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May 9, 2008

McKeag, Presidents inaugurate American tour

[img id="80584" align="alignleft"] A band formed in the early ’90s to contrast the flannel-ridden grunge scene, The Presidents of the United States of America are still around, while its counterparts Nirvana and Alice in Chains are not. Still bubbly from the release of the Presidents’ newest album These are the Good Times People, the newest President and guitbass player Andrew McKeag sat down with me for an interview to talk about the album and the string of shows across the U.S. that does not quite qualify as a North American tour (including the show in Chicago on May 9).

Christine Yang: How was the European tour?

Andrew McKeag: It was exciting; it was fun—lots of cheese and bread. And beer.

CY: With current anti-American sentiment, does the name The Presidents of the United States of America draw weird looks from crowds and people?

AM: Well, every once in a while people ask us, “What’s up with your name?” But mostly people understand that it’s just a silly band name and that we’re just playing.

CY: You guys just finished touring the latest album, These are the Good Times People. How is this album different from the previous one, Love Everybody?

AM: Uh, I’m on it….

CY: That’s true.

AM: I don’t really know. I don’t think anything is that different; it’s kind of a continuation of what the Presidents have been doing the entire time. I mean, a lot of the songs on the record started being what they are now long before I was in the band.

CY: Yeah. That doesn’t seem to have changed much from the ’90s when the band was started.

AM: Right, right. The band [right now] just sounds like the band we started.

CY: You guys were popular in the ’90s because of the contrast to Nirvana and the depressing grunge music, and the sugary, happy, and self-deprecating view of the songs drew a lot of fans. Is there still a similar goal in your music?

AM: Yeah, I think we still have it, there’s still that aspect of being compared to other bands today and standing out. And we really like being who we are, as long as people keep going to the shows and keep supporting us….

CY: Going back to the newest album, what’s up with all the balloon references?

AM: I’m not really sure. I guess it’s just the theme we chose for the album. Are there really a lot of balloons?

CY: Yeah. On the cover art, the booklet, “Loose Balloon,” and other references throughout the album.

AM: Oh yeah. I think it’s just because we settled on a theme to be on the entire album. Balloons also just seemed like a good idea because it was just a concept to build on. And [lead singer] Chris Bellew is just a musical genius…

CY: You mentioned the balloon cover art. How does that process work? Does the band get any say in it, or is it a record label executive who makes the final decision?

AM: It’s different every time, but this album was really the case where we brought in our ideas to the label art director, and he combined all our ideas for the album cover.

CY: Have you noticed changes in the indie industry since the so-called indie boom? I mean, in terms of the definition of indie and the future of indie music.

AM: Absolutely. It’s really hard to get somebody big to release your record now with the record industry all that it is and the popularity of indie labels. Fifteen years ago, if you were a band you could pretty much find an indie label and record it and release a record. To me, that part has a lot more fans out there when people put out records. But today a lot more records are coming out. I can’t say that it’s better, but it’s definitely different.

CY: Especially with the omnipresence of the Internet, it’s just so easy to have a MySpace to promote your music that a record label really isn’t necessary.

AM: I think it’s really great, but the other part of that is any Joe Blow can make something in his basement, call himself a band and get a million friends on MySpace. What I see is that we will lose that DIY, go-get-in-a-band, play-a-show, and have-an-adventure part of music. It’s so easy to make a record today that it really doesn’t take much. You know what I mean?

CY: And it’s a lot easier with things such as Apple’s Garage Band.

AM: I think those tools (because that’s the word for it) are really useful, but then you’re also missing the part where you go out and play a show to promote your music.

CY: On Wikipedia, I saw that you play the guitbass. What is that?

AM: It’s basically a three string guitar.

CY: And the Presidents also has someone who plays the basitar.

AM: Oh, that would be a two-string bass. There are all these weird theories that the guitbass and the basitar are unique, but they’re really all like guitars because one is strung with a bass string and a guitar string while the other is strung with three guitar strings. But it is also what makes the Presidents unique.

CY: How did you learn to play the guitbass?

AM: It was weird. It was very weird. It was weird and difficult and disconcerting, but once I got a hold of it, it was really fun.

CY: Is anything special planned for the North American tour?

AM: It’s funny because I hardly think of it as a North American tour because we just fly out to states and play shows. There’s no set tour schedule that we’re working around. We’re just going to go out and play rock shows. We just want to be a band that is special to see live.