“I NEVER have been interested in doing a solo album, or having a solo career,” says Sam Coomes at a sidewalk picnic table at a North Portland coffee shop, his dog Murphy in tow.
Between bites of banana bread, Coomes talks about the circumstances behind the release of his very first solo record, Bugger Me. It’s a peek into Coomes’ singular headspace, uncompromised and skewed as ever.
You ought to already know Coomes as one-half of Quasi, his long-running pop-spazz duo with drummer and ex-wife Janet Weiss and a staple of the Portland underground since 1993. Following the release of Mole City in 2013, Coomes says Quasi was in search of a new muse.
“We still intend on working, but we can’t just do the same thing,” he explains. “We need to have a new idea and we haven’t really had one. Mole City really felt like a final chapter, not an opening or middle.”
When Coomes presented his songs as a potential new direction for Quasi, Weiss wasn’t interested. That’s what made him decide to pursue Bugger Me.
“I’m not sure why this didn’t work out as Quasi,” says Coomes. “I didn’t really have time to worry about it too much; I just shifted gears and made it happen.”
Bugger Me is a stylistic tangent from the slightly more organic instrumental presentation of Quasi’s catalog. Utilizing a mid-’60s rhythm box and organ, Coomes explores what he considers a minimalist slant, which through copious sonic alchemies comes across as anything but minimal. Songs like “Tough Times in Plastic Land/Everybody Loves a War” traverse intentionally creepy melodic thoroughfares, simultaneously vacillating between accessible pop gems and cubist mindfucks.
Other songs like the instrumental “Corpse Rider” emerge as nightmarish organ murder tunes, something that’d play in the background of a Lynchian noir freakout. Two-parter “The Tucchus” is an extraterrestrial stroll through an insomniac’s foggy reality.
None of this was an accident. According to Coomes, staying up late, staring at the ceiling, and “freaking out” was a noted inspiration for much of the album’s overt outsider imprint.
“Everything on the record is black and white,” he says. “It’s not a color record. I tried to be a little bit yin and yang. The songs, in general, I would say are relatively accessible. Basically pop tunes. But instead of making them sweet and light, I wanted to put them in a darker place so there would be this black and white. I didn’t want it gray. It was the central aesthetic I was using.”
Despite Bugger Me’s “Suicide meets the Beach Boys” references (as Coomes himself notes in a self-penned bio for the record), there is one exception: “Fordana” is a standout for Coomes, not only because it’s a ballad on an album full of darker experimentalism, but because it’s perhaps the most personal song he’s ever written.
“That one really motivated me to keep on with it and develop everything else,” he says, explaining that it’s a love song for his wife. “I don’t usually try to get in contact with my own feelings while performing; I just channel whatever energy is in the song. After the show is over I shake it off and I become my walking-around self. But I haven’t done a song like ‘Fordana’ in a while, and performing that song really fucks with me. In a good way.”