One of the bands many of us here at 7x7 agree on is San Francisco's very own Fresh N Onlys. If you've seen them, you know that they're multifarious, loud and psychedelic. And if you haven't, definitely check out their multitude of albums and EPs (these guys churn them out like they're nothing) - each one is a journey of the band's collective music-obsessed mind. And speak of the devil, they've got a new one hot off the presses - Play It Strange (In the Red) will be out October 12th. See the Fresh N Onlys next Wednesday, September 29 at New Parish in Oakland and head out for their record release party October 15 at Cafe Du Nord.
Leading up to all this fun, we chatted with bassist Shayde Sartin about what they jam to on the road, line up changes, and how they recorded their latest disc.
Is this the first album you guys have recorded in a proper studio? How did it go? Do you think you’ll stick with recording in a proper studio?
This is our first album in a "proper" studio with someone other than ourselves engineering and twisting knobs. The experience was exceptional. In the Treehouse, (singer) Tim (Cohen)'s studio, there was a bit more anarchy and a lot of limitations sonically.
We needed a challenge as well as some freedom to focus on playing the songs and not getting distracted with technical issues. Our musicality had grown quite a bit through touring and playing. Working with Tim Green was an incredible experience as well. We'll definitely be going back to a proper studio.
You recorded the new album Play It Strange, in a week. Is this normal for your band? What’s the recording process like when it’s so fast?
We prefer to work fast, I guess. As I mentioned before, we had a lot of road muscle going in so we weren't bogged down by any performance issues. We had already tried to record the record ourselves in the Treehouse so the groundwork was already there. We were pretty clear on what we wanted. We were lucky enough to have access to new instruments in Louder Studios that we had never had at our disposal.
Upright piano, vibraphone and baritone guitar which were all instruments we have a fondness for. It feels amazing when you reinvent a melody through a different instrument. It can give a song a new life.
Tell me more about your new album—I absolutely love "Tropical Island Suite", "Who Needs a Man", "All Shook Up", and "Be My Hooker". Do you have a particular favorite? What’s with the title?
Play It Strange comes from a live bootleg of a country artist but I can't recall who! It's been so frustrating. At one point in the song the singer calls to the guitar player to take a solo by shouting off the mic, "Play it strange!" We just thought it was a very compelling phrase. I love what it implies.
As far as a favorite song, I go back and forth. I do enjoy the way "Tropical Island Suite" transitions from a blasted pop anthem into this dreamy underwater groover. Even the chorus is turned on its head in the second half. Tim has a way of not letting structure dictate his melodies or words.
Last year you went through a line up change and took out your background singers. How’d you guys come to that decision, and has it made the group tighter?
It was hard to let them go. Their presence live was very unique and added something you can't do with instruments. When they sing together it has a very exotic quality. They have their own band, The Sandwitches, and it had become obvious that their interest was really invested in that. As it should be. It's incredibly difficult tour with more than four people when you're not making a lot of money.
You guys tour constantly. What band has been your favorite to be on the road with?
Thee Oh Sees are always fun to be out with. They have a similar work ethic so the partying and the work always have a nice balance. King Khan & The Shrines were also really great tour mates. There are so many of them it has that "circus" feel. Plus, they are all German, French and Canadian so there's no shortage of culture clash.
What music do you guys listen during all that time on the road?
We're not really a headphone band so we spend a lot of time sharing the radio. Tim and (drummer) Kyle have a lot of love for hip-hop. We have a couple of things that dominate. Vic Godard, The Deviants and The Jacobites have all been very prominent in the past but I got a feeling XTC is about to be big on this next trip.
I’ve seen you play all over SF, from the Knockout to the Independent to McClaren Park. Where’s your favorite place to play?
I really love the Knockout because John is so great and the people are always amazing. Tony B at the Hemlock Tavern never lets you down either. As far as bigger places, the Great American Music Hall can't be beat. Mary Goree is the best house manager in all the land. Sound is perfect. The staff is unbeatable. And it's beautiful!
You guys are so prolific. How do your songs and albums come to be? What’s the creative process like?
We let inspiration dictate. We let everything happen. There's no bad idea until it is clear that it is. We only stop a song when we feel that it's not taking on a life of its own. If a song or a melody just seems weak and torpid, we move on. I feel that by giving every song that comes to us a chance we've allowed a lot of what seemed like bad ideas at first to grow into some of our greatest stepping stones musically.
What do you think when people label your music "flower child" music?
I don't mind labels. It only bothers me when it seems like cheap marketing or weak journalism. None of it is personally offensive. "Flower Child" music has certainly inspired us. But I wouldn't say any more than early 80s American Hardcore or Hip-Hop for that matter.
I hear a bunch of influences in your music, other than late 60s psychedelia. As a member of the band can you tell me what some of your group’s biggest inspirations are?
It's hard to define your influences in such precise terms. You never have them in front of you when you're writing or recording. They come from a place of surprise. It's like looking in mirror and watching yourself age in some ways. Personally I don't feel that any modern music is coming from a place that is new. You could almost argue that the groundwork for pop music was laid down in one brief period that lasted from the mid 50s until the early 80s.
The last evolutionary step that happened in popular music was Hip-Hop. Now we have the privilege of getting to destroy and reinvent all of these ideas. That's not to say that what people are making today is any less inspired or valid. I believe it is. But what inspires us the most is the connections we've made to that music since our childhoods.
Photo by Brian Pritchard, via the Fresh N Onlys' Myspace