Quasi : Interview
More freedom and spontaneity and character
My friend and I disagree about Sam Coomes. This
friend – for the sake of this article, we'll call him Sleeve – envisions Coomes
as the ultimate underdog. The underdog's underdog, if you will. In Sleeve's
mind, a romanticized version of Coomes exists, and it's an image of a journeyman
destined to go underappreciated forever. My amateur psychological opinion, you
ask? I believe that Sleeve pines vicariously through Quasi lyrics, and that
Sleeve projects his own deep-seated feelings of despair, jealousy, and
unrequited love onto the Quasi frontman's persona. Sleeve also overestimates the
amount of rainfall that Portland receives each year.
"How can he be in a band with his ex-wife?" Sleeve asks incredulously. "Wouldn't
that be torture, each night on stage serving as a reminder of an unsuccessful
love? Having your nose rubbed in it over the course of six albums? Seven if you
count Early Recordings?"
"They seem to still get along together well," says me. "Maybe it's like Elaine
and Jerry on Seinfeld."
"Yeah, but Elaine and Jerry weren't married, they just hooked up."
"Well, wouldn't being in a band with anyone seem like a marriage anyway?"
"So, say, Hall and Oates are like common-law spouses?" asks Sleeve as he wipes a
tear from the lyric booklet of Featuring "Birds."
"Sure, in a way."
"Yeah, I could see that," sighs Sleeve. "That Janet Weiss sure is hott, though.
Maybe Quasi will tour more now that Sleater-Kinney's on hiatus."
I hope for that as well, but I won't hold my breath. This year's addition to the
Quasi catalog, When the Going Gets Dark, is their strongest album in
years, and by far the best work they've recorded for Touch and Go so far. It's a
roiling, distorted slab of freewheeling and loose-seamed pop, peppered with
jagged spears of guitar and pounding piano fists. Coomes' durable,
classic-sounding melodies might have come off as saccharine in other hands, but
he and Weiss get their hands bloody on them. Rock-solid melodies that would
otherwise be "indelible" get smeared with handfuls of dirty psychedelia and lo-fi
blues rock bend.
It makes for an exciting listen, and an even more exciting live show. Coomes'
other projects may have had an influence in Quasi's beefier and tougher new
sound: one is Blues Goblins, on which he multitracks himself playing fucked-up
variations on blues standards; the other is Pink Mountain, a mainly-instrumental
psychedelic rock band that sounds like the mutant offspring of Pink Floyd,
Mountain, Black Sabbath, and Ornette Coleman.
You and Janet are about to play the Touch & Go 25th anniversary festival. Are
there any of those T&G bands you're particularly excited about seeing?
Scratch Acid, Killdozer, Man or Astroman, the Monorchid... I think I'm going to
try to see most of the bands... there's no one I specifically don't want
You guys spent most of August playing in the UK. How did the British fans
react to the anti-war stance that comes across on the new record?
The only comment I specifically heard was someone mentioned the fact that
last time I was there I had an "I Hate Bush" t-shirt on, and this time I was
wearing just a plain shirt, and someone said "Don't you hate Bush anymore?" I
think it was a joke.
Is it just me, or is the new album's artwork influenced by reggae and dub
covers? What inspired that?
I love Jamaican album covers, but the resemblance is coincidental. The thing is,
we try to emphasize a handmade, non-computerized approach to what we do. Older
Jamaican music maybe has the same sort of low-budget, handmade approach that we
tend to take, either by choice or out of necessity. Computers are actually the
most low-budget approach nowadays, but I hate the way that stuff tends to look,
and it doesn't suit what we're trying to do.
What was it like recording the performance for the Burn To Shine DVD?
I'm glad we were able to make the filming, but we were pretty unprepared — Janet
had just gotten back from a Sleater-Kinney tour like the day before, so we
hadn't practiced in months. We picked the song which we were least likely to
fuck up ("Peace and Love") and just did it. I think our performance is a little
lackluster, but its OK I guess. Brendan, who made the film, sort of had to put
in a little extra effort to get us in there, so it's nice to be included. The
actual day of filming was laid back — my family was there, and kids were running
around playing, and it was a nice day.
It seems like you two have been improvising more on this tour. Is that so? Do
you also improvise for the writing process?
We've always improvised some, but lately we've been doing more of it, for sure.
Yeah, the songs lately have been a little looser, to allow room to improvise —
it keeps the music fresher — every night it's a little different, even if we are
playing the same songs. It's a way to bring more freedom and spontaneity and
character into the music — these are good things, in music and in life.
Speaking of spontaneous playing... you also released an album this year with
an improv group called Pink Mountain. How did you meet those guys?
of them I knew from years ago, some I met on the first day of recording. I don't
know, its kind of a strange band, but it works well. We have a good time.
You became a father a few years ago — how has that changed your writing?
Not too much, I think... I feel a little extra pressure not to suck. I want to
set a good example.
I heard that your girlfriend got
you a sleep deprivation tank for Father's Day. How has that been?
sleep deprivation tank — a SENSORY deprivation tank. Having a small child is
like having a sleep deprivation tank already. Anyway, I didn't get an actual
tank, which is an elaborate apparatus, just a session in a tank that's somewhere
here in town. I haven't had time to get down there yet, but am looking forward.
You saw Altered States…
The Blues Goblins album is mainly you, right? The trumpet, too? How do you
perform the Blues Goblins material live?
Stanley Zappa (where are you) played saxophone, and I did the rest of the
instruments. Live, I eventually was hauling out all kinds of equipment and
making delay loops and drones and a lot of noise, just up there by myself. Kind
of a lot of work, but pretty fun.