It might be hard to take a band seriously when one of their hits has these lyrics: “Peaches come from a can/They were put there by a man/in a factory downtown/If I had my way I’d eat peaches every day.” Luckily, Chris Ballew, frontman and founder of The Presidents of the United States of America (PUSA), isn’t into taking himself too seriously. He described their newest album, Kudos to You!, as “loud and silly, just the way we like it!”
Loud and silly they’ve been since they made a big splash in the music world in the 1990s with their double platinum self-titled debut album that included such hits as the aforementioned “Peaches” and “Lump.” This was in Seattle, in the 1990s, when melancholia and rage reigned supreme as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and Soundgarden roared across the airwaves with noise, anger and jarring despondency. And here was Chris Ballew in the middle of all that, forming a band with school chums and like-minded souls, creating short, simple, funny, weird hook-laden pop songs–songs like “Kitty.” “Kitty at my foot and I want to touch it/Kitty at my foot and I want to touch it/Kitty at my foot and I want to touch it/Kitty at my foot and I want to touch it.”
PUSA has been playing, touring and recording ever since that big splash. Their last studio album was in 2008 with These Are Good Times People. Since then, Ballew’s been busy with a side project of his own, one of them producing children’s music under the moniker Caspar Babypants. (Did I tell you he doesn’t take himself seriously?)
The band no longer cares if they’re famous or not. They don’t care if they evolve as musicians. They don’t care about highfalutin artistic messages. No, they just want to have fun. “We are in a good place right now,” Ballew says, “where we get to make music to make ourselves happy and to make the people that love us happy. That is all you really need.”
Their sixth studio album, Kudos to You!, started as a project through the direct-to-fan platform PledgeMusic, where fans pledge money for a future album. “We went into the studio to record a couple songs. We were having so much fun we decided not to stop,” Ballew says. “Before we knew it we had an album. It was kind of an accident!”
With a US tour planned—they’re currently in Europe—PUSA’s new album includes songs like “Crappy Ghost” and “Finger Monster.” “There is nothing revolutionary about this album,” Ballew says. “We found our voice a long time ago and we simply use that voice to make up new songs.”
That voice, however, was formed by various inspirations—female musicians included. I asked Ballew about some of these influences—including Nina Simone, You Scream I Scream and voices that sound like 1950s TV commercials.
What women artists or bands have inspired you over the years and how?
“It’s funny, but I don’t hear gender in music. However, some artists that I love that happen to be female include Omou Sangare, Fatoumata Diawara, Nina Simone and Anoushka Shankar.”
What new women artists are on your radar our readers should know about?
“Elizabeth Mitchell is my favorite female children’s artist. Her laid-back, minimal sound very much influenced the palette that I chose for the Caspar Babypants songs. I would not have fully found my voice without her influence.”
Any female guitar players, bass players or drummers that impress you?
“Audrey Sterk plays drums on the band You Scream I Scream and she is my current favorite female musician. She has power and simplicity that just tucks her drum parts into the music in the same way that a skeleton supports a body.”
Have you collaborated with any women?
“I have had a few different female singers contribute to many songs on my Caspar albums. I love how a female voice sounds on some of the songs I write. There is one singer named Jen Wood that has a voice that sounds like a 1950s TV commercial. Very innocent and bright. Another singer named Rachel Flotard has a more rock and roll tone, and I use Fysah Thomas for smooth soulful parts.”
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
“That is a hard one. Assuming whoever I pick would be the kind of personality in real life that I get along with, it would be Paul McCartney. The one person I have met and have drawn heavily from both for the Presidents and Caspar is a guy named Spider John Keorner. He told me he has song fragments lying around but can’t finish them. I would love to help him with that project!”
Photos courtesy of The Presidents of the United States of America