The San Francisco area has no shortage of amazing garage/psych/pop bands. The Fresh & Onlys are one of the latest, having only been together for about a year but have quickly become ones to watch with an onslaught of releases on a variety of labels like Chuffed (Kelley Stoltz's new label), John Dwyer's Castle Face, and Seattle's Dirty Knobby, as well as upcoming platters on HoZac and Woodsist. (They stay busy.) Founders Tim Cohen and Shayde Sartin are no strangers to bands, though, having spent time in Black Fiction and the Skygreen Leopards, respectively… among many others. I caught The Fresh & Onlys at SXSW (where I took these pictures) and have become one of my favorite new groups of 2009. Sartin, the band's bassist who knows his music and food, was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions.
So the basics: How did The Fresh & Onlys come about?
We started recording in March or April of last year. Tim and I have been pretty tight for about six years. We bought a tape machine about four years ago with the intention of starting a band. Kelley Stoltz suggested we get a Tascam 388 because they're so easy to use and he'd be able to lend some guidance. I became really busy with other projects but Tim became really familiar with the machine in that time. About a year ago, after doing things that were never totally fulfilling, Tim gave me a couple of new tunes he'd been working on and they were amazing. Stuff that I could totally get inside of. I think he'd been listening to a lot of 13th Floor Elevators. I listened to those songs over and over again. "The Mind is Happy" was sort of the Big Bang of The Fresh & Onlys. It was on that tape. I immediately dropped every other project I was in for the most part and went over to his studio and that was the day we tracked "Come Dance With Me" from the Chuffed single. It was such an adrenalin boost!
What with Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and Sic Alps, to name three, San Francisco is currently a hotbed of great garage-y/psych pop bands. Why do you think that is? And where do Fresh & Onlys fit in…and what sets you apart?
I would like to think we all inspire and influence each other. Mike Donovan of Sic Alps was one of the first people I played our music for. Him and E. Xavier of Teenage Panzerkorps. I feel like it's unavoidable to not share ideas and methods if you're in a city like this. The music and art community here is very warm. We have our curmudgeons, but who doesn't?
As far as what sets us apart, it's always hard to say but I do believe Tim's strange approach to singing is one of the more immediate things sonically. To me it's very open and honest. He's somewhere between Father Yod, Michael Yonkers and Calvin Johnson! It's also very contradictory to his personality. But most of all I believe it's our melodies. We are most concerned with melody. That's not to say that Ty, Sic Alps or Thee Ohsees don't have incredibly infectious melodies. I just think ours are their own little species. To me there is such a thing as a Fresh & Onlys song. The same way there is a Ty Segall song or an Ohsees song.
In my opinion, San Francisco is flush with awesome bands. And people come out to shows here. Being able to see The Nodzzz, Brilliant Colors and Hospitals in one night is pretty mind-blowing to me! Not to mention bands that shuffle under the radar like Grass Widow or The Sandwitches. There's always that one chance a year you get to see The Husbands. Hank IV is always good for beating your brains out. Personal and the Pizzas will melt your face like shredded mozzarella! Mayyors! So many…
The cool thing here also is that we have Oakland right over the bridge. And they run deep as well. Shannon and the Clams, Photobooth, Bare Wires or any of Tina Lucchesi's projects. I could go on and on really.
The Castle Face LP was officially released on April 6th 2009. The first pressing is gone but the second pressing is already available through Amoeba Music, Aquarius Records and I believe Academy Annex in Brooklyn. (And via Insound.) It will also be available through our website fairly soon.
The Chuffed EP Imaginary Friends is available again. This time on pink vinyl. You can email chuffed for a copy.
The Dirty Knobby 7", "I'll Tell You Everything" is sold-out from Dirty Knobby but is available through Revolver and will soon be available directly through us. (Ed: Academy Annex in Brooklyn had it as of 4/22.)
Our LP for Woodsist is titled Grey-Eyed Girls and is currently being pressed. It's due for release in the early Fall. The album differs quite a bit from the one on Castle Face in that it's a much moodier record with more of a focus on concise pop songs. It's 12 songs in 32 minutes. We had also become a bit more familiar with the way we work and had a system more in place for writing, recording and mixing. There's still a lot of the same muscularity but there's definitely more indulgence in our melodies.
So did you just record a whole mess of songs and then figure out “these songs would make one good album, and these would make another” or was it more “let’s record these songs for the Castle Face album, and let’s do these songs for the Woodsist one.”?
There's a pretty natural way for songs to find their herd. You want to make an album dynamic but you don't want to put a black sheep in there. At least that's our logic. It's pretty organic. We go through phases that are either informed by what we're listening to or some piece of gear breaks and we have adapt. We spill beer on our machine so we have to use a 4 track. The point is to keep moving. Dylan once said that songs just pass through the air. You just have to be there when they come. We don't sit down and labor over how to make the song better or make it weird. We let it take it's own shape given any number of circumstances.
Tim seems to have an endless amount of melodies inside of him. I can show up with the simplest chord progression with a tiny hook in it and Tim is able to take it somewhere completely foreign to me. Sometimes I'll hear what he's done with a track and be completely appalled. Then two days later it'll sink in and I'll be completely blown away. Making music is based on trust. You have to trust that what someone is trying to express is true and beautiful. Expression is everything in music. Even if you're John Cooper Clarke or Johnny Clarke.
You and Tim both work at Amoeba Records, and know your stuff. Does that help or hinder the creative/songwriting process? Do you find yourself thinking “this sounds just like __________”? Or is borrowing ok?
We never shy away from anything that's the product of osmosis. We invite it. I even search for it when we finish songs. It's one of the more beautiful things about pop music. Everything has been done! There's so much freedom in that. To hear The Plugz and Country Joe and the Fish sharing rhythms and melodies inside of a song is a truly awesome thing. Especially when it was never intentional. I live for those moments when you just want to crawl inside of the speaker.
Do still both work at Amoeba? If so, are you worried between the job and the band, it’s too much time together?
One would think. Tim and I have that rare gift of being able to fight with each other but move on pretty quickly. We recognize eachother's frustrations and know when to drop an issue. We are also pretty opposite types of people. To say the least.
The Fresh & Onlys backing Rodriguez for a West Coast tour. How did that come about and maybe you could tell a little about him for those of us who are less informed.
Rodriguez's story is extremely fascinating. He basically recorded two very beautiful records in the late '60s/early 70s. The first being Cold Fact which bridges psychedelia and soul in such a subtle, beautiful way. Pretty much the opposite of Funkadelic. It's not "in your face" at all. I get the feeling his performances back then really put a wall between him and his succes
s. If you listen to Cold Fact, there's at least four tunes that could have been solid radio hits but the entire album is a masterpiece. And I don't throw that word around lightly.
As to how we came to play with him, this guy Britt Govea who puts on shows on the west coast saw us in Big Sur. We played a festival there. He was helping Matt from Light In the Attic, the label that re-issued Rodriguez's catalog, book a tour for Rodriguez last year and thought we'd be a good fit. We were pretty stoked. The record was a real challenge but incredibly fun. It's Dennis Coffey and the Funk Brothers on the record! Being a bass player I was really sweatin' but it came together really well. Rodriguez is incredibly cool and really just wants the band to be having fun playing his songs. It was the best compliment we could receive having him ask us back for a tour.
Obviously, The Fresh & Onlys have a lot on their plate but is there anything else we should know about? Tour? Any plans to hit the East Coast?
We plan to keep recording! Yeah, we want to tour as much as possible. Do as much as we can until the fire dies down. That seems pretty far for us now. We still have songs coming. Our new drummer, Kyle Gibson, really helped complete the core. After the Woodsist LP comes out we want to do a full US tour. It should be out in August or September. Maybe tour in October. I look forward to being in NY with everybody.
That is really weird! I had a dream last night that we were playing the show that we're playing tonight and the tape unraveled and my bass fell and broke. But… No. I have yet to fix it.
And now the food portion of our interview. Did any food in particular fuel the making of the album (s)?
Spaghetti sandwiches. Tim's specialty.
Who’s the best cook in the band?
That would be me for sure. Sorry guys. You know it's true.
Who’s the most finicky eater?
Wymond would want me to say that he is just so his wife doesn't know how much garbage he eats on the road. Sorry dude.
What’s your favorite restaurant in San Francisco? Where do you eat most often?
San Francisco is full of great Mexican food. My favorite little spot that I sort of keep to myself is a family style Mexican place on 24th and Mission called El Trebol. It's the best fried chicken in San Francisco. They serve it with this amazing warm salsa and melted onions with homemade black beans. It's been there for about thirty years. You order from the wife and the husband cooks the food.
Do you eat before a show?
Always try to. I tend to drink a six pack on stage so by the time I get off, if I have an empty stomach, there's hell to pay.
Any food you strongly dislike?
What’s the best hangover meal?
Really depends on what you been drinking. The standard greasy spoon thing never really flies with me. I go for a mango and poached eggs with a side of rye toast and a beer. Works every time.
The Fresh & Onlys – "Fog Machine" live at Ms Beas, Austin TX 4.21.2009