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Presidents of the United States return, and just in time

Jim Faber
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

It's an election year, which historically means it's time for something new from the Presidents of the United States of America.

The Seattle-based trio, who rose to fame on the strength of quirky, catchy songs like "Peaches" and "Lump," recently released its fifth studio album, "These Are the Good Times People." That record joins predecessors that were released in 1995, 1996, 2000 and 2004. So it stands to reason that while the people are selecting a president, the Presidents are creating rock.

"In 2012, even if we're not working anymore, I'll call the guys and insist we make a record," said Jason Finn, the band's drummer, in a phone interview.

The band hasn't launched a full-scale tour since the 1990s.

"Things moved so fast when we started touring (in 1995)," Finn said. "We were only in a van for a couple of weeks. Then we were, like, on jet planes and on tour buses and limos and castles."

In a way, it's a relief the band now operates outside the glare of pop culture, Finn said.

"We always felt a little like we were at the party that we actually didn't have an invitation for and at any moment security was going to come and kick our (butts) to the curb," Finn said of the high point of the band's popularity.

One thing that hasn't changes is vocalist and songwriter Chris Ballew's love of weird subject matter, whether it is a fish and bird trapped in a doomed love affair or whatever the song "Sharpen Up Those Fangs" is about.

"I don't know what the hell it's about (either)," Finn said of the song. "But I know how it makes me feel - it makes me feel like he's a guy who might be a little lonely, who's been wronged in some way and he's telling us a story."

But that lyrical vagueness is pretty normal for a band that's made its fortunes telling stories about fruit, bugs, lecherous mailmen and whatever "Lump" is.

"(Ballew has) kind of got a cartoony outlook on life," Finn said. "So, in his world it totally makes sense a frog in the yard would come inside, pick up a banjo and start jamming.

I don't think that's actually happened to him, but, in his world, he would not be surprised."

For his part, Finn loves it when the band changes it up.

"I'm a big diversity man, so I like the weirder songs like `Flame is Love,' the kind of swing number," Finn said. "And we're all really having fun with `Deleter,' the funky, funky number."

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