Progress Report

Progress Report: The Fresh & Onlys

Name: The Fresh & Onlys
Progress Report: San Francisco’s Fresh & Onlys have been recording a new album for a really long time and they still aren’t done.

The Fresh & Onlys have proven themselves to be one of San Francisco’s most interesting and reliably prolific bands. Since forming in 2008, the band has released a veritable slew of material across a variety of formats — 7” singles, cassettes, and a several LPs spread across several different labels. Since releasing the Secret Walls EP last year on Sacred Bones, the band has been busy playing shows and writing more songs than you can shake a stick at. A few weeks ago I spoke to bassist Shayde Sartin about the band’s currently in the works new full-length.

STEREOGUM: What is the status of the record? Are you guys done? There was a posting on the band’s website from last December saying that the record was almost finished.

SHAYDE SARTIN: We’re not completely done. We thought we were done, and the reason we paced ourselves in doing it was to make sure that we didn’t just rush through it, so we kind of planned way ahead. We also just wanted to kind of pull back on releasing so much stuff, and wanted to be able to sit on the recording a bit and after we sat on the recording, we decided that it would be nice to get fresh ears for mixing it. And once we did, we let someone remix a track that we had finished and completed to the best of our abilities and figured out that he actually had a better take on the song than we did, and kinda had a little more freedom, it was just a little more ragged and had a little more teeth than we did. A lot of times when you record something you mix with your ego too much, and I think that’s what we were doing. Having someone that wasn’t in the studio when we recorded all the songs was what we needed. It’s also a new move for us. We’ve always mixed stuff on our own, and I’ve said it several times in interviews and in conversation that that’s the one thing we try to do completely different every time we record, and it turns out it just might be what we’re doing different this time. One of many things.

STEREOGUM: It makes sense. I think it is healthy to get outside ears. So in the grand scheme of things, how does that place things? Do you have a sense of how much longer that will be?

SARTIN: Well, we’ve really busted our humps to get it done so that we could get it out in May, and it’s just that the schedule releasing and everything — it wouldn’t come out till summer, so — I think what we might do is release an EP of songs and do some touring over the spring, and then release the next full length probably in September. Our next full length will come out in September, but we’ll have a pretty chunky EP with a lot of songs some time in between that and touring.

STEREOGUM: Do you feel like this is an occasion to just revisit the songs you’ve done or will you make a bunch of new songs too?

SARTIN: My suspicion is we’re probably going to record some new songs during that time and pull from what we recorded during the sessions for the record and kind of mix it up a little bit more because we have the luxury to do it. And we also don’t want a record that we recorded in January coming out nine months after the fact. We’re so used to working at a fast pace, we wanted the luxury of having time to sit down and think about things and be more cognizant and a little more direct in what we’re doing, but we also don’t want to be touring for a record in the fall or the winter that we recorded the previous year.

STEREOGUM: Yeah, that kind of delay feels weird.

SARTIN: Yeah, I mean it’s not like I feel like the album’s gonna be out of date or anything like that, but our enthusiasm wouldn’t be as bright if we didn’t throw a couple of new things in the mix. And plus, we’ve always got songs coming, so it’s not as though we don’t have it to give. And the thing is, you gotta look at it this way too — it might be that this was a way of getting us time to come up with an even better batch of songs to throw into the other batch of songs that we have for this record. So maybe it’s supposed to be — maybe it’s meant to be this way.

STEREOGUM: Was everything recorded in San Francisco or were you recording somewhere else?

SARTIN: It was all recorded here. We recorded it at this place called Lucky Cat Recording Studios. We recorded it with Phil Manley and we did all the tracking in one place, we did it over about a month’s period of time in little spurts here and there. We would record and then take home the rough mixes, and then listen to the songs and make sure the tapes were good because we really like precision when we play. I mean, we’re a pretty muscular band rhythmically, so precision is good, and we absolutely refuse to use any sort of digital technology to move beats around when we record. You just play it to the best of your ability and that’s just how it’s supposed to be. And if you have to go in and redo something because you were too drunk or too high, then you just go in and redo it and that’s how it’s supposed to go.

STEREOGUM: It’s weird, I’ve spent some time in recording studios with different bands, but I was still kind of naive about the trickery of Frankensteining things together digitally out of a bunch of different takes.

SARTIN: That happens more than you would think, and it’s not that I disdain that or I look down upon it. I think it works great for some band, and I think that a lot of bands benefit from it and some need it and it’s just the way they want to work but we choose to do it this way because that’s what we like, and that’s part of what exposes us, when we play the slight mistakes, the things that are — I hate to use this overused term — but the human element. But you know the bands that we listen to a lot, that we pull from a lot in a physical sense, are bands like The Meat Puppets, or the Violent Femmes, or the Smiths. Those are all bands that were really direct musically and really muscular and I liked how they — especially with the Smiths or something like that — they were an extremely really muscular band and getting to hear how they actually physically play even though there’s a lot of overdubbing with them and a lot of studio trickery and a lot of sonic things, you know those rhythm sections were recorded and played straight, like an honest band.

STEREOGUM: Well I know that the project is ongoing, but thinking about the material that you have so far, would you say that it’s a lot different in terms of the vibe?

SARTIN: I think every record we do have a different vibe, and there’s always a progression there. But the cohesion on this recording has been that we’re finally getting better at putting together the sort of melancholy pop thing that we do mixed with the more ragged end of the more punk vibe that we have. It’s more difficult than you think — some bands did it effortlessly, like the Wipers, but putting together these really whimsical melancholy ideas and atmospheres with a really ragged punk side is kind of difficult and I think with this one, we’re nailing it even more and it’s sounding effortless. It’s not sounding as experimental in the past where we would try things but be a little bit timid with the idea.

STEREOGUM: Where do you think that comes from? Just from having played so many shows or maybe just aging gracefully as a band?

SARTIN: I think it’s just the will to move forward maybe. The will to not stay in one place and play to our comforts, you know. And again, like I just said, playing a lot together has made a huge difference in the level of confidence we have in each other and what we’re doing musically. There’s not a lot of discussion when we get together with a song about who plays what, how. I know that if Tim has a song, I know what he’s gonna do, and I know that Wymond’s gonna do something beautiful to it that I would never think of, and they know that I’m gonna push myself hard to do something new with the base, and the same for Kyle. There’s never a lot of discussion when we set out to play songs and like how fast the songs should be or how the beats should go. They just sort of happen and I think that is the one thing that surprised me with this record that because of how dynamic it is, I didn’t even realize until we were done recording it that we had very little discussion about how to play the songs. We just had ‘em and we played ‘em and they came out beautifully in my opinion.

STEREOGUM: That’s cool. That’s how you know you’re in a band that works.

SARTIN: Totally. I mean that’s the thing about touring together that I think a lot of bands take for granted. I hear bands bitch about each other all the time. I know that happens and I’m sure that we bitch about each other too, but the one thing is that we as a band always feel very together and have a lot of faith in each other, and it’s very much a team vibe.

STEREOGUM: How long have you guys been playing together?

SARTIN: As a band we’ve probably been playing together since May 2008. But we’ve toured a little more in the beginning than the average band. We immediately got out and just went for it, so we had that luxury, thank god.

STEREOGUM: Every band’s different, but I feel like that’s the kind of thing that either makes it or breaks it for most bands.

SARTIN: Yeah, totally.

STEREOGUM: So it sounds like the rest of 2012 will be a really interesting year for you guys — you’ll be recording and putting out music and touring intermittently — all three.

SARTIN: Right. It’s gonna be a little more staggered. We’re basically touring in February for a couple of weeks; we’re touring in March for a couple of weeks. We’re not doing these whole big clumps like we used to. And then we’re probably going to come back and record some new material, which I’m sure we’ll write in the meantime. We write a lot on tour on the road — in the backseat of a van or a hotel room or during soundcheck — it just sorta happens. So I’m sure we’ll come back from these tours and probably record some new material that may or may not end up on the next record. But just to keep working and not resting on our laurels or whatever. We’re definitely hungry to do more right now.

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The Fresh & Onlys are playing the Woodsist Festival at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur California on August 5th. Rumor has it that the new Fresh & Onlys album will likely be released in September.