Hail to the chiefs

Presidents of the United States of America still doing things their way

Karen Moskowitz

It has been 19 years since The Presidents of the United States of America first broke into the pop charts with the 13 turbo-charged pop oddities that comprised their self-titled debut. Songs like “Lump,” “Peaches,” and “Boll Weevil,” were short, fast, loud, catchy as all hell, and unlike almost every other Seattle band releasing records in the ’90s, they were giddy fun, preferring lyrics about tiki gods and kitties to heroin. And despite the musical ground shifting from beneath their feet, away from Seattle, away from simple pop tunes, and even away from rock, PUSA are still flourishing, with a new record and a tour that will bring them to Denver’s Gothic Theater on Wednesday, Aug. 20.

How have they done it? 

“We do a pretty good job of staying in touch with how lucky we are,” says the band’s drummer, Jason Finn.

In addition to staying grounded, Finn says that instead of resting on its success, the band is consistently searching for ways to give its fans what they want. They annually put on PUSAFEST for starters  —  a series of performances by the band that take place throughout Seattle over President’s Day Weekend  —  and they have a habit of thinking outside the box. One need only look at their 2013 crowdfunding campaign to make their first new album in six years, Kudos to You!, as proof. Instead of loading supporters down with piles of rewards they might not want, PUSA wanted the process to be a chance for the fans to pick exactly what they wanted. Which was…

“New music, a couple of decades’ worth of cool random stuff — posters, old shirts, various memorabilia — things that fans of the band might be interested in,” Finn says. “We set it up so you could pick and choose.”

PUSA could have gone the Kickstarter route like so many other bands, but found PledgeMusic was a better fit with what they wanted to bring to their fans. And Finn, for his part, has an interesting take on why the PledgeMusic campaign was such a great experience.

“We were able to give it a cool, garage sale feel,” Finn jokes. “And as it happened, people were really into the posters. I’ve been saving the PUSAFEST posters for seven or eight years, and those went like wildfire, so it felt good to find homes for this stuff.”

As anyone who has had more than five minutes of experience with the band or their music can tell you, PUSA has a keen sense of humor that is hard not to like (they even incorporate some of Weird Al’s parody lyrics for “Gump” into live performances of their song “Lump”), and the band’s witty side is on full display on Kudos. Whether it is singer/bassist Chris Ballew rapid-fire rapping his way through the lyrics of “Electric Spider” — a song about how to make the world’s most complex, fictitious alcoholic beverage — or how he creates the build-up to full-scale mini-wars like in “Flea Vs. Mite,” you never ponder how ridiculously off the wall a song is, you just accept it and even expect it. Give a listen to the rocker “Crappy Ghost” and then try to make the case that it doesn’t sound like the soundtrack to Moaning Myrtle’s (the ghost that lives in a toilet in the Harry Potter saga) existence. It just fits. But arguably the biggest reason why these Presidents are so great is that they combine all of these attributes with the fact that they don’t even make music full-time. 

“We are literally a full-time, part-time band, and we’ve been saying that for years,” Finn says. “The upside of that is when we do get out, it feels great. It feels relatively fresh still and we love to play. Every single show we still play three-quarters of the debut record, and all the songs that are the most popular, and that would be hard to do if we were out there a hundred nights a year.”

So there you have it: an alt-punk band with a sense of humor, business savvy, a remarkable ability to be serious about this part-time thing they have had going for two decades, and a desire to have as much fun as their fans do at their shows. Of course if you need a simpler reason to hit this show consider the fact that this could be the last time they ever come to Colorado.

“[The band] will be even more part-time after this run,” he says. “We’re going to take all of 2015 off and see where we’re at after that, so that’ll be nice. We’ll have some time to work on our stamp collections.” 

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com