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.
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?
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?
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?
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
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?
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
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.
you consider yourselves a bunch of romantics?
does that romanticism shine through most?
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.
think of you guys as sad outlaws at times — guys who are forced to
stay on the road because you're wanted.
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]
key elements do you think really shine on Long
Slow Dance that haven't before for the band?
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]
Fresh & Onlys perform with Terry Malts at the Constellation Room
at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd. Santa Ana. (714) 957-0600;
Wed. 8 p.m. $10. All ages.