By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published May 03, 2008 at 5:17 AM

After two runaway hits, including a "Weird" Al Yankovic parody back in the '90s, it's easy to think that The Presidents of The United States of America are simply resting on their laurels for their tour that hits Milwaukee on Monday, May 5.

But their music goes beyond "Lump" and "Peaches." They boast six solid albums, including their self-titled debut from 1995 and this year's "These Are The Good Times People."

In reality, the two infectious tunes you might know aren't even their best songs. But for the band that found itself in various forms of hiatus from 1998 to 2004, it's clear the group wouldn't even still be together if they weren't having fun.

In advance of their 8 p.m. Monday show at The Rave, we spoke to "guitbass" player Andrew McKeag, who joined the band in 2004. McKeag says the group loves playing old and new material, alike, and expects the Presidents to keep on rocking well into another term.

OMC: What's it like to be in a band in which so many people know you for two big hits, but there's really so much more?

Andrew McKeag: I had to join the band to really figure that out, myself. I've known these guys for as long as they've been a band, and I've played with them in different lineups. They were my friends, and I've seen them play a bunch of times, but I wasn't terribly familiar with all their records. But once I got in there, I was surprised as anyone out there.

OMC: Did you know that band during the time they played with Sir Mix-A-Lot?

AM: For sure. It was a hip-hop rock-and-roll combo. They did a bunch of recording and some minimal touring. It was really good, but the cultures are very different, even though they're both in the music business. I think the two couldn't really work together in a business sense.

OMC: Both you and lead singer Chris Ballew play modified instruments. Your instrument is called a guitbass, and it only has three strings, while Ballew's bass has just two strings. I know that Morphine pioneered the idea (Ballew played with Morphine's Mark Sandman in a band called Supergroup). But why do you take off the strings, and is it hard to play that way?

AM: (Guitbass) was the name that Chris and (former guitar player) Dave (Dederer) came up with. In a sense, the guitar is really just a guitar. It just happens to only have three strings on it. It's tuned down to C#. It was really hard for me to learn, but once I got comfortable with it, it was freeing, in a way. It stops you from thinking about the basic guitar chords. Chris has a theory that kids could pick up the guitar a lot sooner and get more satisfaction if they only used three strings. It's tuned "open," so just hitting the strings alone sound like a chord, and so do barre chords. It makes it really simple to get a good sound out of it, and when you start adding different shapes and chords, you realize how much more it is than three strings.

OMC: I listened to your first album non-stop in college. Your library is now much bigger, but do you still play the old stuff live?

AM: Always.

OMC: Are those songs still fun to play?

AM: They're great. It doesn't matter what song we play. For us, we're happy to play any of the songs. We love the new songs and the previous songs. But the stuff from the first album gets such a reaction, I mean, why wouldn't we play it?

OMC: Well, some bands try to go for a totally different sound on every album, and others continue what works. Do you go into a new record trying to create a specific sound?

AM: I think we just let the songs be the guide. In the case of The Presidents, Chris writes so prolifically, and he always has. He archives everything he's ever done. You're looking at not just what he's written between the fall of 2006 and when we stopped touring. You're looking at his whole 25 years of writing songs. He goes back to four-track tapes he made back in New York City when he was just a poor college kid and had a weird band that played at CBGB's once every six months. He's so not precious with them, and we can change them completely.

OMC: You've made a career of not taking yourselves too seriously. Are you still having fun in this band?

AM: I don't think this band would exist if we didn't have a good time doing it.

OMC: On that note, on your Web site, you're having an "elect the president of The Presidents" contest.

AM: It was fun, some buddies of ours put that together and we had a good time with it.

OMC: I love the song "Dune Buggy." What's your take on it?

AM: I love playing the song. It's been funny, because lately, we have change how we start it ... to make it match up to how it sounds on the recording. It's super-fun to play, and people like it, and we jump up and down a lot.

OMC: What about "Stranger?"

AM: Up until now, it didn't get a lot of airplay unless we were in Seattle or Portland, because it has a lot of specific references. We've been playing in Europe, and people were super-psyched to hear it. It's part of the rotation now.

OMC: What does the future have in store for the band?

AM: As long as it stays fun, I don't see why we wouldn't keep doing what we do.

OMC: Are you getting good feedback on the new album?

AM: People seem to like it. The most negative reviews have been, "If you like The Presidents, you'll like this record." So, that's pretty good. But it's so hard to actually sell records, the way the business is changing, and we all have to adjust our expectations.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.