YOU ONLY HAVE to listen to the first few notes of Quasi's American Gong to know that it's going to be a monster. Album opener "Repulsion" starts off with a single, blown-out guitar line that turns into a squirrelly mess of feedback as Sam Coomes' vocals cut in. "Little White Horse" gallops under the weight of Joanna Bolme's walking bass line and drummer Janet Weiss' popping snare. I'd even go so far as to say the first eight minutes are unmerciful.
"With this record I wanted the beginning to represent the change," Weiss says. "It's not a keyboard record. It's not a typical piano-and-drums, two-piece Quasi record. It's a power trio, rhythm-section, guitar-oriented album. I felt that needed to be said early on, and pretty vehemently."
American Gong might be the most Quasi-sounding Quasi record in the band's 16-year history. It's definitely the most fun—the cranky political rants of the Bush years have been replaced with more esoteric musings. Guitars and bass are front and center. Coomes' and Weiss' harmonies maintain their giddiness. And there are plenty of hooks shoehorned underneath the racket, while the occasional quiet moments ("The Jig Is Up," "Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler") keep things moody.
Quasi (along with Steve Malkmus and the Jicks) has one of the most airtight rhythm sections in rock music. It's no doubt what sets American Gong—the band's first album with Bolme—apart from Quasi's previous output, which has veered more toward scattered and quirky jams often centered around Coomes' clattering rocksichord.
"Joanna made up so many great bass lines that I think define a lot of the songs," says Weiss of Bolme, who's been touring with the band since 2006. "I end up humming her bass lines more than the vocals or the drums and guitar."
Weiss says it's the band's most collaborative record. Coomes came in with mostly unfinished ideas that were hammered together by the band in the studio (with the exception of "The Jig Is Up," which Coomes recorded while Weiss and Bolme were out for burritos). It was a different approach, especially for Coomes, who typically writes the majority of the songs from start to finish.
The members of Quasi returned to the familiar confines of Jackpot Studios to record American Gong, knocking it out in 10 days with the same warts-and-all approach employed by bands in the '60s and '70s (the sessions also produced a blistering cover of the Who's "Heaven and Hell").
If over the years Quasi has felt like a side project, there's almost a sense of being born-again with American Gong. It's Quasi's first LP for Kill Rock Stars, which Weiss says was an obvious and natural move on the band's part. And Quasi recently kicked off an unusually lengthy tour, including a stop at SXSW, and they'll perform at the upcoming Sasquatch Festival as well as a couple of European dates with Pavement.
If Quasi's in-store performance at Jackpot Records in February was any indication, the trio sounds poised to win over a few new listeners in the process. "You know, maybe we're reacting to some of the softer music of the last year, two years, trying to express ourselves in more of a clangy way," Weiss explains. "I just think that Quasi has a very rebellious nature. It's a very rebellious child."