There’s a short distance between 60s’ psychedelic pop and the acoustic pop that peeked out from first-generation college rockers like R.E.M., the Feelies, the Church and the Go-Betweens.
Both elements were present when I first saw the Fresh & Onlys, as they trekked across 2009’s South By Southwest festival; but so was a weirder, darker post-punk throb.
It’s this element that plants the San Francisco band’s hazy, psych-pop nuggets so deep in my head.
The post-punk is blended into the pop. This occurs when songwriters Shayde Sartin (bassist) and Tim Cohen (singer) take their songs to guitarist Wymond Miles and drummer Kyle Gibson.
Sartin says he can see how the songs change form with Miles and Gibson’s input.
“They really do fill out the sound,” he says.
The band’s songs start with Sartin and Cohen sitting with acoustic guitars around Cohen’s kitchen table. Sartin will introduce an idea and the two will work on it.
He says Cohen is the first person he’s really been able to collaborate with on songs. The two fill in for each other. Sartin starts the songs, but can’t finish them; but Cohen is more than able to take the song to completion.
“We write in a very folky context,” Sartin says.
The acoustic process puts primary focus on a song’s melodies. Sartin says the metamorphosis from acoustic versions to the full-band versions also helps put a veil on the kitchen-set stage of the songwriting process.
“It leaves me and Tim to a certain intimacy,” Sartin says.
The 2010 Play It Strange even features the seven-minute plus dream-pop leaning “Tropical Island Suite” complete with piano outro. Their 2011 EP Secret Walls plays into that side even more, Sartin says.
The prolific band has released three full-lengths since their first LP in 2009. They have spread 15 releases among some of the most buzzed-about names in underground garage rock circles. They put out various singles, EP’s and albums on In the Red, Woodsist, Captured Tracks and Sacred Bones.
Most of those releases were homespun affairs recorded on a Tascam 388, an eight-track relic of a pre-PC era of home recording. Play It Strange is the only release recorded in a studio.
It’s also a piece of equipment used by several like-minded, but not necessarily like-sounding Bay Area bands like Sic Alps, Thee Oh Sees and Kelley Stoltz.
The users seem to know each other and regularly consult on using the Tascam recorders.
“I don’t know how many phone calls have been made between bands in the city,” Sartin says.
“It’s like a cult.”
Sartin even got the Box Elders’ Jeremiah McIntyre into using the machine, The former Fresh & Onlys tour mate moved from Omaha to San Francisco as the Box Elders were entering their current hiatus. Sartin says he and McIntyre will occasionally jam too. Another Box Elder, Dave Goldberg, will play with the Fresh & Onlys in Omaha, as his one-man project, Solid Goldberg.
The productivity on tape has carried over into productivity on the road. The Fresh & Onlys spent half of 2010 on the road and have spent about three total months of 2011 on the road, Sartin says.
“We tour a lot, more than the average band,” Sartin says.
It helps that the band is not losing money on the road and is even making enough to pay off the bills that accrue while they’re away from home.
“That’s quite a luxury in our eyes,” Sartin says.
Band members have all logged time in other bands and developed good habits for making road life easier. Sartin says he was able to learn from his time playing with Stoltz, watching Stoltz figure out how to be serious about his life as a musician while still having fun and enjoying life on the road.
Sartin’s time with Stoltz shaped how he wanted to work when he was on tour.
“I grew so much and he taught me so much,” Sartin says.
So the Fresh & Onlys make it a point to show up on time and treat clubs with respect.
Playing with John Dwyer and his band, Thee Oh Sees, helped teach the other half of the lesson – how to play with passion every time they hit the stage.
“We learned a lot from them in terms of bringing it every night,” Sartin says.
The Fresh & Onlys with Bad Weather California and Solid Goldberg play the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St., Friday, July 15 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. For more information, visit theslowdown.com.