When Tim Cohen told Shayde Sartin he was writing a song called "Be My Hooker," the Fresh & Onlys bassist looked at the singer/guitarist and said... "'There's no way we're gonna have a song with that title, dude,'" explains Sartin. "But sure enough, he laid a riff down and I was like, 'Jesus Christ, I can't believe you pulled something meaningful out of such a stupid line.'"
Welcome to the push/pull dynamic that's fueled the Fresh & Onlys' steady stream of releases over the past year, including last spring's self-titled LP (Castle Face) and this fall's Grey-Eyed Girls (Woodsist). And to think it all started the old-fashioned way-with Sartin and Cohen simply hanging out after work, playing their favorite punk (Buzzcocks, The Mekons) and classic rock (Country Joe and the Fish, cued up alongside slabs of psych from the group's homebase, San Francisco) records alongside a growing collection of empty beer cans.
"I can't really explain what happened or why," says Sartin. "I guess we listened to records until we were on the same page, and from that point on, we never stopped recording." As simple as all of that sounds, the duo first bought a tape machine five years ago. When that failed to produce any concrete cuts, Cohen focused on his previous avant-pop band, Black Fiction, and Sartin split his time between session and live work for such bands as the Skygreen Leopards, Papercuts and Citay. Not to mention his close friend Kelley Stoltz, who ended up releasing the first Fresh & Onlys 7" (the limited Imaginary Friends EP) in early 2008.
With so much music hitting shops in such a short time (Sartin says the band already has boxes of backlogged tapes), you might think the Fresh & Onlys camp have a problem with quality control. Quite the contrary; Sartin and Cohen are very careful about what they release. And while the duo writes and records the band's songs, the arrangements are usually fleshed out with guitarist Wymond Miles, drummer Kyle Gibson, and backup singer Heidi Alexander. "If we take a song into the studio or a live setting and it doesn't have wings," says Sartin, "Then we just ditch it and keep the charming demo version." The final mix of Grey-Eyed Girls sounds like a natural bridge between the raucous garage rock of the group's debut and the full-on studio record they plan on wrapping for In the Red later this year. That goes for the galloping grooves of "Happy To Be Living," the shadowy post-punk of "Invisible Forces," and the firework finale freak-outs that drive "The Delusion of Man." Not to mention a stack of hook-slinging tracks that nix any 'shitgaze' assumptions you may have. "We're not trying to hide melodies or do the blown-out thing," says Sartin. "A lot of those bands are great, but I don't want to ever cater to what's popular. It's not that I'm being reactionary; we're just trying to make recordings that are as rich and ear-friendly as possible."