Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Presidents of the United States of America

Sound Familiar?
“Lump,” “Peaches”

Who Are They?
Alternative weirdoes responsible for a song about a juicy fruit.

Formed in late 1993 in Seattle, The Presidents of the United States of America (hereon referred to as The Presidents because I’m lazy) got off to a quick start. They self-released a 10-song cassette called Froggystyle in December 1993 and signed to Seattle label PopLlama Records in 1994.

(Fun fact: Vocalist/bassist Chris Ballew actually plays a basitar, which is a six-string guitar with two bass strings. Guitarist Dave Dederer plays a guitbass, which has three guitar strings.)

The Presidents released their self-titled debut in 1995 and found massive mainstream success. Their biggest hit, “Peaches,” peaked at number eight on the US Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart (and is also known as the only song about peaches to break the top 10).

(Fun fact: “Peaches” is about a girl Chris had a crush on. He wrote the song after sitting under a peach tree she had in her yard while he waited for her to come home so he could finally tell her how he felt. Oddly sweet and stalker-ish.)

Amid a whirlwind tour and an appearance on MADtv in 1996, “Weird Al” Yankovic decided to release of parody of The Presidents’ song “Lump” called "Gump." You know you’ve made it when Weird Al parodies you.

The Presidents released the follow-up, II, in 1996. It peaked at number 31 on the Billboard 200 chart, but it wasn’t anywhere near as successful as the debut.

The band broke up in 1998 so Chris could spend more time with his family. The Presidents’ last release of the ‘90s was 1998’s Pure Frosting, which included new songs, covers and demos.

(Fun fact: A few songs from Pure Frosting appeared in TV shows and movies. "Man (Opposable Thumb)" was included in the Nickelodeon masterpiece Good Burger, a cover of “Video Killed the Radio Star” appeared on the soundtrack for The Wedding Singer and "Cleveland Rocks" ended up being the theme song for The Drew Carey Show.)

Although The Presidents didn’t release an album of new material until 2000, they collaborated with other artists, including Japanese band Shonen Knife and booty connoisseur Sir Mix-A-Lot. (Yes, the collab with Sir Mix-A-Lot is a real thing. The project was called Subset. Here’s proof. And it’s actually pretty rad.)

Where Are They Now?
Doing what ‘90s bands do best: performing at festivals.

The Presidents reunited in 2000 with a new single, “Jupiter.” The single actually became pretty popular, so the band released a brand new record, Freaked Out & Small, later that year. Critics loved it, but the album only sold 25,000 copies.

The band broke up again only to reunite again in 2004 to release Love Everybody. Dave Dederer left shortly after the album’s release and was replaced by Andrew McKeag, who played on the band’s most recent album, 2008’s These Are the Good Times People.

(Fun fact: The Presidents released a tribute song in 2011 at the Nintendo World launch event for Pokémon Black and White called "Can't Stop (Catchin' 'Em All)." I’m not sure if this is a major accomplishment or a major mistake.)

The Presidents have played various halftime football shows (no Super Bowl appearances, though) and plenty of festivals, but they haven’t had a single chart since 1998’s “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

But Why The Presidents of the United States of America?
The band will be performing at the Hop Farm Festival in the UK alongside My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr. and others. So if you can make it to Kent by July 5, be sure to catch their set!

What Does Sam Think?
My first introduction to The Presidents was probably during my sophomore year in high school. I was on my way to Disney World for my school’s traditional choir/orchestra trip, and when our Greyhound bus reached the Georgia state line in the wee hours of the morning, I put on “Peaches” in celebration.

That story really had nothing to do with my opinion of this band, but it’s a fun memory. So there.

Anyway, The Presidents are a fairly unique band in terms of instrumentation. I believe they’re the only band to use basitars and guitbasses, which really gives them a signature sound. I always wondered why their songs sounded so weird, and now I know. Also, if you’re a guitar geek and want to know more about these instruments, check out this GeoCities-esque website for more info.

The songs are a bit nonsensical, but they’re just so damn catchy. I’m just going to continue to praise “Peaches” here. I used to be obsessed with this song back in the day. I think it turned into an inside joke with one of my friends. We probably thought we were too cool because we listened to The Presidents. Or something like that.

I’d really like to see these guys put out a new album soon. I know they still make music, even in the form of questionable Pokémon songs. They still tour, for God’s sake. Unfortunately, they’ll probably always be billed as ‘90s nostalgia act. I’m just waiting for the day when they join the Summerland tour with Everclear.

Actually, that would be pretty rad. I’d pay to see that. You hear that, Presidents? I won’t think any less of you if you join Summerland. We’ll get drunk and sing “Peaches” together (because that’s what ‘90s bands do with their fans, right?).

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

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