Quasi are a unique band. Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss play all the instruments and both sing, though Sam's forte is manic guitar and keyboard work and Janet is a drummer extraordinaire. They used to be in Motorgoat, a more conventional "rock" trio and Sam was in the fine Donner Party combo from San Francisco. They've been playing out as Quasi since mid 1993, sometimes employing extra musicians but lately, not.
Their first CD, Early Recordings, came out earlier this year and it an amazing release. There's pop songs, there's noises and there's always a keen sense of musical and sonic adventure going on. They're nearly done with a new album, which is set to be even stronger in the pop song department and will have a different sound, due to the use of rock band Pond's nifty little recording set up (Sam shares a house with Charlie from Pond.)
I met up with Quasi after band practice at Sam's late one Friday night....
How did you guys come about recording at home and having the 8 track?
S: Before my first band, Donner Party, I had this friend who was the original guitar player in that band. He got a settlement from a malpractice suit and got all this money. We were playing music and this was when home 8 tracks first came out.
J: Way back in the old days!
S: 1982 or 83. We went to the music store and bought this equipment and he paid cash for it. We used that to record Donner Party stuff, later on. A couple of years later we moved up to San Francisco and he dropped out of the band and eventually dropped out of music. I never saw the stuff til years later. He moved up to Portland and I was, "What are you doing with that 8 track stuff?" He said it was in boxes at his parent's house. I said, "I'd love to buy it off you if you were gonna sell it cheap." So, I got it from him.
S: I think we payed a thousand bucks for a board, an 8 track, a 2 track, some cables, a delay unit, a couple of mics...
J: We got a lot of other stuff at the Portland Music half price sale. Have you been to that? Invitation only. We got tons of stuff. Mics and cords and mic stands. It was great and I've never been invited again.
Freeloader. What type of decks and mixing board did you end up with?
S: It's a Fostex A8.
J: Bottom of the line.
S: You can only record 4 [channels] at a time. The next year they came out with a deck that you could record all 8 at the same time.
What was the mixing board?
S: A Fostex model 350 mixer.
J: It doesn't have much EQ on it.
When you do stuff what do you mix to? Do you borrow a DAT?
J: For Motorgoat stuff we went right to DAT.
S: We used the 2 track for Quasi.
And then dump that to DAT?
S: Yeah, and then use the DAT to master [the CD].
So the Motorgoat stuff you did straight to DAT. Did you notice a difference?
J: I did. The Motorgoat stuff actually sounds pretty good. We labored over it a lot more. But the music isn't as good! The recording is surprisingly good. The Quasi stuff, we just try to get the songs out. More performance orientated instead of worrying about if the rack tom is miked right.
Aren't you doing 3 mics on the drums?
S: We used a lot of different ways.
J: I'd read about triangle miking in some stupid drum book and we'd try it and it'd be horrible. We wouldn't redo it, we'd just leave it.
S: We tried a pretty wide variety. I think that 4 mics is good for what we do. You can mic the snare and the bass drum and then 2 just stereo in the air.
The simplest way.
J: You can lose a lot of toms.
S: It's the principle of diminishing returns. If you set up those 4 mics you get pretty good to totally fine, and then you could spend hours and hours getting just slightly better than that.
J. Sam's the impatient one and I'm the perfectionist.
You like to get it sorta rough, "It'll work," and run with it?
J: It depends.
S: I don't like to spend a lot of time dillydallying over little increments of sonic quality. As long as it sounds pretty good...roll tape!
Do you ever get mad at him for working too fast that way?
J: No, 'cause if I do feel like we gotta work on it more, we'll work on it more. He always lets me work on it more. He just doesn't want to work on it more.
S: It's not so much recording, it's also mixing.
J: He kinda shuts off.
S: I'll get it to a point where I'm happy and then if...