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Seventeen years after it was founded, Quasi is touring in support of its recently released album, American Gong. Not unlike the 2003 album Hot Shit, the new record takes aim at some of the more unsavory aspects of American imperialism without exercising an uninspired heavy-handed approach, opting instead to strike with imaginative and evocative pop music.
Quasi comprises Sam Coomes, who played in Heatmiser with the late Elliott Smith, and his ex-wife, powerhouse drummer Janet Weiss, herself a member of Sleater-Kinney and Bright Eyes and current drummer for Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. Quite a pedigree between the two of them, but it doesn't mean much if the music can't stand on its own. Fortunately for Quasi, it does.
Though much of the material is made up of sad songs, it's as if the duo (now trio, with the inclusion of Joanna Bolme) took to heart Dylan Thomas's advice to not go gentle into that good night. We recently had a chance to speak with Weiss about the band's songwriting and her early days as a drummer.
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Westword: Is there a significance to the title of the new Quasi album, American Gong? And are there particular themes that stand out as running strongly throughout the album?
Janet Weiss: Well, I heard Sam explain the title. I don't know if you're familiar with The Gong Show, when a ridiculous act gets pulled off the stage with a hook.... I think he's referring, on a political scale, to America, the American Empire. It's time for us to back away and not present ourselves as such anymore. Enough! Sound the gong.
We have a lot of material that deals with isolation or loneliness. There are a lot of songs about feeling despair or finding your place — sadness. Contrasting to that, this time around, there's sort of a buoyancy there, too, energy and a loud sort of rebelliousness.
How did you first become interested in drumming, and how would you say your style has evolved over the years — and how your style changes, if indeed it does, between your various projects?
Oh, gosh, I started drumming a million years ago. A band asked me to go on tour when I was 22 and asked me to play drums, and I taught myself so I could go on this trip with these people. The drums found me; I didn't find them. When I started playing, I realized how appropriate an instrument it was for me. I'd been playing guitar for a few years, but I never connected with guitar the way I did with drums.
With every record with each band, I just try to make a song good — I'm not so much focusing on my technique. There are a million better drummers than me. I try to adapt to the songwriter; I try to adapt to the situation and retain my sort of melodic power. My goal is for the band to be good.