One would think that a band like The Fresh & Onlys, which has relied on a home tape machine to record material for two full-length albums, more than five 7″ records, an EP, and a few cassette tapes, had found a working formula for their recordings. However, when it came time for the San Francisco band to record its third album of effervescent garage tunes, the band members were left unsatisfied with working from home, instead desiring to try something different.

“We got really concerned about being too redundant, at least sonically,” says Shayde Sartin, the band’s bassist. “It’s kind of good to challenge yourself with a new environment.”

In the hopes of expanding their spectrum and making the music sound bigger, the band–which also includes Tim Cohen on vocals, guitar, and keys, Wymond Miles on guitar, and Kyle Gibson on drums–turned to Tim Green and his San Francisco-based Louder Studios. Green is a member of the band, Fucking Champs, and also played in the renowned punk band, The Nation Of Ulysses. His work behind the recording boad is just as impressive, having included clients like Tristeza and Sleater Kinney . However, it was Green’s work with The Melvins and Lungfish that most impressed Sartin.

“I love how he records sonically,” Sartin says. “I like how he records guitars. I like how he records vocals. So, it seemed like an obvious choice. I felt really comfortable to go work with a person who had some kind of acquaintance.”

The Fresh & Onlys is still a young band, having been formed in 2008 as a project between Cohen and Sartin. So, it is nice to hear the band members already wanting to expand their horizons. For the third album, which is entitled Play It Strange and will be released on In the Red Recordings on October 12, the band really wanted to focus more on the production aspects , starting with recording the songs on their own, allowing Green to become familiar with the material before recording anything at Louder Studios.

“By the time we got in there, he knew the songs, and he knew that we like to work fast,” Sartin says. “He likes to work fast. We had the songs figured out. We kind of wanted to get in and get the physical parts done and then work on the sonics a little more. He was really good at facilitating working on the color of the songs.”

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The songs were recorded in late 2009 and now, several months later, the band members are reflecting on the end result and finding themselves to still be happy with the recordings.

“There was definitely a little more [of a] confident feel as far as the performance goes on the recordings with Tim Green, as opposed to the ones we did on our own,” Sartin says. “The sounds were definitely more articulate. [The album is] way more druggy than I realized it was when we were recording it, which I like. It has a certain haziness to it that is very complementary to the songs.”

The Fresh & Onlys’ music is known for being hazy. Taking cues from San Francisco’s historic psychedelic music scene, the band layers an aura of cloudiness on top of what essentially are good ‘ole pop tunes. Play It Strange is poetic, but does not lose its garage rock appeal. The album is gritty, even as songs like “Summer Of Love” and “Fascinated” have a ‘60s flowery feel, and “All Shook Up” is perfect for a beach party. Cohen’s vocals alternate from ghostly to that of a crooner. Simple lines like the ones in “Fascinated,” where Cohen says, “Tell me what you’re fascinated by,” and, “You’re such a pretty girl,” would have made girls swoon in the ‘60s had they been sung by The Beach Boys.

At one point, The Fresh & Onlys had a female band member who sang and played percussion.
Heidi Alexander, who is also a member of the San Francisco band The Sandwitches, added an even more spirited touch to songs on The Fresh & Onlys’ self-tilted debut. Her Sandwitches comrade, Grace Cooper, also contributed harmonies. One of the highlights from the debut is the song “Peacock And Wing,” where male and female vocals are sung in unison. With the band’s sophomore release, Grey-Eyed Girls, the female vocals were a little less prominent, and this is even more noticeable on the new album.. Alexander does sing back-up vocals on “Play It Strange,” but she is no longer able to tour with The Fresh & Onlys because of her time commitment with The Sandwitches.

Like any developing band, the songwriting is expected to change a little bit from album to album. In fact, Sartin claims, his involvement in The Fresh & Onlys is the first time that he has been able to evolve as a musician and songwriter. Sartin has played with a large number of other artists including Kelley Stoltz, The Skygreen Leopards, and Ty Segall, but this is the first time that he has had creative input in a band. Being a member of The Fresh & Onlys has enabled him to feed off the energy and ideas of the other group members, and vice versa.

“If you are writing songs in a room and you don’t have much confidence in what you’re doing, you never allow yourself to evolve. But if you’re getting encouragement, you’re getting feedback and you’re collaborating with people, then you start trying new things.”

Typically, Sartin and Cohen initiate the structure of a song. Sartin comes up with a chord structure or other musical idea and Cohen will create floating vocals on top. Miles and Gibson also help articulate ideas in new ways, with Miles focusing counter melodies . Regardless of who does what, the band members attempt to flesh out every idea without putting any of them down. The process is always positive and productive.

“I’m hitting Tim with ideas musically that he normally wouldn’t come up with and vice versa, so it naturally works out in the end because he’s freed up some time thinking about chord structure or thinking about a rhythm, and I’m free of thinking of lyrics and melody,” says Sartin.

Not only do the band members keep an open mind when writing songs, but that quality is something they look for when deciding the labels that will release their albums. Having already worked with a handful of labels, The Fresh & Onlys decided to go with Los Angeles’ In the Red Records this time around–both for the people that work there, as well as its reputation for pushing boundaries.

“It’s one of those labels I’ve always had a lot of intrigue with, because despite their [reputation] as a garage label, they’ve actually done a lot of things that aren’t,” Sartin says, “sspecially in the last few years with The Vivian Girls, Blank Dogs and The Ponys. They’ve kind of stretched out beyond being a sort of punk label, and the owner Larry Hardy is an amazing person. He has a very eccentric taste in music and it seemed like a good fit because we weren’t the typical garage band.”

The Fresh & Onlys’ eagerness to work with a bunch of different people has resulted in many good opportunities. The band has already toured with King Khan & The Shrines in the US and Deerhunter in Europe, and they have two tours lined up for this year, beginning with a US tour with Royal Baths and finishing off the year with one with Clinic.

According to Sartin,when the two fall tours were booked, The Fresh & Onlys were originally planning to focus on songs from Play It Strange. However, as the band members are always thinking ahead, they will introduce new songs they have written recently as well.

And though the band has been on the road a lot in the past two years and has a constant flow of new releases, its members have not lost any of the excitement when it comes to releasing new material. Every release is a step up, and the excitement only grows.

“If we do an LP and the next thing is a 7″, I’m more excited for that 7″ than I was for that LP before it,” says Sartin. You take every one just as seriously and you try just as hard, if not harder. To me, [with] every release–no matter how small or big–there should be a growth. There should be a sort of marker of growth.”

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