Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley and Brad Kopplin
Bargain with the prince of darkness and the results might vary, but they assuredly aren't pretty. Bargain with the clown prince and you get a band of three such as the likes of The Presidents of the United States of America, emissaries to all that is feel-good and party-like. Frisk them if you brush up next to them (this of course is not a suggestion to be taken literally) and you might find a bottle of Seltzer water under their coat and a rubber chicken and/or whoopee cushion hanging daffily from their back pockets.
For 15 years now - giving and taking a number of years of absent hiatus - the Seattle band has done things as much their way as any band. Its 1995 self-titled debut album was filled with child-like whimsy and carefree silliness, though there has always been the perceived undercurrent that not all was as pure as it let on. "Peaches" for instance…that's not really about peaches, their harvest and packaging in a factory downtown, is it? Those sun-soaking bulges in the shade are metaphoric, right? When lump lingers last in line for brains, what are we talking about, for Pete's sake? These songs of borderline insanity came at a time when no one was having fun with rock and roll. It was a profession for the serious grinders, invested in distorting the fuck out of whatever they were playing and taking everyone listening on a morose ride through the streets of complaints and sad-sacked living.
The cover of that first record features a squirrel/woodchuck sort playing the fiddle, a kitty on the trumpet and a frog playing the sax. These characters and more like them - a menagerie of barnyard and forest-dwelling creatures - inhabit most of lead singer Chris Ballew's lyrics and they make for a collection of songs that won't ever be considered alongside the workings of Zeppelin or Radiohead. They're more in step with the anthropomorphic offerings of Jim Henson and the A Light in the Attic-era writing of Shel Silverstein, however, the songs from the classic self-titled disc and the II album that, while released just a year later, was coming in the band's mainstream afterglow.
They're now an indie band - recording a fifth record -- that still chooses to live on sweets, not the bittersweet, sarcastic or self-aggrandizing. How tough it must be - for a band all about good times, drinking the wrong things often to excess and penning adult tales of bugs and kitties triumphing in times of squalor -- to have their good name sullied by such a jackhole of a real President of the United States of America. They probably could give a damn. Their world is impervious to the bull.