Along with groups like Built To Spill, Harvey Danger, and Sleater-Kinney, Quasi is part of what the Village Voice calls the “Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest.” Quasi is an unusual combination in rock music. This experimental rock duo of guitarist and roxichord player Sam Coomes and his ex-wife, drummer Janet Weiss, has attracted a variety of listeners although they have only three releases. The roxichord can best be described as a kind of cheap harpischord sound, which Coomes electronically augments with some distorted overdrive. The duo also like to add strange electronic sounds and noises to the mix, such as video game bleeps, recorded chirping of birds, boats, and robots. The lyrical content is dark and moody, exploring the depths of male-female relationships to the background of catchy uptempo pop music with a weird, quirky offbeat edge.
Back in the 1980s, Sam Coomes was the frontman for San Francisco’s Donner Party. The band released two albums. The first album had a punk sound with lyrics about getting lost in New Jersey, and the general ups and downs of life in the modern world. His lyrical tone was dark and obsessive even in those days. He seemed to be unaware at times of the revolting shock value of some of his songs. The second Donner Party album had a Coomes’ song with the title: “When You Die Your Eyes Pop Out.” Shortly after their second album, Coomes moved to Portland, Oregon. It was here that he met and married Janet Weiss. He would still work with Heat-miser’s Elliot Smith occasionally, as would Weiss.
The other half of Quasi, drummer Janet Weiss, who ironically shares the name of the clean-cut preppie girl in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, was born in Hollywood, California. Music was her firstlove and Janet tried various instruments, hoping to find the one that best suited her personality. She decided on the drums, because she enjoyed the combination of rhythm and melody. “Besides, it was just fun,” she told Drummer-girl’s Chaia Milstein, “a lot of fun, and I kind of felt that I was good at them, which always helps to keep you interested.” Soon, Weiss developed a powerful talent at percussion and became a dedicated, hard-working performer. She had moderate success finding work and even auditioned once for the Lemonheads.
While she found the fellow musicians and audiences of the San Franciscoclub scene supportive, she didn’t find the same kind of support among club owners. “Things changed when I got asked to go on tour with a band,” she explained to Milstein. “I had never played a sit-down (drum) kit before, and I had about two weeks to decide. I got their record and kind of tried to figure out most of the basic beats. I just went for it. I went on tour and was forced to play every night, which helped me get better out of fear of embarrassment.”
Touring was a great educational experience for Weiss. It was where she honed her drumming skills. One day she heard a classified ad for a drummer and soon found herself drumming for the hard rocking Sleater-Kinney band. Eventually, she crossed paths with Sam Coomes.
While Weiss went on playing drums for Sleater-Kinney, she also began an acquaintanceship with Commes as they began experimenting with sounds. They began rehearsing in the basement, making amateur tapes on inferior recording equipment. They continued in their music, but Coomes still had to maintain his day job. In various interviews, he has spoken about having to spend three years working in a Kinko’s copy shop just to pay the bills. Weiss held a number of low-paying physically draining jobs as well.
In 1992, Coomes talked to Weiss about forming a professional group. They named it Motorgoat and began working with a revolving door of musicians. “Sam and I used to play with this guy named Brad in a group named Motorgoat,” Weiss told Milstein. “But then Brad kind of moved back to San Francisco, and Sam and I decided that we would play as a two-piece. We had
Members include Sam Coomes , guitar, Roxi chord, vocals; Janet Weiss , (born in Hollywood, CA), drums, vocals; Coomes and Weiss married, divorced 1995.
Weiss and Coomes formed the group Motorgoat, changed name to Quasi, 1992; went through a revolving door of band members until just the pair remained; released first album Early Recordings, Key Op label, 1995; an unusual arrangement existed where Weiss played in two bands at the same time, played and recorded in Quasi with Coomes while at the same time played for the Sleater-Kinney band; Quasi signed on with Up Records; released second album R&B Transmogrification, 1997; released Featuring “Birds,” 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Up Records, P.O. Box 21328, Seattle, WA 98111-3328.
already done a lot of recording at home, so we started playing as a two-piece and adding our friends to play with us at shows, and we would learn the songs.”
After changing their band’s name to Quasi, they released their first album, Early Recordings. Early Recordingswas self-produced and self-released and is an uneven work which documents the couple’s emotionally disturbing divorce. Coomes expresses his pain sharply enough, but Weiss also vents her own demons, even to the point of self-mockery with songs like “I Never Want To See You Again”, “The Poisoned Well,”, and “Nothing From Nothing.” From listening to the melody patterns, it easy to see that both Coomes and Weiss’ musical influences include not only Sid Vicious but Lennon-McCartney as well.
However, as things were progressing musically, there were personal troubles in the Coomes-Weiss marriage. These problems escalated until the inevitable occurred. The couple divorced in 1995. Coomes explained how they could still work so closely together in the midst of their personal turmoil. “There were many awkward moments. There were many times when it wasn’t very comfortable. But it’s hard to find someone to play music with that works out good. You know self-interest can gather much strength. It’s amazing how much self-interest can override any kind of other considerations if you let it.” Weiss adds, “The music also stayed good.” You know it’s odd. Our music (together) was just starting to get good when we split apart. It would have been a shame to dump it right there so we tried to just split that off from whatever feelings we had and for the most part it worked out.”
Their second released was titled R&B Transmorgification. The album explored the theme and explanation of Coomes’s divorce to Weiss. “There’s not much of a tradition in pop music of dealing with these social issues,” Coomes explained to Kristy Ojala of The Stranger. “The perennial themes are love and death. It’ll eventually devolve back to that.”
They started working in a Washington state recording facility called Jackpot Studio for their next two releases. Quasi’s third album, Featuring “Birds” Was released in 1998 and is perhaps their most all-round commercial effort to date. They decided on the bird theme because of Coomes’obsession with birds. The title of the album is a reference to one of the tracks, an 81-second interlude taken from an Audubon Society field recording. Besides its top recording quality, the production values here are their most professional to date. This album was a special delight for Coomes and Weiss because it marks the first time they had 16 tracks on the album instead of the eight tracks of previous efforts.
The lyrics concentrated on the pain the average blue collar worker struggles with as he or she is forced to work like slaves at mind numbing jobs. “The work oriented songs on this record are actually older songs, from when I worked at Kinko’s over a three-year period,” Coomes told Ojala. “It definitely was a source of those kinds of ideas, watching the company tighten and clamp down on workers such as myself.”
“Quasi has been functioning more like a conventional band now for quite some time,” Coomes told the CMJNew Music Report. “But if we felt like taking a different approach to things—experimenting with formats in performance or recording—we could do so more easily than most “band” bands. So, I’m reluctant to characterize Quasi strictly as a conventional type band.”
Their performances are controversial. A recent show at a club called Satyricon found a musically charged Coomes and Weiss stripping down to their underwear as Coomes started assaulting his roxichord and Weiss kept the beat on her drum kit. Because of this kind of and similar grandstanding, Quasi began getting a reputation as one of the Pacific Northwest’s most explosive, offbeat rock acts. “You know the song is dead when you’re playing it and thinking, ‘I’m kinda hungry. I think I saw a burrito place down the street,” said Coomes.
“If it’s all going well, you’re not thinking too much,” Weiss explained to Richard Martin of Willamette Week. “The main difference is that we recorded in one chunk of time, spending almost every day for three weeks together, recording, working on music with few distractions. In the past, because we’ve done it at home, we could spend however much time we needed, and it tended to stretch out and be less focused.”
“We have more resources,” adds Coomes, making reference to Quasi’s contract with Up Records in Seattle. “This is the first time anybody’s ever given us money to make music.” Coomes also explained that he is concentrating more on the thematic aspects of his work. He’s also trying to better arrange the tracks in order to have a tighter rein on the “man vs. machine, man vs. woman, man vs. death motifs” which he speaks about. Currently, Coomes and Weiss still will collaborate when possible. Coomes frequently fills in on bass for Heat-miser. Weiss continues to drum for the group Sleater-Kinney.
Early Recordings, Key Op Records, April, 1996.
R&B Transmorgrification, Up Records, March, 1997.
Featuring “Birds,” Up Records, 1997.
The Boston Phoenix, August 1. 1998.
CMJN Music Report, April 13, 1998.
Drummer Girl Magazine.
The Stranger, April-May 1998.
Village Voice, June 16, 1998.
—Timothy Kevin Perry
[Latin, Almost as it were; as if; analogous to.] In the legal sense, the term denotes that one subject has certain characteristics in common with another subject but that intrinsic and material differences exist between them.
A quasi contract is an obligation invoked by law in the absence of an agreement. Its purpose is to create a legal duty where, in fact, no promise or agreement was entered into by the parties.
When an administrative agency makes rules and regulations, it is acting in a quasi-legislative capacity.