Quasi are a wandering spirit amongst American indie's forever-evolving landscape.
The band - comprising former spouses Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss - was inaugurated in 1993, and their output has gradually built up into a truly remarkable catalogue.
Domino recently stepped in to give the group's opening three albums a full re-issue, allowing a new generation of fans to catch up on the roots of the Quasi experience.
To celebrate, Clash invited Quasi to review... themselves. Yep, Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss have agreed to cast their eyes (and ears) over 'R&B Transmogrification', 'Featuring 'Birds'', and 'Field Studies'.
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'R&B Transmogrification' (by Janet Weiss)
In 1995 Sam bought me a really cool $100 keyboard for my birthday. It balanced precariously atop four metal legs on rickety wheels and had a silly name, the RMI Rock-Si-Chord. The look was small and simple and I thought learning to play it wouldn’t be too difficult. I never got the chance. Sam fell instantly in love with this nasty little keyboard and its snaggy sound. It defined our raw, abrasive songs on those early records and was an important prop in our live shows. You might have caught Sam standing on it, smashing it with his head, or vigorously humping it.
'R&B Transmogrification' (our second album released in March 1997) is steeped in the Rock-Si-Chord / drums combat we were excitedly honing as a raucous two-piece live band. In constant stark contrast are Sam’s melancholy lyrics. Our marriage had recently dissolved and from its ashes came songs like 'Ghost Dreaming', 'When I'm Dead', 'The Iron Worm' and 'My Coffin'. All of them lyrically pitting images of death, disappearing and sadness against rowdy playful melodies. The album concludes with possibly Sam’s most gorgeous song to date. He says, "'Clouds' is more of an exception or counterpoint to the sound and energy of most of the other stuff on the album. I think it was the last one written and it’s just about coming to terms with impermanence and continual transition and trying to find peace with that.”
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'Featuring 'Birds'' (by Sam Coomes)
I guess 'Featuring 'Birds'' might be the best of this first batch, and I understand why it’s the most popular kid in the class. We recorded 'R&B Transmogrification' ourselves and shopped it to labels, but 'Featuring 'Birds'' was the first time we went into a professional studio with a little budget to pay for it. We could make the record sound a little better, while at the same time we weren't needing to overdo it, not needing to try and top what we'd already done. It’s a nice balance between the rawer place we were coming out of and a more "produced" sound. We're more settled in our identity as a band, playing with confidence... stuff just seemed to be clicking around that time.
I think Janet was becoming more confident in her contribution to the recording process - the sonics, the arrangements etc., so it was a more collective effort than what we had done before. There's a wider sound world, and more emotional variation than R&B but at the same time we didn't let it get too far away from the core sound of a rock & roll duo, keeping an essentially minimal approach for the most part. Instincts were good on this one.
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'Field Studies' (by Sam Coomes)
On 'Field Studies' we wanted to push the arrangement possibilities we were starting to play with on 'Featuring 'Birds'' further. We hired a string quartet, we recorded a big pipe organ in an old church, our comrade Elliott Smith played bass on a couple songs. But the basic core of the band, the playing and the songs, was similar to 'Featuring 'Birds''. The albums were recorded fairly close together, the main differences being the production and arrangements.
We felt some trepidation about evolving from a basement art project to a... well not exactly mainstream, but close enough, to see how the other half lived. There’s a weird dynamic about moving in a nominally pop direction and simultaneously disparaging it - most evident in, as Janet puts it, my “uncooperative lyrics.” It’s the same dialectic of opposites that comes naturally out of a creative duo. It has always been a part of our thing, but manifests in different forms at different times.
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'R&B Transmogrification', 'Featuring 'Birds'', and 'Field Studies' are available now through Domino.