An interview with Sam Coomes of Quasi

Sometimes the world seems to good to be true. How cool is it that Sam Coomes (who’s played with Elliott Smith and Heatmiser) and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag, The Jicks) can come together and form a unique and excellent musical bond that sounds nothing like those other top-shelf bands. Like The Beatles on steroids with out-of-this world hooks, free-associating lyrics, and crazy dynamics, Quasi is never less than totally melodic while somehow never leaving the red zone of the Rock-O-Meter. And despite being in even more than the previously mentioned bands–as well as actually been previously married to each other–they are miraculously celebrating their second decade of kicking ass.

And then sometimes the world is lame. Why wasn’t last night’s show at The Echo totally packed? If the rock gods meted out any sort of justice, the Portland duo would be selling out fancy venues instead of playing comfortable dives that are not sold out. Sam wondered aloud at the show if it was a problem that he and Janet started off playing prettier music and may have become too rocking for their audience. The storied drummer responded that she can’t not rock.

For those of us at the show, it was awesome. And I love how the two not only work the merch table  but also offer interesting things like a 20-year zine with photos and essays by Jon Spencer and the other members of Sleater-Kinney as well as a tour CD EP with covers. Holy crap, their versions of Queen and Sabbath rule. And why don’t all bands have Sharpies out at the merch tables? I guess you could ask why don’t all bands rock out to their fullest potential as well.

I sent some questions to the band before The Echo show and Sam answered them while on the road from San Diego. By the time you read this, they’ll be heading up to Santa Barbara, the Bay Area, and then their home turf,  the Pacific Northwest. Do your ears a favor and check out the band’s shows, welcome them like the conquering heroes that they are, and absorb the culmination of 20 years of unreal musicianship and real chemistry. Seeing the two duke it out on “War Pigs” going back and forth with heavy-duty keyboards and battle-mode drums will blow your mind.

MW: I read on your Facebook page that you played between Tenacious D and Sparks at Fun Fun Fun. How does it feel to be typecast as a duo?
SC: It doesn’t feel too bad. In fact, I can’t detect even the slightest emotion associated with the concept of duo.

MW: Can you tell me about the concept of Mole City? Is that like people who live in subways and sewers? Beauty marks and pock marks?
SC:  It’s a city where there is no money but more important things are the true currency.

MW:You’ve been quite prolific with the double album on top of all the other albums. What happens to the old songs when it comes to making a set list?
SC: Some go away but some hang in there. Then some return and others slide away.

MW: Do you miss old songs like you would an old pet or are they more like old photos from the past? If someone yells one out at a show, can you bust out most of them?
SC:  Well we’re pretty loose, but if you are too loose too long it just turns into muck. I’m not emotionally attached to a given song, typically, though.

MW: Why has this band lasted longer than the others that you’ve been in? Is it as simple as it being easier to get two people together in the studio or in a car, or is there more to it than that?
SC: I honestly don’t really understand it exactly. There have been a million reasons for this band to call it a day, but I guess it gives us something we value. It doesn’t really make that much sense on a rational level.

MW: Why doesn’t Janet sing more? Is it an anti-Phil Collins/Mentors thing?
SC: I would love for Janet to sing more. I can’t really speak for her, but I’m pretty sure neither Phil Collins nor The Mentors have anything to do with the situation.

MW: You’ve probably been asked this a million times before but your band is quasi what? i.e. quasi punk, quasi indie rock, quasi Wings…
SC: Take your pick.

MW: I’m going to take my 5-year-old daughter to sound check when I take some quick pics of you before the show. Is that the move of a cool parent or selfish one?
SC: I wouldn’t worry too much about being cool as a parent.

MW: Seeya at The Echo!
SC: Thanks. See you!

Of course, Sam and Janet were very cool to Eloise and even responded to some of her questions and observations about their songs. Why are they never going back again? Sometimes you have to leave bad places. Is “Everything and Nothing At All” related to ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”? Sure, and The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” as well. Too bad the gig was too late for her to attend but perhaps there will be an in-store or matinee next tour… You grown-ups really have no excuses to miss one of the upcoming shows, though.