Forgotten Songs: Quasi's Janet Weiss on Elyse Weinberg's "Houses" | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Forgotten Songs: Quasi’s Janet Weiss on Elyse Weinberg’s “Houses”

Wild Flag and ex-Sleater-Kinney Member Writes About Under-heard 1968 Track

Oct 10, 2013 Quasi
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Forgotten Songs is our recurring series where a musician or one of our writers picks a song they love that they feel has been overlooked. It could be a song by an artist who never made it big, or it could be a B-side/rarity or unheralded album track by a well-known artist. It could even be one of the artist’s own songs. For this Forgotten Songs, Janet Weiss of Quasi and Wild Flag (and formerly of Sleater-Kinney) writes about Elyse Weinberg’s 1968 song “Houses” (released simply under the name Elyse). Quasi is the longtime band of Weiss and former husband Sam Coomes. Their ninth studio album, Mole City, was just released on Kill Rock Stars. Read on as Weiss recounts discovering the song, then stream the forgotten song below.

A few years back, rolling in the Club Wagon up I-5 northbound toward home (Sam and I were on our way to Portland from playing shows in California), I heard it for the first time. The day was bright and the sky vivid bluethe kind of weather you hope for when you’re heading over mountain passes. I was at the wheel and my Quasi bandmate was DJing the ride with songs off his iPod. This was (and still is) always a treat, as Sam’s music collection is full of the treasures collected from a lifetime immersed in careful listening. Casually I suggested he select something I hadn’t heard before that I would love. Like a confident sharpshooter aiming at an easy target, he picked out a loose, hulking, mid-tempo tune called “Houses.”

My first thought as the swampy, acoustic intro unfolded was “Why haven’t I heard this before?” The sound was real, attainable, straightforward in the most charming wayfolk rock but better. As the backwoods, bare drumbeat stumbled in, I was reminded right away of The Band. But wow, what could have prepared me for that voice? Moth-eaten and in tatters, the haunting vocals were both uninhibited and vulnerable. Her name was Elyse, Sam said. And as he was filling in details (the record came out in 1968; she was from Canada), a blistering melodic guitar solo ripped out of the van speakers. As the story goes, fellow Canadian Neil Young happened into Elyse’s recording session and laid down his trademark searing guitar on her stellar track. Her voice and his guitar sounded like soulmates as we rode along the highway. And when the song turned around with an off-time stomp, it was nothing short of sublime.

I bought not one but two copies of the Elyse album, as I sometimes do when a great record is hard to find. “Houses” went on every mixtape I made for the next two years, and I enthusiastically spun the track each time I DJ’d. I gave my second copy to my best friend Joel, and he became addicted to the song just as I had. How incredible that such a first-rate record could receive critical acclaim, boast Neil Young as guest shredder, contain a blockbuster single like “Houses” in the track list, and still wind up forgotten and out of print. It is a lesson for all of us musicians, I suppose: no record is too good for the cutout bin.



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