Quasi’s been Quasi for a while now – 13 years to be exact. So, the mad machine (also known as the supremely talented Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss) has begun to change things up. Experiment. Go for that crazy, new sound. Known as – psychedelic rock?
“Yeah, there’s a little bit of that on there,” Weiss said with an easy laugh, referring to Quasi’s latest full-length LP, When the Going Gets Dark. “It’s difficult,” she continued. “It’s harder now, because we’ve made so many records together. We wanted to try and change things up and capture what it actually sounds like when the two of us are playing in the same room together. You definitely hit a wall after a while, so you try and reinvent yourself. But it’s difficult. Agonizing.”
The attempt to alter well-worked musical scenery wasn’t an easy process for Coomes and Weiss. The band decided to record the album in a new Portland-based studio, Audible Alchemy, rather than record at home or at Jackpot Records as they had done on previous releases. And while Weiss said that the studio itself is, “really nice, they have amazing gear,” the band began to hit a wall.
“Recording this album was difficult in every aspect,” Weiss confessed. “I just never felt that comfortable. Things got edgy. Sam and I started to clash. And when we tried to mix it there – we were aiming for two songs a day – we just couldn’t get anything done.”
Picking up the Bat-phone, Weiss called on a new friend: Dave Fridmann.
Fridmann, who has worked the boards for the Flaming Lips, Low and Mogwai, and was the genius behind Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, delivered.
“I called Dave up that day,” Weiss said laughing. “And I was like, ‘Dave, please, please, help!’ And when he first started mixing it, I was on tour with my other band, so I would have to go and find a computer, just to listen to the mixes. But after a while, I just stopped listening. He was doing such a great job and he really saved us.”
Fridmann’s magic hand comes through crystal clear on the album. Producing an atmospheric haze that allows Coomes’ vocals to meld and blend with Weiss’ propulsive drumming style, Quasi has never before sounded this interesting, this new.
“We were going for more of an expansive sound in the recording,” Weiss said. “Improvisational. The kind of sound that we go for live. And Sam wanted it to be less poppy. Sam doesn’t want to be a ‘pop songwriter,’ even though he is. He could write ten pop songs a week if he wanted to. But Sam, he likes the ‘crazies.'”
The LP’s title track is perhaps the finest example of this. Twisted and weird, yet still catchy and hummable, Quasi now sounds like The Beatles, thrown into a washing machine, and then placed on Mingus’ music stand.
To mix things up even more, Coomes and Weiss will have a special guest laying down the low end when they hit the road. Joanna Bolme of The Jicks will be playing bass, allowing Quasi to open up its back catalog, even throwing in a surprise cover or two.
When asked what the surprise might be, Weiss doesn’t budge.
“I can’t tell you,” she said, giggling. “Then it wouldn’t be a secret, a surprise. But I will say that it’s by a ‘lesser-known genius.'”
As for the band’s move away from pop and toward a little chaos, Weiss is proud. And she isn’t going to apologize for it. Sounding a bit like late-1960s Dylan, Weiss theorized on the “new” Quasi.
“I don’t expect everyone to appreciate it or even like it. And it’s OK if they don’t,” she said defiantly. “It’s just the way that Sam and I work together. He lets me suggest a few things; I try and write to what he plays. And when we work together, we write some pretty good stuff. Sam really has a voracious appetite for music and books, so he always brings a lot to the table. We’ve been doing it for so long – this just makes the music more alive.”
Quasi plays the Wonder Ballroom on April 14. The Minders and Pan-Tourismos open the show. Tickets are $10 (advance) and still available.