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The Presidents of the United States of America are a Seattle alternative rock band best known for their quirky, often nonsensical songs that defied the typical sound of most bands from the Pacific Northwest at the time. They were one of the biggest groups to come from Seattle following the decline of grunge in the mid-1990s. Their name was chosen as a means of getting people's attention.
The band was formed in late 1993 by Chris Ballew (basitar) and Dave Dederer (guitbass). 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" while playing music while high off of marijuana with a few of his friends in a North Seattle basement. Of the names he made up on the spot that night, "The Presidents" got the biggest rise out of the eleven stoners who happened to be listening. 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 a "real" 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 tended bar.
In 1994, The Presidents signed with the tiny Seattle label PopLlama Records and released their self-titled debut in the following year. 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 proved to be a smash. Critics praised The Presidents' catchy, humorous, and self-deprecating songs, which were a major departure from the grunge/post-grunge sound. The album received GRAMMY nominations in 1996 and 1997.
A follow-up album, II, received similar praise, but did not match the explosive commercial success that the Presidents' debut album had. A worldwide tour to support the album followed, and the Presidents played venues in Europe, Australia, and Japan. They were so popular in Japan that Sony Records released a compilation of B-sides and demos entitled Rarities that was only available in Japan.
The Presidents 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" was chosen as the theme song for The Drew Carey Show.
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 Finn played drums for several bands, including The Nevada Bachelors and Love Battery, his original band.
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.
In 1998, Columbia Records released Lump, a discount greatest hits compilation, without the band's approval or collaboration.
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 and Small was released that year to critical praise, but it sold fewer than 25,000 copies. Dederer blamed MUSICBLITZ, which later went bankrupt, for being unable to handle the demand for the album.
For the next four years, the band members worked on their own solo projects. 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.
The Presidents formed their own record label, PUSA Inc., in 2004 and released their latest album, Love Everybody. 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.
Despite their chosen name, The Presidents' music has remained largely apolitical, although the band did perform 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.
Chris Ballew posted on the PUSA Yahoo! group mentioning writing and recording with "PUSA2," which is the original band but with Andrew Mckeag instead of Dave Dederer.
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