None of the songs are about anyone specifically," said Ballew. "It's not meant to be a personal attack. It's just individuals pointing out a general trend. Like I'm not singing about a French girl [on 'French Girl'], it's about the way people are sometimes."
The first video off the album for "Mixed Up S.O.B." is pure Presidents whimsy. "Weird Al" Yankovic, who spoofed "Lump" with "Gump" (of "Forrest Gump"), directed it using 48 flip books. It's currently No. 1 on YouTube's Indie/ Alternative chart, No. 2 on YouTube's Rock chart and the No. 4 music video overall on YouTube with more than 100,000 plays.
"Nobody was in sync," said Ballew about flipping in tune with the music. "I had 50 tries on each one, then I hit stride and stopped."
As for the future, there are no set plans, except for the immediate tour, which hits Seattle on Saturday at the Paramount.
"We make songs, if the songs are good we record them, if the recordings are good we put them out," said Ballew. "We do it in steps. We keep it fun the whole time ... there's no master plan."
Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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