A Fiendish Conversation with the Presidents of the United States of America's Jason Finn
The oddball rockers return with a new album (Kudos to You!) and their yearly PUSAFest.
We admit that it’s a very on the nose, but Presidents’ Day weekend wouldn’t feel complete without the Seattle rock weirdoes of the Presidents of the United States of America throwing their annual PUSAFest bash. This time around there's even more reason to party as the band celebrated the release of its new crowdfunded album Kudos to You!. PUSA plans to kick out the jams—including '90s hits like "Peaches and "Lump"—on Saturday, February 15 with a sold out show at the Showbox and at two special acoustic shows at the Triple Door on Sunday, February 16. The first acoustic show is also sold out, but tickets are still available for the late night set. And while 10pm on Sunday start times are normally frowned upon, the holiday on Monday allows plenty of time to recover. No excuses.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with PUSA drummer Jason Finn about crafting the quick creation of Kudos to You!, PUSAFest, crowdfunding as a garage sale, and the band coming full circle after 21 years.
I heard that you guys pretty much went into the studio without anything prepared and just hammered out Kudos to You! on a whim. Was that the case?
Sort of, yeah. We basically just hadn’t been in the studio for quite a while, and we were all in town at the same time and we thought, “Let’s just go in and have some fun with it.” We didn’t have anything. There was one sort of new song that we’d been playing live last year, so it was like, “Yeah, we can track ‘Finger Monster’ and then see what else we have.” Chris (Ballew), like a lot of singers, always keeps notebooks of ideas and stuff. So we had the notebook and we just went in. It was very fun. Andrew (McKeag) has been in the band ten years, but we haven’t done that much recording with him because he joined right after we finished our 2004 album Love Everybody, so we just didn’t know what to expect. That first two-day session yielded, I think, four complete ideas, and that was exciting enough to book a little more time. And another three days later we had another five or six ideas and it was just kind of snowballing on us. By this time it’s midway through November and we say to ourselves, “Jeez, let’s do a record. But the only time it really makes sense to put it out is in February when we do the PUSAFest shows, and of course that’s crazy that’s not enough time. Why the hell not? Let’s go for it!”
How did you guys decide on self-releasing the record and crowdfuning it via PledgeMusic?
I’ve been watching the crowdfunding phenomenon from afar for awhile, and I’ve had some friends and other musicians and illustrator’s and comic book makers and such have a lot of success with various things, mostly with Kickstarter. We certainly have the means to finance, if you want to call it that, the studio time or whatever if we wanted, but this just seemed like a way to kind of involve our core people all over the world. Around the time that we decided we might put a record out, PledgeMusic came to my attention as sort of being a little more optimized for musicians, and bands in particular. Or at least that’s their focus, so it seemed like a good fit and we also had a lot of stuff sort of around from the various years, a lot of posters a lot of the kind of bonus stuff that Pledge likes to use so…
Yeah, I was looking over the Pledge page and it seemed like, “Oh this a nice album fund raiser/garage sale.”
Very much so. (Laughs) I’m like, finally something to do with these hundreds of pieces and posters in my garage from previous years. I had them in a pile and I was like, “Someday we’re going to make a Top Spin store on our website and we’re going to sell these suckers!” This is a happy coinciding of motives.
You’ve got a couple acoustic shows as part of this year’s PUSAFest. Is that something you’d like to do a bit more regularly?
We really have hardly ever done them. It’s something that I’ve mentioned before, but I’ll say it again: We’re very good at it; to the point where it’s really a damn shame we haven’t done a bunch until now. So I’m really looking forward to the shows and the Triple Door is so ideal for that sort of set up and instrumentation. I use a little, kid-sized drum kit that I use, even with little kid-sized sticks. And the guys are going to use various acoustic guitars but still amplified through something. Chris is fired up because he’s going to bring his whole weirdo collection of two-stings and one-strings; he’s got a one-sting ukulele he likes. He’s got some crazy stuff that he rarely gets to pull out so.
Do you have any sort of pre- or post-show routines?
We do have one little hand signal that we do with each other right before we hit the stage, but I’m not authorized to reveal what it is. It’s just a very simple little thing, it’s not a secret it’s just not to be talked about. Other than that, I’m embarrassed to say that a lot of our routines involve a lot of ice, which didn’t used to be something that we needed a lot of before and after shows, but now it is. That’s just the way it goes.
If you weren’t a musician, is there any other line of work you think you might have wanted to pursue?
Oh, I think I’d be a pretty good short order cook if I hadn’t lucked out here. I was in my 20s when this started and I had been tending bar for several years. And who knows? I might have just kept on doing that. Until of course, I’m sure that in the late ‘90s, I would have gotten in on the initial tech bubble like so many of my friends. I would be right now in my corner office over in Redmond, thinking about the next time I would get a weekday off. Thinking about the far future when I got to have a Wednesday off or something.
This year also marks PUSA’s 21st anniversary, correct?
Yeah, so we’re coming of age. Our first show technically was, I’m going to say, November of ’93.
So over those 21 years, what’s been the biggest change for you guys?
Well, maybe it’s been a full circle deal. I mean we’ve definitely gone from the Romper Room where our first show was to playing hockey rinks in Australia. And it won’t be too many years until we’re back to playing the Romper Room, basically. I mean, right? The good people of Seattle have been very, very kind to us over the years and we love that so many of them have stuck with us, and these shows at the Showbox and stuff are awesome. We want to keep doing them as long as we can, but we realize that eventually it will get to the point—and I don’t know what year this will be—where we’ll be back at the JewelBox at the Rendezvous or something. And having just as much fun.
Feb 15 & 16, Showbox and the Triple Door, $35 (First two shows sold out)