The Presidents of the United States of America Biography
In this exclusive interview, guitarist Dave Dederer discusses self-promotion, self-expression and staying connected with community.
How did you promote yourself and your music when you were first starting out?
Well, we didn't promote ourselves, other than putting a few flyers on tables at shows. The Presidents didn't promote ourselves too much. It just happened. Within six or nine months of starting out, we were packing the biggest clubs in Seattle, all on word of mouth. Seattle is a good place for that. And we started getting approached by major labels before we had a manager or a even a demo. It seemed normal at the time, but I now realize how abnormal it was. Everything just flowed.
Did you ever doubt yourself or think about giving up?
I think about giving up music every time I pick up a guitar. What comes out of my amplifier or my mouth always falls far short of the magic I hear in my head. Playing music can be very transcendent and joyous, but a lot of the time for me it's mostly frustrating. The reality so rarely matches the vision. I gave up on the music business before I even got into it, so that's never been an issue. The music business is neither. Not music, not business.
What's the wackiest thing you ever did to try and get a gig or sell a record?
We did some amazing things: played on the beach in San Diego, in the parking lot at Pink's Hot Dogs in LA, on a boardroom table at a San Jose radio station, on a flatbed truck in Minneapolis and on the street in NY, LA, Boston, Baltimore and others. I'm proud of all that stuff -- most bands couldn't pull that off. I think you can drop us into any situation and we can make music and get people into it. Communicate with the crowd, which is what music is all about.
What other ways do you express yourself creatively outside your music?
I used to do a lot of painting and writing. Now I'm married and have kids and I put my creative energy into being a good husband and father. And I like to express myself in sports -- I've been skiing since I was two years old, and I find skiing to be very satisfying as an expressive medium. More so than music. I feel like I can look down almost any slope in any conditions and picture a beautiful line and then ski that line. I can't do that in music -- if somebody starts playing Duke Ellington's "Caravan" at 200 beats per minute, I can't hang with that.
How much did others encourage you to express yourself at an early age?
A lot. My mom and dad have always encouraged me to express myself in whatever medium. And they've validated my expression. Probably to a fault.
What is your community today, and how do you stay connected to it?
The community I care most about is my wife and kids, my immediate family. That comes before everything else. Beyond that, I'm involved in so many communities: greater family, friends, my neighborhood, social and political causes, the music scene...I wish there were 48 hours in the day. I spend most of my time every day reaching out to people in person or on the phone or on email trying to stay connected.
Do artists and musicians have a responsibility to be leaders in their communities?
No more or no less so than anybody else. We just have the advantage of having more visibility in some cases. I think in a functioning democracy we're all obliged to be leaders in our communities, at least in the sense of being informed and having an opinion and sharing that opinion.
Who do you aspire to be compared to?
Well, I think I suffer by comparison to most of my heroes, which would include Willie Nelson, The Clash, The Who, The Beatles (including George Martin), Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters. I just try to do the best job I can of being me, both musically and otherwise. That's the only strength I can find in this world, as an artist and as a person. You have to find your own voice and then nurture it, be honest and true to yourself. It's trite, but it's true. And harder to do than it is to say.
Who are you sick of being compared to?
No one really, I havent had to think about this at all. n/a?
Do you think music can change the world?
Yes, but only in its capacity to be a shared, transcendent experience. Overt messages don't work.
Describe one of your proudest moments as a musician/performer/artist.
I'm so proud to step on stage with Chris and Jason every time that I can hardly contain myself. Every single time we get up there I'm convinced that we're the greatest rock and roll band on the planet. I don't think there's any reason to take the stage as a band if you don't have this sort of conviction. If you don't believe, the audience never will. It's like what Jack Nicklaus says about putting: "I've never stepped up to stroke a putt without first sinking it in my mind." I strive for that kind of honesty, integrity and focus every time we play.