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Wednesday, December 17, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Presidents Call It Quits So Ballew Can Go Solo

Special To The Seattle Times

The Presidents of the United States of America have resigned from office.

The popular Seattle rock trio today announced it was disbanding, primarily to allow chief writer and singer Chris Ballew to pursue a solo career.

Although the band plans at least one more live performance together, members decided last week to call it quits.

"The Presidents of the United States broke up because of the exact same reason Soundgarden broke up," Presidents drummer Jason Finn quipped. "Chris quit."

The "Chris" in this case is Ballew, not Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, which broke up in April. But Ballew played along with the joke when contacted earlier this week.

"Yeah, that's why all Seattle bands break up," he said. "The `Chris' leaves."

Ballew said he just didn't have the same energy for the 4-year-old band, whose self-produced, self-titled 1995 debut sold 4 million copies.

"I wasn't feeling the magic any more," he explained. "I wanted a different life where I didn't have to go out on the road to make music anymore. I didn't want to have to repeat myself over and over again."

Ballew insisted he has no ill feelings toward Finn or guitarist Dave Dederer. "No, I love those guys. But I have a new child, and my home life has changed. And I have other projects that I'm way more interested in than being in a band. Not to negate the band. I've realized my wildest dreams (with the Presidents). I couldn't be more happier with what we've accomplished."

The Presidents' first album, recorded on a shoestring budget at Conrad Uno's local Egg Studio and released on the independent PopLlama label, did well on its own. But after a serious bidding war, Columbia Records picked up the album, remixed it and re-released it on a grander scale. The single "Lump" subsequently became a smash hit on radio and MTV and was followed by the hits "Kitty" and "Peaches."

Coming after Seattle's grim grunge era, the Presidents' minimalist, melodic cheerful-punk approach proved a welcome, angst-free relief. Their lighthearted material and energetic, pogo-ing live shows also opened the doors to bands who were more interested in pop than pathos.

The second album, "II," as the title suggested, was sequel-like but wasn't as successful, selling just over a million copies. Still, lack of sales did not contribute to the band's demise, according to Ballew.

"Actually, (the second album) took a lot of the pressure off, which was nice. And we still worked behind it. We toured the world, did TV, made lots of appearances this summer. It didn't hurt us; it just didn't sell as much."

The Presidents' history can be traced to Ballew and Dederer. The two met while attending the private Bush School in Seattle, although they didn't start performing together until around 1990 when both were well out of college.

As a duo, they played covers and Ballew's quirky songs about frogs, peaches, baby chickens, bugs, sex and cars. "There's a song under every rock in Seattle," Ballew once said, and in many cases he meant that literally. The two began to build a following, even though they changed their band name nightly, if not between sets.

"One night I just called us the Presidents of the United States of America," Ballew said. "It was so preposterous, but (the name) was also perfect on so many levels. It was also really long, so we stuck with it."

Finn, who worked with dozens of bands, including Seattle's Love Battery, wanted to join the Presidents the first time he heard them. And in 1993 he finally signed on, although he continued to play with Love Battery for a time.

Now Finn, who is a partner in the new Asteroid Cafe in Wallingford, is looking for another band to play for, although not for financial reasons. "I just want to keep playing," he said. "Let me know if you hear of anything."

Ballew has more than enough projects to keep him busy, he said. His new solo album is expected to be released next month. He's also working on a TV pilot with some former "Bill Nye the Science Guy" writers. "It's like MTV meets `Sesame Street,' interactive with the audience and anyone else. If Eddie Vedder has a silly song to contribute, great.

"And the Presidents aren't quite over," Ballew said. "We want to do one more live show here in late January or early February. And if we can find enough releasable material we'll do that, and a video."

Dederer said his immediate plans were to "go skiing a lot, make up time with my wife D'Arcy and work on the house." He also was interested in producing music projects and might return to school to complete a master's degree in urban development.

Dederer was disappointed there wouldn't be a third Presidents release. "I thought we had one more in us, and think it would have been interesting what direction it took," he said. "But that's how it goes."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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