Seattle’s Presidents Gets Alternative Vote


Seattle rock trio the Presidents of the United States of America is expanding its constituency daily. Its song “Lump” is one of the most-played on alternative radio stations across the country, and the band has infiltrated MTV’s prime-time with its recent debut album--a feat that took George Bush four years in office to accomplish.

The Presidents, who headline the Whisky on Tuesday, have also played everywhere from a Democratic conclave in their hometown to Pink’s hot dog stand in Hollywood, proving themselves a band of the people.

Don’t expect sour grapes from President Clinton, who had no objections to the band’s performing at a rally where he spoke last year in Seattle. There they managed to take some pictures with the President, which they used on the sleeve of their self-titled, 1995 indie debut on Seattle’s PopLlama Records.


“He shook our hands, we gave him a T-shirt, the whole thing took 10 seconds,” says the Presidents’ co-founder Dave Dederer. “I’m not sure if he even heard us play though, so we sent him some CDs--one for him, one for Chelsea. But now that we’re getting played on MTV I bet Chelsea knows who we are, anyway. If we continue to have success, we hope to play the next Democratic Convention.”

If so, songs such as “Feather Pluckn,” “Dune Buggy” and “Boll Weevil” may cause the conventioneers to crack a smile, but the band, which also includes singer Chris Ballew and drummer Jason Finn, doesn’t want to be looked at as a novelty.

“ ‘We’re joking but we’re not kidding’ is a nice response that Jason came up with,” says Dederer, 31, who founded the band with Ballew last year.

“Everybody asks about our name, but just think about the Beatles. That’s like one of the stupidest, jokiest names ever. You listen to like one third of the songs, and they’re all jokes: ‘Ob La Dee,’ ‘Yellow Submarine,’ ‘Buffalo Bill,’ the list goes on and on. . . .

“Most people get the point that it’s funny, but not a joke--we care enough to write good lyrics and melodies. Most of the songs conjure up images, not just jokey one-liners.”

“Kitty,” which revolves around a cat’s mutated meow, is KROQ’s newest favorite. Then there’s “Lump”:


Lump sat alone in a boggy marsh

Totally motionless except for her heart

Mud flowed up into Lump’s pajamas

She totally confused all the passing piranhas.

“The most important thing to us is how all the words play off each other,” Dederer says. “How the words sound together, the phonetics, how they bounce around off each other. The alliteration.”

The Presidents, who signed to Columbia Records in June and released a remixed version of the PopLlama album a month later, doesn’t ignore the music behind the words. Often minimalist tunes created on a custom-made, two-string bass and a three-string guitar create surreal backdrops, while the frequent influx of caffeinated beats enhances accessibility.


The Presidents’ immediate, power-punk backdrop and Ballew’s monotone vocals often get the band lumped in with such bands as Rancid and Green Day in the second coming of punk.

“We’re too old [to fit into that scene] for one thing,” Dederer says. “Our sound just comes from being a teen-ager and buying the Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols albums, like in junior high. But I think we pull from a wider array of references than those bands anyway.”

The Presidents does throw in snippets of just about everything, from Hendrix-style riffs to nods to Brian Eno. It all takes unexpected twists and turns.

“The beauty of rock ‘n’ roll is that it’s not a self-conscious medium. It’s spontaneous, and anything can happen,” Dederer says. “If you look at the greatest rock ‘n’ rollers, from Elvis to Kurt Cobain, they are 100% engaged in what they’re doing. Once you get overly self-conscious and artistic . . . that spontaneous magic isn’t there. A crowd watching a show or somebody listening to a record for the first time should feel like anything can happen at any time.”

* The Presidents of the United States of America play Tuesday at the Whisky, 8901 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 8 p.m. Sold out. (310) 535-0579.