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Corporate rock still sucks

Quasi brings rebellion back to independent music

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"The corporate grasp is everywhere," cautions Janet Weiss, drummer, vocalist and one-half of Portland, Ore., duo Quasi. Together with keyboardist, vocalist and ex-husband Sam Coomes, the two have been steadily cranking out melancholy pop songs fueled by defeated and sarcastic quips about their respective failed relationships. Through it all, they dismiss their marriage as "ancient history" and insist their songs aren't pointed at each other.

Since 1993, the two harnessed this dynamic until the affairs of the outside world became so tumultuous that they were forced to look outside of themselves. As a result Quasi's fifth recording, Hot Shit, released by Touch & Go, shows a tremendous amount of growth. Songs wander into new territory -- including some scathing commentary pointed at the Bush administration -- while staying true to the bittersweet disposition for which the group is known. The album emerges as a multi-faceted middle finger extended not only to the U.S.'s commander in chief, but to the corporate fiends who follow in his wake -- especially in the music business.

"Clear Channel won't be supporting this record," laughs Weiss, who doubles as the drummer for indie-rock titans Sleater-Kinney. "Sam and I are fed up with the corporate professionalism that's infiltrated independent music and we're bringing a bit of rebelliousness back to it. One of the reasons we called the record Hot Shit, in the first place, was because it would turn certain people off. We don't want to open the door to the mainstream. We don't live there and we don't want to give it our music."

Though Hot Shit shows the group progressing in leaps and bounds, the songs are distinctively Quasi -- from the spectacular onset of the title track to the hopelessness swimming in "Drunken Tears" and "Master & Dog." On the surface, the record's tracks don't sound out of place amongst the rest of the group's catalogue. But, upon closer inspection, a myriad of new instruments work their way into the music -- including samplers, lap-steel and cello. Uneven production qualities give the recording a jagged facade.

According to Weiss, this too was done as an act of defiance. "We didn't want to make 12 pop gems that fit together perfectly," says the drummer. "We wanted to make something that was rough and unpredictable, like our live shows. These days a lot of bands strive for perfection: flawless music that's free of any mistakes. We're just responding to the times and trying to infuse some personality into our music."

Coomes concurs with her assertions, but points out that the musical changes are also the results of trial, error and experience coming to fruition. For instance, Quasi's first experience at producing a record themselves -- the band's Touch & Go debut The Sword of God -- had an impact on the approach that couldn't be felt until now.

"With [Sword], we had a lot of ideas we weren't able to pull off," Coomes explains. "We didn't realize how little we knew about the recording process until we were knee deep in it. We didn't get to try out a lot of the ideas we had because we were so busy trying to get the kick drum to sound right. But the learning curve was so steep from that experience that this time around, it came a lot easier."

Finding ease in the recording process allowed the duo to focus on a larger challenge: writing relevant and meaningful songs filled with honest character and emotions.

"You're going to feel a lot more satisfaction treading your own territory and writing music that comes from you, not 1976," says Weiss. Being influenced by the world and by people is important, but becoming successful by imitating [others] has hurt music and made things a lot harder on everyone else."

chad.radford@creativeloafing.com

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