It came form Seattle

by Kevan Roberts

Sir Mix-A-Lotís and the Presidents of the U.S.A.ís Shocking Creation


Everyone is doing it, it seems. Barely a month passes without details of a new collaboration between a monster of rock and a demon of rap surfacing. Since the earliest meshing of the styles- courtesy of Run DMC and Aerosmith, Anthrax and Public Enemy, the Beastie Boysí entire License to Ill LP-thereís been countless attempts to mix rock and rap together. The past year alone has wrought high profiles partnerships between Korn an Ice Cube, Limp Bizkit and Method Man, and the ubiquitous and opportunistic Puff Daddy with both System of a Down and Jimmy Page. Heck, the cross-pollination of the genres was sufficiently common enough for MTV-hardly renowned for its speed out of the blocks-to declare 1999 the year rock and rap would finally come together.

The hipsters will tell you that once the mainstream media has discovered any "scene" or "movement" its already over. Boisterous Black Diamond rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot would agree. Heís already been there, done that and bought the T-shirt, courtesy of his late-80ís collaboration with local crunchers Metal Church on Black Sabbathís "Iron Man" and a 1993 pairing with Mudhoney for the soundtrack to Judgement Night.

Yet for his release since 1996ís Return of the Bumpasaurus, Mix has joined forces with the artists formally known as the Presidents of the United States of America in a new band, Subset. Itís a move which could, perhaps, be interpreted as an attempt by two past-their-prime (and currently label-less) acts to clamber aboard a bandwagon that is already trundling out of town. Except thereís one notable and significant difference that sets Subset apart: Where others merely rock, they groove. More Muscle Shoals than Metallica- and magnificently so- Subestís funky, frugging formula has re-awakened all four memberís interest in the music business and brought the Presidents back to life less than a year-and-a-half after their heady farewell show at Seattleís Paramont Theatre. Gathered together at drummer Jason Finnís capitol Hill home, messrs. Chris Ballew (bass), Dave Dederere (guitar), and Sir Mix-A-Lot ("call me Anthony" vocals) can hardly contain their excitement as they listen to playbacks of four tracks from their still-in-progress debut LP and chat enthusiastically about the future. The groovers are back on maneuvers.

The Rocket: So tell us how Subset came together. Sir Mix-A-Lot: It was first talked about a couple of years ago but neither of us had the time back then. Then last year, somebody suggested we do a Hendrix song together but I wanted to do something original.
Dave Dederer: So we recorded a couple of "grooves" that we just had lying around.
Jason Finn: And then Mix had a gig at the Showbox and we thought it would be fun to go and play the two songs "Addicted to the Fame" and "Beach Rats."
Chris Ballew: And playing those songs live was really exciting. The whole place just went up so we thought, "There must be something in this!"

Rocket: How did you collaborate on those first songs?
Ballew
: Weíd been making instrumental versions of lots of little ideas that weíd had for a long time. We arranged them so they were exciting as instrumentals, then gave them to Mix and he put lyrics on.
Finn: With "Beach Rats," Mix took the instrumental track, cut it up on his computer rearranged it, then rapped over it. We then took that version back with us and re-recored it.

Rocket: How many songs have you completed and recorded at present?
Dederere
: Thereís six songs that weíve got finished and five more which will be done by the time we play live again.

Rocket: What satisfaction are you each getting out of the project?
Mix
: It doesnít have that corporate feel about it. Thereís no one saying "Hurry up and get it done. Joe Schmo wants it done this way and by this time." Weíre doing it because we want to and thatís what music should be about. Thereís no pressure. Like after Iíd done "Baby Got Back" I was pressured to try and re-create it. You know, "Baby Got Tits," "Baby Got FaceÖ."
Ballew: "Ö Baby got Lips" "Baby Got Baby, Whoops!" "Baby Donít Got ContraceptionÖ" Seriously though, its been very cool for us because Dave and I have had groovy riffs lying around for years and no outlet for them. "Addicted to Fame" is a riff Iíve had for 10 years.

Rocket: Who is writing the lyrics? And what are you using as inspiration?
Mix
: Me, pretty much. I got the idea for "Addicted to Fame" when we were just talking about how much we all hated "the business." And I went straight home and started scribbling. Thatís how itís been with the whole album, nothing has been forced. I havenít sat down and said, "Iím going to have to write a song now."

Rocket: Can you give us a rundown on the others songs youíve completed so far?
Mix
: Thereís "Addicted to the Fame," "Something Wicked," "Beach Rats," "What the Hell," "Skinning and Grinning" and "What she Gave," which will be the epic we perform at the Grammys with a full choir. Ballew: And Snoop Dogg flying around on a wire in the background.
Mix: None of the songs sound alike, yet weíre definitely starting to develop a distinctive "sound."

Rocket: So will this be a one-off or an ongoing collaboration?
Ballew
: Weíll take it as it comes. After the Showbox all I knew was that I really wanted to do this.
Finn: And of course, he doesnt have to sing now. Me and Chris were already the tightest rhythm section in rock and since heís been playing a four-string bass, weíve got even better!

Rocket:So you and Dave have finally retired the guitbass and bassitar?
Ballew
: Yup, we snapped out of it. Weíre back to normal. I have four strings and [Dave] has six. At least we wonít have to talk about playing "wacky" instruments ever again.

Rocket: How would you describe Subsetís sound? Does it sound like Sir Mix-A-Lot accompanied by the Presidents?
Mix
: People ask me, "Is it alternative? Is it rap?" Itís not bullshit, thatís all I know. Itís just great shit.
Ballew: Itís nothing like the Presidents. Iíd describe it as the Meters playing a car-chase music, like New Orleans soul or something.
Dederer: My fantasy is Booker T. and the MGísÖ.
Ballew: Öriding around in the General Lee.

Rocket: And this is the year of rock and rap after all, according to MTV.
Ballew
: But this isnít rock and rap. Its Subset. Itís not rock.
Mix: If it had ended up being like Aerosmith and Run DMC with a rapper singing over a crunchy guitar, I wouldnít have done it. The closest thing I could compare it to would be L.L. Cool J when he did "Unplugged." It was a group, it wasnít just L.L. and some guys in the background. It has that feel. It has personality.

Rocket: What has been the response so far from people who have heard Subset?
Mix
: When I take it to the "hood" they ask, "Are you sure itís white boys playing that shit?"
Dederer: Really white.
Ballew: Transparent.
Mix: And when Iíve played it I havenít said it was me, Iíve just asked, "What do you think of these guys?" And theyíll all say, "Thatís the shit!"
Ballew: A good friend of mine who Iíve been playing music with for 22 years said itís the best thing Iíve ever done or been involved with. Not to build it up or anything! DONíT BELIEVE THE HYPE!

Rocket: Mix, were you ever a fan of the Presidents?
Mix
: Yeah, I was. When "Baby Got Back" waspeaking these guys were hot and I was always bragging up Seattle. These gusy, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden-I was giving shouts out to everybody I was like (stands up with arms in the air): "Seattle, motherfuckers! Come fuck with us!"

Rocket: Have you ever worked with or had a live backing band before? Whatís it been like working in such a different way?
Mix
: Itís certainly not a back-up group. I donít like the idea of it bieng like Mix-A-Lot and the Fuck-Ups or whatever.
Ballew: Weíre a band.
Mix: We are an incredible fucking group.

Rocket [to the ex-Presidents]: How have you enjoyed your "retirement," your time away from the limelight so far? Bring us up to date on what youíve been up to since your "farewell" show at the Paramont last year?
Bellew
: Iíve been too busy to retire. First, I put out the Giraffes record ant then I had the Tycoons, then a band with Tad Hutchison [of the Young Fresh Fellows]. I also did a little producing for Bicycle and Iíve been working with another couple of friends of mien of no notable name. As well as raising a child of course. The days are full. Definitely.
Finn: I just joined the Nevada Bachelors and Iíve also been playing in a band called Congratulators with the Sangster brothers- Jim and Johnny- which is really fun.
Dederer: And my band the Uptights is playing on June 16 at the Crocodile Cafť for our second gig ever.

Rocket: Do any of you feel any pressure to re-create former glories? After all youíve each expirenced prior success, and on a pretty big scale: sell-our tours, platinum records, Grammys.
Ballew
: Thereís a distinct lack of pressure. Weíre not thinking too hard about it.
Dederer: Like when we were in the Presidents we would just make up those really dumb songs.
Ballew: We forged a career from not thinking too hard. "Donít look before you leap," that was our motto. Still is.

Rocket: Did the commercial pressure and expectations of the music business ruin the experience of being in a band for you?
Dederere
: Sure. We pretended that it didnít, but of course it did.
Ballew: The truth is, when you sign a contract you grow a new part on your brain that adds a step to the creative process. Itís this little voice that continually says, "Whatís the demographic? Whoís going to buy that?" And Iíve spent the past two years trying to get rid of it.
Mix: The truth is, hits arenít made that way. Think about it. "Baby Got Back" was considered racist, sexist, everything and it fucking hit. Do you think I was thinking about demographics when I did that song? Fuck no.
Ballew: (singing)"Sheís lump, sheís lump." I donít know what I was doing. I just found that one day on a little micro-cassette playing and couldnít remember ever having made it up.

Rocket: Do you get nervous showing each other ideas youíve come up with? Are you worried the others will just turn around and say, "This is rubbish, get it out of here?"
Mix
: I know I canít bring any weak-ass shit to these guys.
Ballew: Weíve been on a bus with this guy after eating ribs all night so we no longer worry about getting nervous showing him anything. Dederere; He intimidated us with some of his most pungent ideas.

Rocket: What aer you immediate plans after these final couple shows?
Ballew
: Just to finnish the album an then find a record company.