If all goes as planned, by early next year the Fresh & Onlys will have released music on eight different labels. That's a startling feat for a band that formed a year ago, but keep in mind that the San Francisco six-piece has an enviable level of recorded output as well as a serious pedigree. The band also plays some of the coolest, woolliest garage-psych around.
The Fresh & Onlys began as a home-recording collaboration between longtime friends Shayde Sartin and Tim Cohen, both of whom work at Amoeba Music. Cohen fronted the pop band Black Fiction, while Sartin has played bass in the Skygreen Leopards and logged many hours live with Kelley Stoltz, the Dutchess and the Duke, Papercuts, and others. From the start of their team-up, sparks flew. Instead of rerecording songs Cohen had written alone, as they had initially planned, they wound up writing new ones together in a flurry.
"It became a more collaborative thing," Sartin recalls. "It just exploded in our faces, and next thing I knew, we had like 30 songs recorded. It just took on a life of its own."
To accommodate so much material, Cohen and Sartin started a cassette label, No Foot Boogie Tapes, to release their work. They also assembled a live lineup featuring guitarist Wymond Miles from Wymond and the Spirit Children and backup singers Heidi Alexander and Grace Cooper from the Sandwitches. More recently, Kyle Gibson (formerly of the Pattern) came on board to play drums. The band's recordings are still often made by Cohen and Sartin, though. The pair has worked wonders with an eight-track machine and, when beer got spilled on that device, a four-track.
There's an undeniable '60s vibe to the Fresh & Onlys' bristling guitars, aching reverb, and off-kilter vocals, and Sartin has acknowledged the influence of the 13th Floor Elevators on his songwriting (Cohen claims inspiration from the Minutemen). As the act's singer and guitarist, Cohen dreams up screwy lines about hookers, tropical islands, and imaginary friends, croaking them out in a sort of oblivious fever. "He has a really cracked approach to lyrics, and the stories he tells in his songs are sincere," Sartin says. "He's never trying to be consciously funny or strange. He's just a strange and funny dude."
So far the Fresh & Onlys have flown under the radar, despite Kelley Stoltz releasing their debut 7-inch and Thee Oh Sees' John Dwyer issuing their self-titled album on Castleface. They have a 7-inch out on the Seattle label Dirty Knobby Industries, and have plans for releases on the Chicago label HoZac and the Brooklyn labels Captured Tracks and Woodsist. The lattermost will release the Fresh & Onlys' sophomore album, Grey-Eyed Girls, toward the end of summer. The band also plans to do an album early next year with the resurgent L.A. label In the Red.
"It's the most prolific band I've ever been in by far," Sartin says, adding that the luxury of self-recording has hastened the songwriting. "Whenever [a label] asks us to do something, we're able to say yeah." At the same time, the Fresh & Onlys don't rush out and release everything they capture on the four-track.
"We record so many songs, and a lot of them don't see the light of day," Sartin says. "We're really selective about what we let people hear." That said, in eight months' time, many more folks around the country will have heard what the Fresh & Onlys have deemed worthy.