“The best reaction is the fans, and the fans felt like the new songs could stand up to the old songs. The new songs can hold their own in the set,” says Janet Weiss, drummer, co-founder, and one-half of Portland indie rock duo Quasi, of the songs on band’s 10th album and Sub Pop debut, Breaking the Balls of History, which dropped last month. PASTE said of the album, “Breaking the Balls of History is a gritty rendering of Quasi’s classic garage sound, spearheaded by the blistering single ‘Nowheresville,’ serving as a long-awaited return to form for the band—who bring a triumphant masterclass to the forefront of Sub Pop’s modern catalog 10 years after their last record, Mole City.”
While Breaking the Balls of History is new to record stores, the band has been playing its songs for the better part of a year live, which is where they’ve been getting their most notable reactions, Janet explains to me during a phone chat this January: “The record was done last year, so we wanted to start playing them!” Last year had Quasi on a double-headlining tour with Jon Spencer & the HITmakers, with Janet and Quasi-bandmate Sam Coomes (who’s also an official member of the HITmakers) doing double-duty each night, playing drums and keyboards/synths in each band (respectively), something that Janet admits had her a little anxious: “I was nervous. It was my first major double-duty tour coming back from the accident and I didn’t know if I could do it.”
The accident Weiss (also formerly of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag, and currently also of supergroup Slang) is referring to is a car accident she was involved in in August of 2019, which left her with a broken right leg and left collarbone. However, she tells me that the trauma actually served as much of the initial inspiration behind creating Breaking the Ball of History. “I was as full of life as possible, because I was pretty happy to be alive,” Janet tells me, before going on to explain, “For me, it was a way to help my recovery process and focus on getting better.”
Coming as Quasi’s tenth album since 1993’s self-titled cassette debut, the decade gap between Breaking the Balls of History and 2013’s Mole City represents by far the biggest gap between releases. And Janet tells me that the new album – which had the band practicing during the restrictions of lockdown, with masks on — might be their most refined yet: “I think it’s probably the most focused album we’ve made so far. We decided to make keyboard/drums songs only, and having more limitations made us able to focus more easily.” However, Weiss admits that, regardless of the circumstances or self-imposed limitations, Quasi’s other-half, Sam Coomes, has an uncanny knack for songwriting.
“Sam brought all the songs in. It was a really prolific period for him songwriting… For Sam, the songs just come to him. He’ll be out, walking the dog, and a whole song will come to him in his head. It’s like a weird, spiritual inspiration. He can come in with all the lyrics completely finished and I’ll be like, ‘Can we add a verse?’ And he’ll be like, ‘It’s done!’ By the time we get to the studio the songs are totally done, the lyrics are totally done.”
In addition to her bandmate, Janet tells me that working with Sub Pop – who she previously worked with on The Woods and No Cities to Love, the albums on either side of Sleater-Kinney’s hiatus – served to make the process additionally enjoyable: “The fact that they wanted to put this Quasi record out was so thrilling and great for us. They’re like your friends. They’re always there and they help you with any problems.” She also tells me that the process immediately recalled her previous experience with the legendary Seattle label. “It’s just awesome, because of the experience I had with Sleater-Kinney, and thinking they did a great job and just have fun,” she tells me, before going on to talk of the benefits of working with that particular label: “They all believe in the artists, because they all have to put so much time into it. They love everything they put out!”
Quasi are just past the halfway mark of a US tour, which began on February 10th, the day Breaking the Balls of History hit record store shelves, and will have them returning to Johnny Brenda’s next Friday, March 17th. After the US dates wrap on March 28th in Pittsburgh, the band will head to the UK and Europe for dates throughout April and May. “Hopefully it’s a celebration,” Weiss tells me prior to the start of the dates. She also admits that she’s still very excited to be playing this latest batch of songs, which were designed to be played in concert: “We wanted every song to have a vibrancy to it, a live immediacy to it, with no overdubs that we couldn’t do live.” However, fans can also expect some oldies – about a dozen seem to find their way into the setlist every night – but likely a certain type of oldies. I tell her that their 2003 fifth full-length, Hot Shit!, holds a super special place in my heart for dropping in September of 2003, just two weeks after I moved to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, and she tells me, “I love ‘Master & Dog.’ But a lot of those songs are guitar songs, so we won’t be playing them… Maybe ‘Drunken Tears,’ just specially for that show…”
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