By Jacob Sprecher
Caught any club shows in San Francisco of late? It’s okay if you haven’t—I’d like to attend more than I do. But whether you’ve happened to or not, be advised: There’s a legitimate local scene percolating. Which isn’t to say there hasn’t been in the semi-recent past but rather, like everything, scenes go in waves. Sometimes the local talent sucks. Other times it doesn’t. Sometimes nobody pays any attention. Other times they do. And right now in San Francisco and Oakland, the talent is there, and people are paying attention both at home and beyond. One of the leaders in this current outburst— which varies in style from tUnE-YarDs to Grass Widow—would be The Fresh & Onlys, San Francisco’s foremost purveyor of psychedelic garage rock and pop. Now signed to In The Red, The Fresh & Onlys have yielded copious amounts of gleaming fuzz since debuting their self-titled LP in 2008. The years since have seen the release of two additional LPs (Grey Eyed Girls and Play It Strange), as well as three EPs (Bomb Wombs, August In My Mind and most recently, Secret Walls). Synthesis caught up with founding member/bass player Shayde Sartin on his way to rehearsal the day before tour. Born and raised in West Virginia, Sartin has been Bay-bound for 12 years, working by day at Amoeba Records.
So are you still supporting Secret Walls?
This is basically a tour built around the Pitchfork Music Festival, but technically we are touring that EP still. But we’ve never played [Pitchfork before]. I’m excited, man. We have a couple friends there in a band called Ponys—they’re gonna be playing with us to help fill out the sound.
Secret Walls feels very mid-tempo and moody, much in the vein of “I’m A Thief” off Play It Strange, which I feel is your best record. Is there a shift in songwriting happening when compared to the punky garage material off the self-titled and Grey Eyed Girls?
That was really just a circumstantial thing. You know, when you’re making an EP you’re making this little nugget; I love EPs to have one continuous sort of mood. And that was one of the ideas of having [guitarist] Wymond [Miles] at the helm of recording and mixing. We let him indulge his musicality on top of those songs, which just happened to be pretty whimsical and moody and romantic sounding. It’s definitely an indicator of where we’re going in the future; we’re always trying to introduce new ideas—hold on, there’s a guy with a fucking jackhammer over here…
Your crop as a band has been fairly prolific in general. What’s the songwriting process typically like?
The songwriting happens in two ways basically: Tim [Cohen] will either write the song in its entirety and complete it, or I will bring an idea to Tim and [he] will flesh it out. I’ve never really been good at completing a song or completing an idea, so that was kinda what happened early on. The chemistry of the band became that the two sources of songs were Tim completing a song for me, and then bringing his own stuff to the table.
Since then Wymond’s gotten more involved recording stuff, [along] with a lot of the musicality and all that; but the songwriting ascetic primarily comes from me and Tim.
How’s it been working with In The Red?
Awesome, man. Larry [Hardy]’s great. He’s willing to let his label change and take on new shapes, which I think is important for a label to survive. He started doing more arty, sort of garage-punk, and then kind of shifted tastes and started doing more pop. He had a lot of success with the Vivian Girls, so I think he’s learning that he doesn’t have to put the same record out every time. It doesn’t always have to be The Gories and that kind of thing.
I find In The Red to be kind of a continuous rising star in the independent world, to the point where folks will simply buy records off the strength of the label name alone.
Yeah, and that also kind of worried me [when we signed]. ‘Cause a lot of our stuff I feel is a little fruity, or maybe a little too whimsy for a lot of [In The Red] fans. Most of those people wanna get their faces ripped off [laughs], and we don’t really do that.
How do you feel about the scene in the San Francisco Bay Area these days?
Well, I’d be lying to ya if I said that I didn’t think it was the best, ‘cause I think it is the best. I think the community here is amazing and the creativity and the output is pretty unmatched as far as I can tell, but I do know that there’s a dynamic in every scene that’s different and there’s constantly great bands coming from the middle of nowhere. But here, we do have a community that’s supportive, and we’re very friendly, and it’s not cliquey; I mean if you’re cool and willing to help out, people are down.
It seems that with recent success from the likes of Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, yourselves, etc, that perhaps the scene is being recognized a bit more?
You know, the thing is about San Francisco, the late-‘60s aside, it’s been a city that within independent music has been pretty overlooked, or least always had some sort of second seeding, especially if you look at punk. No one ever took the punk scene seriously, and it was one of the most innovative and bizarre of all. And I think San Franciscans have a tendency to be—at least people making punk rock and indie rock—a little…unpalatable? I feel like right now we have a very palatable thing going. It’s definitely not a conscious, creative thing; it’s something that’s just kinda happening. If anything maybe other people have just caught onto it and think it’s cool for now, and it’s still just as weird as it always was. I don’t know…you’re perspective’s kinda blown when you’re in the middle of it.
7/18 Minneapolis, MN – 7th Street Entry w/ Woods
7/19 Fargo, ND – The Aquarium w/ Woods
7/20 Spearfish, SD – Back Porch
7/22 Seattle, WA – Neumo’s Stage – Capitol Hill Block Party, set time 5:15 PM
7/23 Vancouver, BC – Electric Owl w/ Woods
7/24 Bellingham, WA – The Shakedown w/ Woods
7/25 Portland, OR – Doug Fir w/ Woods
7/26 Chico, CA – Duffys
7/27 Sacramento, CA – Sol Collective w/ Woods
7/29 San Francisco, CA – Independent w/ Mantles, Woods
7/31 Big Sur, CA – Henry Miller Memorial Library – Woodsist Festival
8/1 San Diego, CA – Casbah w/ Terry Malts
8/2 Los Angeles, CA – Echoplex w/ White Fence, Woods
8/13 San Francisco, CA – Golden Gate Park Outside Lands Festival