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Presidents Of The United States Of America Back In Office

Quirky rock trio will release new album in September, but won't tour.

SEATTLE — Quirky rock trio the Presidents of the United States of America, now simply the Presidents, have re-formed less than three years after their breakup to record a new album, Freaked Out and Small, due Sept. 12.

The reunited group will be a studio project only, Presidents singer/bassist Chris Ballew said backstage Sunday at an Experience Music Project concert, where his band Subset played.

"The reason I quit the band in the first place was so I could spread my time with who I play with," Ballew said. Presidents singer/guitarist Dave Dederer and drummer Jason Finn "are still people I play with, but I like being able to play with a bunch of people. We're not going to do the reunion, get-back-together thing. It would be more of a commitment than I want to make. It's just a record project with two people I love to play with."

Ballew announced in December 1997 that he was dissolving the Presidents of the United States of America to pursue other musical interests and spend more time with his family. The group, known for its self-titled 1995 album that spawned the hits "Lump" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Peaches" (RealAudio excerpt), played a farewell show in Seattle in February 1998.

Freaked Out and Small, the group's first album since the 1998 rarities collection Pure Frosting, was written and recorded in a Seattle studio in just 10 days.

The 12-song album includes the jangly single "Jupiter," available for download at Musicblitz (www.musicblitz.com), which is also the label releasing the album. The LP's "I'm Mad" features Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses fame on bass.

"The album turned out great," Ballew said. "It's very rock, but it's got highs and lows. We've got balls-out loud stuff and really quiet stuff. We had an easy time making it."

To promote the album, Musicblitz has released an online "fan edition" of Freaked Out and Small that includes MP3 downloads, in-studio photos and streaming video. Fans who preorder the album via the Musicblitz Web site will be thanked in the liner notes of the CD, and will receive a limited-edition home video.

Good Rockin' Fun

Sal Garro, a 16-year-old Seattle resident who maintains a Web site dedicated to the Presidents, said he has heard some of the songs from Freaked Out and Small on Musicblitz and described them as "awesome."

"The Presidents are so original, and they know how to rock and have fun at the same time," Garro said. "They are an example of a successful 'happy,' 'novelty' band that plays great music."

Fans of the Seattle trio, who formed in 1993 and are prominently featured in a Northwest Passage music exhibit at the EMP, are not surprised to see the group re-form.

"The Presidents are not like some of the new bands these days that make music for the money," said UK fan site operator Darvun, who asked that his last name not be used. "They make music because they are musicians. They broke up, and fans were sad, but I'm sure they were feeling sadder than the fans."

Garro agreed, adding, "Though I love all their new side projects, I'm glad to see them back as the Presidents."

Presidential Subset

Since the band's breakup, Ballew has been involved in several bands, including Subset, a rap-rock act that features fellow Seattle native Sir Mix-a-Lot and Dederer.

The group has been playing monthly, two-hour shows in the Seattle area and is currently recording a debut album.

"It's, like, two-thirds finished," Ballew said of the Subset record. "We've all got other things going on, which makes it hard. The scenario I'm working on is that we're going to continue to play around Seattle and sell our CDs off the stage, do a real grassroots thing. Hand people CDs, and they hand us $10."

Ballew said Subset were not actively searching for a record label because they consider this a bad time to sign a deal.

"Everybody in the industry is scared and uptight about taking chances and developing bands from the get-go," he said. "Major labels like to smell money. We're going to do our own thing, have fun, and if we create a blip on the radar, then we'll take it to the next level."

Giraffes And Kids

Ballew said his priority is the Giraffes, a solo project he recently turned into a trio. He has released two independent albums under the Giraffes name — both recorded on an eight-track in his basement studio.

"The two out now are kind of mellow, but this one will be more a more pop, upbeat record," Ballew said. "It's got a Hammond organ and a drummer on a small kit and I have an acoustic guitar. It's kind of the Presidents, version 2.0. I really like it. It's only a trio, but we sound like a four- or five-piece."

Presidents of the United States of America producer Conrad Uno has signed on to record the Giraffes album, which Ballew said would likely be released before the end of the year.

Adding to the long list of other musicians Ballew is playing with, he is currently writing songs with his 3-year-old son.

"He's written a couple of amazing songs, and he's helping me with my lyrics," Ballew said. "The two things I want to do with my life are music and family, so it works out great."