The Presidents of the United States of America, sometimes referred to as PUSA, The Presidents or Pot USA, is a twice Grammy-nominated American alternative rock band. The band formed in Seattle, Washington, in 1993. The three-piece group currently comprises vocalist and “basitarist” Chris Ballew, drummer and vocalist Jason Finn with “guitbassist” and vocalist Andrew McKeag. “Guitbassist” and vocalist Dave Dederer was a member of the band for 11 years before leaving in 2004. They have released six studio albums since forming in 1993. On February 14, 2014 they released their latest album, Kudos to You!
The band was formed in late 1993 by Chris Ballew (bass guitar and lead vocals) and Dave Dederer (guitar and backup vocals), who met while attending The Bush School in Seattle. Ballew had previously been in a punk band called Egg, who wrote many songs that would later be turned into PUSA songs. Initially a drummerless duo, Ballew and Dederer performed a half-dozen or so shows in 1993 as “The Lo-Fis”, “The Dynamic Duo”, and “Pure Frosting.” Ballew eventually came upon the name “The Presidents of the United States of America.” Shortly after settling on their name, Ballew and Dederer added drummer Jason Finn; the band played their first show as a trio at Seattle’s Romper Room in early December 1993. At the time, Finn was also the drummer in the band Love Battery, who had recently changed record labels from Sub Pop to Atlas Records, an A&M subsidiary.
The Presidents recorded a 10-song cassette, Froggystyle, in early 1994 in one day at Laundry Room Studios. The band sold the cassette at shows in 1994. Finn also sold the cassette from behind the bar of Seattle’s legendary Comet Tavern, where he bar-tended.
In 1994, the Presidents signed with the tiny Seattle label PopLlama Records and released their self-titled debut in the following year. The band also released a limited edition blue vinyl 7″ single, “Fuck California”, on C/Z Records. Columbia Records signed the band shortly thereafter and re-released the album in late July 1995. Driven by the singles “Lump”, “Peaches”, and “Kitty”, their debut album has been certified triple Platinum by the RIAA. A follow-up album, II, received similar praise, but did not match the commercial success that the Presidents’ debut album had, though it was still certified gold in the US.
Throughout 1995, 1996 and 1997, the band made worldwide tours to support their first two albums. In 1996, the band performed a live concert at Mount Rushmore on Presidents Day. They were introduced with: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States.” In addition to relentless touring in the U.S. and Canada, PUSA made multiple tours of Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. They also made many appearances in major print media and on radio and TV, including multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the Late Show with David Letterman in the U.S. The Presidents turned down an offer to perform on Saturday Night Live in the fall of 1995 because the date conflicted with Ballew’s wedding. However in 1996 were a Special Appearance on MAD TV’s 11th episode. PUSA began the show with a skit called Public Domain and performed “LUMP” later in the show and “When The Saints go Marching In” in the ending credits.
The band broke up in January 1998 as Ballew quit to spend more time with his young family and explore other musical terrain. Pure Frosting, a final album composed of new songs, covers, and demos, was released in 1998. The CD also contained videos for “Lump,” “Peaches,” “Mach 5,” and “Dune Buggy.”
Pure Frosting featured two songs that had previously been used in a movie and as a television show theme. “Video Killed the Radio Star” was included on the soundtrack for The Wedding Singer, while “Cleveland Rocks,” originally recorded by Ian Hunter, was chosen as the theme song for The Drew Carey Show. Another song on the album, “Man (Opposable Thumb)”, appeared in the Nickelodeon-produced motion picture Good Burger but was not directly written or performed for the film.
The Presidents also wrote the theme song for the 1998 TV movie My Date with the President’s Daughter. They also performed a cover of the George of the Jungle theme song for the 1997 movie of the same name. This performance is not available on any of their albums. In 1998, the group appeared on the album Happy Hour by Japanese female rockers Shonen Knife (also a three piece); they did backing vocals on the song “Sushi Bar”.
The Presidents also collaborated with Sir Mix-A-Lot as Subset, a short-lived rock and hip-hop band. They had a brief tour and recorded several songs, but never released an album. The band broke up because Sir Mix-A-Lot wanted to take the band in a harder, more electronic direction, but Finn and Dederer were not interested.
The Presidents reunited in 2000 to release a new single, “Jupiter,” on MUSICBLITZ Records. Because of the single’s popularity, the label convinced the band to release a new album. Freaked Out & Small was released that year to critical praise. The band did not tour on or promote the album, which quietly sold 25,000 copies as MUSICBLITZ, an early digital music player, quickly went bankrupt.
Afterwards, the band members once again went their own ways. Ballew continued to produce and record his own work and collaborated with Tad Hutchison of The Young Fresh Fellows as The Chris and Tad Show. Also during this time, The Young Fresh Fellows recorded a song, “Good Times Rock ‘N’ Roll”, about The Presidents, which appeared on the 2001 album Because We Hate You.
In 2004, the band once again reformed, releasing Love Everybody on their newly formed indie label PUSA Inc.. As with their previous albums, it received praise from many critics. Two singles from the album have been released through the Apple iTunes Store. In late 2004, the rights to the debut album were returned to the band, who have since reissued the album through PUSA Inc. twice: once as a Ten Year Anniversary edition with extra tracks, and again in the spring of 2006 in a low-price edition.
Andrew McKeag, Seattle guitarist (formerly of Uncle Joe’s Big Ol’ Driver, Shuggie, The Black Panties and others), joined the band on guitbass in late 2004, as an occasional live-performance stand-in for Dave Dederer, who had expressed an interest in spending more time with his family. Since late 2007, Andrew started touring full-time with the band, and later replaced Dederer. Dederer has played live with the band in concerts in Seattle on occasion.
In November 2007, it was announced that the band’s next album would be entitled These Are the Good Times People, which was released on March 11, 2008. In December 2007 KEXP played the new song “Bad Times.” On February 1, 2008, 107.7-The End (a Seattle radio station) played the first single from the Presidents’ new album, title “Mixed Up S.O.B.” The music video for the song was directed by “Weird Al” Yankovic. On June 15, 2008, they played for Pet-Aid 2008 in Oregon.
In October 2008, “Lump” was released on the video game Rock Band 2. “Ladybug”, “Feather Pluck’n,” and “Dune Buggy” were released as downloadable content for the game on November 4, 2008. In the summer of 2009, The Presidents performed in San Diego at the North Park Music Thing Music & Media Festival which only showcases local bands.
In November 2013, the band started a PledgeMusic project in order to release a new studio album. The band met their goal in just over a week, and the album, titled Kudos to You!, was released on February 14, 2014. The band also released their first full live album, Thanks for the Feedback at the same time. Since the beginning of the project, fans were able to pledge on various items in addition to the digital and physical copies of the two albums, such as posters, lyric sheets and instruments signed by the band. A limited edition burgundy and yellow vinyl was also available to pledge on.
The band performed for President Bill Clinton at a 1994 Democratic Party fundraiser in Seattle. The band also supported John Kerry in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. On January 17, 2009, The Presidents released a single on the National Public Radio show Weekend America called “Moving In,” detailing the journey of Barack Obama in celebration of his inauguration as president. The former Governor of Washington State, Gary Locke, is featured on the backing vocals of “Volcano” (Live) [Ten Year Super Bonus Special Anniversary Edition].
Following the breakup, each band member devoted time to his own solo projects. Ballew was the most prolific of the three, releasing albums with The Giraffes and The Tycoons, two of his side projects. Dederer collaborated with former Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan as The Gentlemen and in McKagan’s perennial hard rock band, Loaded, including contributing to the album Dark Days. Dederer also played bass in the Seattle band Juke and produced songs for singer/songwriter Gerald Collier. Finn played drums for several bands, including Nevada Bachelors, The Fastbacks and Love Battery, his original band.