Before the release of the new American Gong in February (QRO Upcoming Releases schedule) and right before playing a tribute show to The Who on New Year’s Eve (QRO review), Sam Coomes of Quasi talked with QRO. In the conversation, Coomes discussed the full-time addition of bassist Joanna Bolme (of Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – QRO live review – joining Coomes & drummer Janet Weiss, also also a Jick, not to mention Sleater-Kinney), all the other Quasi side-projects, influences, covers, the Quasi songwriting process, how all songwriting is “basically a racket”, and more…
QRO: In previous interviews, [you have] expressed some ambivalence about the songwriting process (which seemed to be largely solitary) and expressed interest in experimenting with more of an improvisational, group-based songwriting process. How has Quasi’s songwriting process changed in the last few years?
Sam Coomes: Ambivalence is the perfect word, yes, yes… Basically, I just want to be in a rock & roll band, play music. We need songs to make that happen, so I write them, & I try to do a decent job, but that’s about as far as it goes. But I used to be more uptight about my precious little songs. Nowadays I’m more open to input from Janet, or Joanna for that matter, because it’s not about me anyway, it’s about Quasi.
QRO: Quasi has a longstanding reputation as a band unafraid of showing off its influences, both through cover material and through solo endeavors (such as [your] Blues Goblins and Janet’s DJ sets). Has the band ever been tempted to undertake a far-reaching exorcism-of-influences project (i.e. a covers album)? Or are side gigs and one-off events like The Who tribute night enough to satisfy these urges?
SC: A covers album is a good idea… We should think about that, for sure. But I don’t think it would be like an exorcism… but well maybe that’s actually a good idea too. Yeah, I can see like a Linda Blair vibe, with covers…that could be good. “Instant Karma” with like pigs blood all over it, like “Carrie”. Sonic pigs blood!
QRO: Much of the guitar playing on the new record is reminiscent of 60s-by-way-of-the-90s icons like J Mascis [of Dinosaur Jr. – QRO live review] and Ash Bowie, both of whom have experienced recent returns to the public eye. Did the re-emergence of these sounds and/or these particular artists have any effect on the direction of the new record?
SC: Nah, we are basically of the same generation as those guys – but definitely I was listening to them way back when & still do. The new Polvo record is fantastic. More guitar in Quasi is just the result of Joanna joining the band full time, which freed up the sonic space for a guitar-based approach. Guitar is much funner than keys, from a player’s perspective.
QRO: Some elements of Quasi’s sound that seem to have been trimmed away from the last couple of records (i.e. free-jazz influenced keyboards, noise freakouts) have emerged in [your] Pink Mountains project. In what ways has keeping busy in a number of musical projects (Pink Mountains, the Jicks, etc.) affected Quasi’s band dynamic? Are certain influences generally relegated to certain projects?
SC: Well the last Quasi record before the new one coming out in Feb was probably the most improv based, or as you said, free-jazzish keyboards (but also drums) of any of our records – but it is true we have pretty much scaled that kind of thing back on the new one. I found out that I enjoy that kind of thing more than most people seem to. So yeah, it’s nice to have a more improv & noise based project to get my ya-yas out with, & then just let Quasi do what we probably do best, which is more pop & rock based stuff, which I’m happy to play anyway.
QRO: Thanks again!
SC: Thank you too