Executives in Charge of Good Times: Also, Bluesy Voice of Express Singer Is a Powerful Draw

By Hutchinson, Amy | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

Executives in Charge of Good Times: Also, Bluesy Voice of Express Singer Is a Powerful Draw


Hutchinson, Amy, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


"Rock and roll is supposed to be fun," says Dave Dederer, "guitbassist" for the Presidents of the United States of America. The band hails from Seattle, a city with a reputation for producing angst-filled rock stars who vent their misery in their music. By contrast, the Presidents' music is bright and cheerful, as evidenced on their self-titled debut album.

The album, a collection of quirky, upbeat tunes, displays an intelligent humor that comes through in singer-songwriter Chris Ballew's off-the-wall lyrics. "Lump," the first single from the album, is about a fat, pajama-clad old woman rotting in a swamp . Other songs seem to be mostly about kittens, chickens and monkeys.

The skewed songwriting isn't the only unusual thing about the band. It has an instrumental setup that includes a two-string "basitar," a three-string "guitbass" and drums. It makes for an interesting sound - refreshingly casual and not ultraproduced. Mr. Dederer says the band isn't at all limited by the decision not to use traditional instruments.

"That's just what we do," he says. "Why do all those other guys have four- or six-stringed instruments? The songs that were on this record were in this particular tuning, and then we just stuck with it because it seems to work pretty well."

The musicians' desire to enjoy themselves with their music is also reflected in their laid-back attitude about being in a band.

"Chris and I, when we started doing this before [drummer] Jason [Finn] came into the band, we were like, we're just gonna do this, and if anything's a hassle or a pain . . . we're never gonna do it. People go to rock shows to have fun; that's why we do it."

Now they have a major-label double-platinum album that's produced three Top-40 singles, two of which achieved MTV "Buzz Clip" stress rotation. So it would seem life isn't as simple as it was back in 1985, when Mr. Ballew and Mr. Dederer were jamming together as high school buds.

"We do things that are a hassle now," Mr. Dederer says. "But we still try to live by that philosophy."

Mr. Ballew and Mr. Dederer hooked up with Mr. Finn in 1993, and the rest is history. "The Presidents of the United States of America" was recorded on the Seattle indie label PopLlama. Columbia loved it, and it was remastered and rereleased on Columbia/PopLlama in July 1995.

"They were ready to go with it the way it was," Mr. Dederer says of the band's deal with Columbia. "We actually asked for some things to be changed. …

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