It's a sunny Thursday afternoon in Seattle, five minutes after 5 p.m., and all is momentarily calm in the yard behind Chris Ballew's home and recording studio - The Snack Shack.
Ballew, the bass player of the Presidents of the United States of America, and his bandmates need to finish engineering, producing and mixing "Love Everybody," their new album, by Monday. It's the group's first album since 2000.
But now it's time for a game of catch before dinner and before Ballew drives his 7-year-old son to play in a baseball game.
"You have to come to the ball," Ballew said, distracted, on the telephone. "When you're in a game, the ball's not going to come to you. ... Pretend I'm first, and you're trying to get the ball back to me. .... Nice throw!"
It seems that all is right, and considerably more mellow, for the Presidents. The trio - Ballew, guitarist Dave Dederer and drummer Jason Finn - sold five million copies of its debut record in 1994 and 1995. Two hits, "Lump" and "Peaches," were on the radio every 20 minutes, and they reveled in the dichotomy of things. They were one of the biggest bands in the world despite writing silly songs about animals and food, dressing like goofs and playing with a stripped-down setup.
Eventually, they freaked out, broke up, made a few records that received little attention, explored side projects and solo careers, and, as if following the storyline of some cosmic, rock-star opera, reformed for a blowout New Year's Eve show in 2003 at Seattle's Crocodile Cafe.
Now they have families, and they're content to wrap mini-tours around weekends. That means more games of catch in the yard. But who knows what the response will be to "Love Everybody?" One song, "Some Postman," has been receiving steady airplay in Seattle for the past few months.
The Presidents play Marlintini's at 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 7. Tickets are $25 in advance at Capital Records and Marlintini's and $30 the day of the show.
"We'll never be that touring rock band again," Ballew said. "That being said, you never know if there's a giant hit on the record. How many more opportunities will I get to do that again in my life? Might as well enjoy it."
This will be the Presidents' second trip to Juneau, and third to Alaska. They played Marlintini's in October.
"People in Alaska are so cool," Ballew said. "They're just gutsy and ballsy and loud. From my experience, I call Alaska the Australia of North America. The people are boisterous, not jaded, eccentric, funky and outgoing. They can snap you in half like a twig. I think it has to do with geography. It's the end of the road, where people might go to escape the rest of the world in a way. I think there's a healthy segment of the population that's eccentric for the right reasons. They really want to do their own things on their own terms."
The Presidents are hankering for that old energy that propelled them through their grunge surroundings in the mid-1990s, and like then, that too has meant doing things on their own terms. They recently fired their manager and label and rethought the strategy for their comeback. "Love Everybody" was supposed to follow a re-issue of the band's first record. Now the re-issue has been pushed to this fall. The new album will come out on Ryko.
"We got impatient," Ballew said. "We got all these great new songs, and we didn't want to lose momentum with all this new material. I think it's good to throw some new blood into the universe in the form of a new record before putting out the old one. Putting out the old one first seems lame to me. It seems like a safe play. So we fired our manager and fired our label and hired new people and started over."
"I'm not jaded and sick of it and tired and pissed at the whole experience," he said. "And we're better players. We're better at practicing and focusing on being a good band. It makes the live shows more together musically than they were before, and it makes it more exciting for us as a band."
The new album sounds more radio-friendly than other Presidents' records, Ballew said. It has 14 songs, one surf instrumental, and lasts about 37 minutes.
"We made a sequence and our manager Mike was like, 'You know what, you guys have made a relationship record,'" Ballew said. "It's about girls, which is funny, since I've been married for eight years. There's not a lot of animals and food and all that."
The new record includes "Vestina," a song originally written by Ballew and Tad Hutchinson (of the Young Fresh Fellows), who played together under the name Chris and Tad.
"My successful formula from the past was to skim the cream of the crop off of the setlist from other bands I was in and throw those songs to the Presidents," Ballew said. "Four or five of the new songs are from the cream of the crop of other bands. One or two are old numbers that I always thought were good Presidents songs that we never got to. Two of three or four of them are brand new."
"Some Postman," the first single, was inspired by a lost mix CD.
"A friend of mine sent a CD from Boston, and I didn't get it," Ballew said. "I sent another one, and she didn't get it. We were talking on the phone, and I said, 'Some postman is grooving.' A big light bulb went on, and I challenged her to a little songwriting challenge with those words. Mine fell out of the sky. It was an easy, mellow song, me playing along on guitar, and it turned into a big rock song. She never did get around to writing hers."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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