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PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (1995) | FUN FACTS ROCK EPISODE #7

Did you know that the hit song "Peaches" by Presidents of the United States was written all because of a random trip to a Seattle bus-stop? Or that lyrics to one of the band's biggest hits were inspired by a time lead singer Chris Ballew took acid? What about the music video that MTV refused to play because it was too "dark and disturbing? Stick around as we answer these questions and more!

 10 Fun Facts about PUSA's Self Titled Album

 

1. Five Strings

The band performs with just 5 strings on their guitars.

No, I don't mean the guitarist simply removed a strong and called himself Keith Richards, I mean they collectively play with just 5 strings among the entire band! Chris Ballew on what he calls the two-string "bassitar" and Dave Dederer on the three-string guitbass

"Between Dave and I, we have five strings, and you can make the most complicated chord in the world with five strings... We just have to cooperate with each other." - Chris Ballew; Weird Lyrics Come Naturally To The Presidents, Brooks Whitney, Chicago Tribune (May 10, 1996)

"By now, I am so used to playing two string instruments that I don’t remember the headspace I had when I wrote on regular instruments! It just seems completely natural now. In fact, I wonder why people don’t actually just learn on a two string or three string. It’s so much easier! 

I have also come to learn about the origins of rock and roll music and the African banjo... The idea of using fewer strings connects what we do back in time to the roots of rock n roll in Africa." - Chris Ballew; Interview With Chris Ballew.., Will Hodge, NoiseTrade (Apr 9, 2013)


2. Anti-Grunge

The band intentionally wrote humorous material to brighten up the mood of the rock scene which was dominated by moody grunge acts like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. 

"I’ve been making silly music my whole life. I’ve also been making serious music as well. I have a lot of different colors in my paint box. But I do remember a distinct feeling that the scene needed to be lightened up a little bit and so it felt like it was time to bring out my silly stuff and see if it would be well received in that environment. I do remember watching the MTV Music Awards in 1992 or 1993 and thinking that the scene needed a little bit of a smile." - Chris Ballew; Interview With Chris Ballew.., Will Hodge, NoiseTrade (Apr 9, 2013)


3. Inspired by Buzzcocks

"Lump" was partially inspired by The Buzzcocks.

"In the beginning, it was me trying to write a Buzzcocks song. I guess I still channel them a little bit whenever I play it." - Chris Ballew; Interview With Chris Ballew.., Will Hodge, NoiseTrade (Apr 9, 2013)


4. Energizer Presidents

They keep going and going and going... OK, young people have no idea what I'm talking referencing here ... but Chris Ballew and Dave Dederer never get tired of performing the band's breakthrough hit "Lump."

"No matter how many times we play it (and we have played it at almost every single show we’ve ever played), it is as fresh and as alive as if I just wrote it that afternoon. I am not sure what it is, but I am never bored playing that song." - Chris Ballew; Interview With Chris Ballew.., Will Hodge, NoiseTrade (Apr 9, 2013)

"Never got tired of the songs, esp. "Lump." Every night is different, every stage is different, every crowd is different." - Dave Dederer; IamA Has Been Rockstar.., Reddit (2010)

 

5. Dark & Disturbing

MTV refused to play the original music video for "Lump" because it was allegedly considered "too dark & disturbing."

While I definitely think that calling the content of the music video "disturbing" is a bit of a Karen move, I will also admit that re-doing the video with brighter and more colorful imagery was a good thing. The iconic imagery of the band performing in a boggy marsh to open the video definitely sticks out well in my mind some 20 years later. Perhaps "dark & disturbing" was MTV's way of saying "go back and make us a better video, ya schmucks."

 

6. Benign Tumor

Speaking of "dark and disturbing."... "Lump" was partially inspired by a benign tumor in frontman Chris Ballew's head.

The rest of the song was improvised.

"I just make the stuff up... That's the magic of writing songs, you don't really have to explain." - Chris Ballew; Weird Lyrics Come Naturally To The Presidents, Brooks Whitney, Chicago Tribune (May 10, 1996)


7. True Cat Stories

"Kitty" which was originally titled "Kitty At My Foot" was a true-story.

About as true as a story involving a person wanting to pet a cat can be, anyway.

-Dave Dederer; IamA Has Been Rockstar.., Reddit (2010)


8. Peaches on LSD

The band's hit song "Peaches" was inspired by two seperate incidents. The first includes a time when Chris Ballew waited under a peach tree at his girlfriend's house while on acid.

"So, the whole song started with me taking LSD and going to a girl’s house to tell her that I liked her while on LSD, which is a really great idea! [Laughs] Or, it seemed like a good idea at the time...

I went to the door and knocked on the door, so I thought, “Well, I’ll just wait for her.” And I sat under her peach tree. There were peaches that had fallen, that were in various stages of decay. And, of course, in my state of mind that I was in, I just started diving in and squeezing the peaches and mixing it with my desire for the girl and the desire for the peaches and juicy weirdness and ants crawling all around.

But she never showed up, so I left. But the song didn’t really come to life until much later..." - Chris Ballew; Behind The Song.., Jacob Uitti, AmericanSongwriter (2022)

 

9. Peaches at the Bus Stop

In addition to Chris Ballew's experience on LSD, the band's hit song "Peaches" was also inspired by a happenstance moment at the bus-stop.

"I had moved back to Seattle. I was waiting for a bus and a disheveled man in an oily overcoat with a big beard, who I assumed was, you know, homeless, came shuffling by the bus stop and saying under his breath, “I’m moving to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches. Movin’ to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches.” Over and over, as he passed by...

If I wasn’t waiting for that bus on that day or he didn’t walk by saying that, that song wouldn’t exist, I don’t think. It’s crazy how things can line up, or not line up. Who knows what songs don’t exist because of whatever didn’t happen." - Chris Ballew; Behind The Song.., Jacob Uitti, AmericanSongwriter (2022)

 

10. Two Songs In One

Although the lyrics for Peaches was heavily inspired by Ballew's experiences, the song as a whole was a product of team-work.

"The other twist of the song was all I had was verse-chorus, verse-chorus and then Dave Dederer, the guitar player for the Presidents, came in and wrote the outro part. So, it really is kind of two songs welded together, and it kind of sounds like that because we virtually stop and start a new rhythm for the outro.

So, I love the song for that reason because it’s a really great representation of me and Dave as co-writers of a song and the song became one of our big songs — biggest, really. So, it was nice to have both of us involved in something that became so synonymous with the band." - Chris Ballew; Behind The Song.., Jacob Uitti, AmericanSongwriter (2022)

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitty_(song)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_(song)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peaches_(The_Presidents_of_the_United_States_of_America_song) 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Presidents_of_the_United_States_of_America_(album)

https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/9wqtu/comment/c0evf68/?context=4

Behind The Song.., Jacob Uitti, AmericanSongwriter (2022) - https://americansongwriter.com/behind-the-song-pusas-chris-ballew-talks-peaches-madonna-and-disorientation/ 

IamA Has Been Rockstar.., Reddit (2010) - https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/9wqtu/iama_hasbeen_rock_star_who_sold_5_million_records/

Interview With Chris Ballew.., Will Hodge, NoiseTrade (Apr 9, 2013) - https://web.archive.org/web/20150402091203/http://blog.noisetrade.com/2013/04/interview-with-chris-ballew-of-the-presidents-of-the-united-states-of-america/

Weird Lyrics Come Naturally To The Presidents, Brooks Whitney, Chicago Tribune (May 10, 1996) - https://web.archive.org/web/20140811073135/http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1996-05-10/entertainment/9605080567_1_dune-buggy-spiders-string

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