Today’s incarnation of Quicksand initially jelled on the band’s second album, 1995’s Manic Compression. It is, from left to right, bassist Sergio Vega, drummer Alan Cage, and guitarist Walter Schreifels.
Walter Schreifels’ instinct to follow his muse has led him through a variety of genres and subcultures over three decades of making music. A proud son of New York City’s burgeoning hardcore-punk scene, Schreifels cut his teeth in the mid 1980s as a member of influential bands—most notably Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits. As the driving creative force behind indie-rock darlings Rival Schools and through his contributions to the heavy blues-rock group Dead Heavens, Schreifels continues to display his prowess as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who has grown considerably beyond the fury of the hardcore scene he helped shape. However, Schreifels is best known for yet another aspect of his music: his work as the frontman and guitarist of post-hardcore heroes Quicksand.
With its unexpected and powerful concoction of hardcore’s aggression and alt-rock’s melodic sense and rhythmic drive, Quicksand was the post-hardcore band that the music industry placed its bets on breaking into the mainstream when they first hit the scene in the 1990s.
While the band’s first two albums, Slip (1993) and Manic Compression (1995), failed to meet the expectations of the major labels they were released by, they would go on to become seminal documents of a genre and a time. Those recordings were built on a bedrock of guitar that was brash, moody, and relied upon extended chord shapes and a vicious, groove-oriented intensity that made for a unique sound within the landscape of the period’s aggressive music.
Quicksand disbanded under the weight of industry pressure and band politics at two different points in the ’90s, but its second-album lineup has since reunited. Schreifels, with drummer Alan Cage (also of Burn) and bassist Sergio Vega, who joined the Deftones between his stints in Quicksand, has recently added a new chapter to Quicksand’s story with the release of Interiors, the group’s first studio album in 22 years.
Premier Guitar met up with Schreifels at the band’s rehearsal space in Brooklyn to discuss Interiors, the restless musician’s growth as a guitarist and songwriter, and how he was forced to eschew his former spartan philosophy regarding gear but found himself again as a player by embracing the wide world of effects.
How did you approach writing Quicksand material after so many years away?
It took a little bit of time playing with each other again to find ourselves. When we started playing the old songs for our  reunion tour, we made a point of stretching them out and finding areas where we could improvise. We played with the arrangements of the old songs so we could make something happening and new, and that gave us an opportunity to feel comfortable with the band again.
Within those jams and improv sessions, we started to hear what we really sound like together now, and we started to identify what each other instinctively plays like now, and that was the genesis of understanding what elements might be present were we to do a new record. And we all felt really good about it.
Quicksand’s new comeback album was recorded at producer Will Yip’s studio in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Schreifels tracked with a Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar, a Harmony Bobkcat, and an Akai offset solidbody, mostly plugged into Yip’s amp collection.
How have you changed as a guitarist? You’ve been involved in a ton of other projects, from such varied musical places.
Yeah! I’ve been playing guitar for so many years, and like you said, I have been involved in a lot of genres and styles. I’ve developed a lot over the years with what I’m open to aesthetically, and have honed in on what I really like musically—all while carrying along the things that have always identified me as a player. So allowing all of that to live together is important to me, and the key this time around was allowing ourselves to be ourselves—as we are now. Obviously part of “ourselves” is that we were in Quicksand, so that part of the sound takes care of itself. The bigger thing was believing in the new things we all brought to the table as musicians and giving those things space to breathe.
A big change for me is that I never used effects pedals back then, which was ridiculous, because I’ve always been a huge My Bloody Valentine fan. Maybe it was because I was into Fugazi and they didn’t use pedals. I still love Fugazi and Ian MacKaye—he was and remains a huge influence—but I do look back and think maybe I shouldn’t have taken that stuff so seriously. So now I have this whole new skill set in using effects, which basically makes it a new instrument. It’s amazing how adding in a few simple effects like a wah pedal and a delay can drastically change the way you approach the guitar.
I’ve always appreciated Ian MacKaye’s using as little gear as possible, in that it forces you to think creatively with limited resources.
Coming from hardcore, there were so many rules, and I think that has a lot do with Minor Threat and Ian MacKaye being one of the top in the genre. To my ears, Minor Threat were probably the most musical, yet powerful, of the important hardcore bands, and they worked from a philosophical place that obviously connected to a lot of people. Those ideas and aesthetics, including Ian’s simple guitar set up, were good at the time, and the “how many different things can you make with limited resources” ideal is something I’m into and love. But I’ve done a lot of shit within that and since the days when hardcore was my main focus, and I’m not married to that idea nor do I see a reason to hold onto any artistic orthodoxy at this point in my life.