"I'm stealing from everybody," the Fresh & Onlys' Tim Cohen admits, on a short break from recording his San Francisco psych-rock outfit's forthcoming LP for Mexican Summer. "When I'm writing, what comes out is the direct result of all the best songs I've heard. And the best I've ever heard are the ones that hit you straight in the gut."
For the past several weeks, Cohen and his bandmates have been punching the clock at Lucky Cat Studios, a modest setup in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood, laying down songs that both he and bassist/writing partner Shayde Sartin feel confident are their purest yet. "It's definitely going to be a very different-sounding record then anything we've done in the past," Sartin says. "It's far more dynamic and vivid, with a lot of pop and melancholy in there. But all the idiosyncrasies — our sense of humor and awkwardness and uncoolness — are still there."
The new disc, their follow-up to 2010's perfectly imperfect Play It Strange, is currently being bottled up in bursts: The band spends a few days tracking, then separate for a few days to regroup. "Working that away really allows you to get into it and get a momentum and get really giddy and have fun and scream and yell and high-five and second guess everything," Sartin explains. But at the same time, he says "you're in there to work, you're in there to do something and the strength of these songs is so good it allows us to do a lot of stuff we haven't tried before."
That stuff includes some full spectrum guitar work. The band is combining sounds from 12-strings, 6-strings and "Nashville-tuned guitar straight-up-the-middle," all to the same 16-track machine on which Warren Zevon recorded "Werewolves of London." And while Cohen thinks its their "most polished" yet, Sartin swears it's still as mangy in spots as those familiar might expect. "Not to harp on Tim or anything, he laughs. "To Tim's ears it's probably more hi-fi. But it's still tape. We're still slugging away." They can both agree, to some extent though, that what we end up hearing come April or May of next year will be the sound of the Fresh & Onlys in full stride.
"2011 changed my life," Cohen says earnestly. "We've been to places we never thought we'd ever go and we've grown a lot. We definitely still get testy with one another because we're grown-ass man spending so much time together. But right now, it feels like we're tighter as a band than we've ever been, because recording this way is the culmination of all our experiences together and the fact that we're so comfortable being in a room together and playing music together. This is the pinnacle, this is where we need to be."
Sartin found a way to mirror and tweak that sentiment in a way that fits this band well. "I brought a couple of friends in the studio for fun," he says, admitting he's recovering from a wicked hangover. "We have to make it fun because if you're in there sweating with four guys and an engineer, it's stupid. So we've invited friends in to drink and hang out and dance and party and listen and throw in their two cents. It makes it intimate because they're friends, but it lightens the mood a lot. I can't wait for people to hear it."
Fresh & Onlys Tour Dates:
Dec. 31 - San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall *
Feb. 18 - Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret #
Feb. 19 - Seattle, WA @ Chop Suey #
Feb. 20 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge #
Feb. 23 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo #
Feb. 24 - Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy and Harriets #
Feb. 25 - San Diego, CA @ Casbah #
* = w/ White Fence
# = w/ Disappears
Photos by Matthew Dara Alavi