The Fresh & Onlys on Bad First Impressions, Road Anxiety and "Twilight Pop"
The Fresh & Onlys
Tim Cohen and company sure know how to make the most out of being bummed out. With their brand-new Long Slow Dance, four-and-a-half-year-old garage-pop four-piece the Fresh & Onlys explore the deep ends of despondence. It's not all-out "damn the world, kill me now" cynicism, but it is full of riffs coated with a sad sparkle and songs that insist on drifting instead of soaring. Cohen in particular sounds like he really needs a pat on the shoulder and some hours in the sunshine to remind him that there's more to the world than regrets and lies.
Tonight, the prolific San Francisco band takes that record on the road for an extensive national run, as their first show goes down at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana alongside Terry Malts. They'll stay away from home until the end of November, closing out in Iowa City, Iowa. (There is a substantial break in their schedule in-between.) Before the show, Heard Mentality spoke to bassist Shayde Sartin about the group's roots in Amoeba Records, what sounds he hears in the F&Os, the malleability of romanticism and why going on tour can really suck.
OC Weekly (Reyan Ali): When did you and Tim first meet? You guys have been at Amoeba the whole time you've been in the Fresh & Onlys, right?
Shayde Sartin: He's not at Amoeba anymore. He quit a while ago. I started there in 2001, and he was the hip-hop guy. When I started there, he was this jock-y asshole that wore tracksuits. [I was like,] 'What is this guy's deal, man? He seems like such a dick.' As time progressed, I got to know him more and more and liked him even less. I don't know what happened, man. It was after about a year of working there [that] I went and had beers with him or something somewhere or we ended up at a party -- I can't remember exactly -- but we hung out and I was like, 'That dude's actually really cool and really funny.' Then, I went through this major breakup with this girlfriend I had had for a while, and he was there for me through that whole breakup. I had been sober and I started drinking again, and immediately we were like drinking buddies. We would just smoke a bunch of weed, drink beers and hang out. It was really therapeutic for me at the time.
The song that really sold you on Tim's stuff was "The Mind is Happy," right?
Yeah, exactly. "The Mind is Happy" was the first song he actually had written and that was part of the batch of demos that he gave me. I was like, 'Holy shit, this song fuckin' rules.' It sounded like R&B, kind of psychedelic punk stuff that I was into.
What did you imagine this project turning out to be? You've spoken of recording on tapes, selling them and going from there, but right when you agreed to be part of the project, what were your thoughts?
That was actually it, man. We just kind of thought, 'Wouldn't it be awesome to have this super low-stress thing?' At that time, I had been playing in bands and stuff that were working really hard and touring a lot. I was like, 'Fuck, man, it'd be rad to just have a band where we do whatever the fuck we want, record these awesome weird-ass songs with no rules and just put out tapes on our own.' That was kind of the only intention at first. We didn't even have intentions of ever playing live or doing anything. It was just going to be a full-bore bedroom project -- never leave the bedroom pretty much but just be as expansive as we could musically in the bedroom. What happened was John Dwyer from Thee Oh Sees offered us a legitimate record. We were like, 'Well, fuck, maybe we should do it. Maybe it'll be really cool.' We immediately started putting together a live band and started playing the songs live, and the second we played 'em live, we were like, 'Holy shit, these are actually pretty powerful and pretty muscular. We should probably try to do this as a real working band.'
Tim has talked about how we wanted this to basically be a pop group. Elsewhere, he said that his favorite description of the Fresh & Onlys' sound was "acid pop." How do you think about the sound? What are its key traits that really pop out for you?
It is a pop band, but I think of us more than anything as a San Francisco band. It's pretty inherent in our music. Echoing through our music is a lot of the stuff historically in this city from the first wave of rock 'n' roll here, from the Dead to Airplane and all that kind of stuff, all the way up into the punk stuff that had even more of a significant influence in some ways on our music, [specifically] the first generation of punk here -- the Dils and the stuff in the late '70s. Even the Dead Kennedys to some degree. There's definitely guitar lines I hear and I'm like, 'Man, that could easily be East Bay Ray as much as it is Jerry Garcia.' I think of us wholeheartedly as a San Francisco band.
I'm happy that you mentioned the Dead Kennedys because that brings me to the next thing I wanted to ask. I always hear surf rock undercurrents within your sound, which is also something you can hear in Dead Kennedys at points. How prominent are ideas of surf rock to the Fresh & Onlys? Do you hear that sound there yourself?
You know, none of us are surfers, but surfers were some of the first people to take to our music when we first came out. We weren't consciously referencing surf music or anything; it's just those sounds are really good and really fit with what we do melodically. I like surf music because it sounds very physical. When you listen to it, it actually sounds like what you're doing when you're surfing. I also like that within surf music, ballads were so important. The campfire songs were so important. I like the dynamic of surf music. You have these beach party acoustic jams always on a surf record, you have these really lovely sincere ballads, tons of tremolo and reverb and three-part harmonies, and then you have these totally punked-out twang rock 'n' roll songs. The punked-out twang to me has always been really fun to play. I love the Gun Club and Dead Kennedys and shit like that where they just really go for that sound, but I also love ballads, too. You'll find all those things on our records every time if you really pay attention.
After listening to Long Slow Dance, the first thing that came to mind was that it's a very romanticized record. It's really romantic in a melancholic, depressing way. How much of that do you hear in the music yourself, and how much was something you intentionally went for?
To me, one of the things that I really like that we do is the gloominess and sadness mixed with the humor. There's also a lot of humor in the records, but Tim's a very romantic person. We all have our own romance with different things. Some of 'em are beautiful, some of 'em are pretty nasty. Romance doesn't really belong to beauty, you know what I mean? Romance can be a very ugly business. With our records, we try to embrace both.
Would you consider yourselves a bunch of romantics?
Oh, totally. Absolutely.
Where does that romanticism shine through most?
Well, that's I was saying. Romance doesn't belong to beauty or elegance. You can have a romantic notion about some of the most obscure and God-awful things. We have 'em all. We're four very different people and we have very individualistic personalities. We don't really share a common idea as far as what we think is beautiful or grand or moral or right or holy. I could never speak as a group as to what we collectively have romanticism about, but I can tell you that it goes in all directions.
I think of you guys as sad outlaws at times -- guys who are forced to stay on the road because you're wanted.
We kind of feel like that sometimes, man. [Laughs] Those natural highs and lows are in everybody's life. We all have 'em. Some are more drastic than others. If you drink a lot, those things tend to be much greater and when you're traveling a lot, you drink more. You'll feel really elated one night seeing some friend in Minneapolis for the first time in forever or passing through Columbus and having all these childhood memories flood. You're feeling really good, and then the next morning, you're leaving Columbus and the same sadness that went over you when you were a child and leaving Columbus comes on you, and then the 'Where the fuck am I now?' question starts to pop in your head. You just get consumed with depression and anxiety. Anxiety is a huge contributor to this band. All of us suffer pretty severe anxiety. It's a lot to deal with. It's our most common form of depression as a band. [Laughs]
Sound-wise, what key elements do you think really shine on Long Slow Dance that haven't before for the band?
To me, it's a very twilight-sounding record. It has the emotional quality that twilight has to me. It's this coming of darkness. There's also sort of relief in that. There's comfort in knowing that you'll be able to hide soon or this feeling that you'll be able to disappear yet you've completed something. You've finished a full day. You've accomplished something. To me, the perfect part of existence always is twilight. The record has a very twilight feel to it. It's very poppy. I guess you'd say twilight pop. [Laughs]
The Fresh & Onlys perform with Terry Malts at the Constellation Room at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd. Santa Ana. (714) 957-0600; www.constellationroom.com. Wed. 8 p.m. $10. All ages.
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