THE FRESH & ONLYS: GAY BARS ARE THE BEST BARS
Tim Cohen and Shayde Sartin were music buffs who met after working at Amoeba in San Francisco for almost a decade. One day, they decided to make music rather than just stacking it on shelves. They dumped their other bands (but not their jobs) and brought on Wymond Miles and Kyle Gibson for last spring’s self-titled LP, a record as infectious as raw meat festering in a garage. This fall’s Grey-Eyed Girls once again delivers much more than dude music—it’s romantic. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
What went into making this new album so romantic?
Shayde Sartin (bass): It was a joyous time when we made the record. The whole album embraces positive love songs. We were so happy then, defining our sound and broadening our sound. The old album was more punk and garage. But on the second record we were embracing that we weren’t writing aggressive dude music. ‘Grey-Eyed Girls’ is a positive affirmation of love for someone. It ends on a dark song, though—‘The Delusion Of Man.’ Right at that point we started writing the new batch of songs. The new batch is more paranoid and full of tension. There’s a lot of personal stuff, break ups, people moving on, money, things stressing us out. Paranoia has crept into our hearts. That’s just how it happened. There’s plenty to be paranoid about. Paying bills. All this extra stuff keeps us from being happy.
If you took out the words, would the romanticism be retained in the instrumentals?
Shayde Sartin: Totally. Tim has a soft, warm croon—his voice does add romanticism. He can also reach out. He has a beautiful voice. But I think that a lot of the romantic is in Wymond’s guitar playing.
What’s an example of paranoia that ruined a romance for you?
Shayde Sartin: I hate when people chew with their mouth open. I actually broke up with a girl during breakfast. I was watching her chew, and she was talking and I was like, ‘Can you just shut your mouth when you eat?’ She got super hurt. That was the beginning of the end. We all have different habits or whatever!
What emotion would you ascribe to each band member’s instrument?
Shayde Sartin: My bass playing carries depression. Kyle’s drumming has a very jolly, sweet, humorous personality. He hits hard as a hammer but it’s just humorous. Wymond is melancholy on the guitar—the sweetest kind of melancholy. Not morose, but a rainy-day feeling. Tim’s keyboard playing would be pure excitement—a really manic feel on the keyboard.
What do you think you guys would be most apt to do together—rob a bank, run a childcare center, play soccer, or bake a glorious wedding cake?
Shayde Sartin: I am going to go with the wedding cake. We would bicker too much about the robbery. Everyone would be trying to figure out who would get to drive. Tim would drive in the end. He is the most stubborn. I would be the wild card that shoots somebody. Kyle would be the mastermind. Wymond wouldn’t get involved. He would sit in the car and put his head down in disappointment.
When you toured as his band, how many times did Rodriguez say ‘baby’ in conversation?
Shayde Sartin: At least two or three times every hour. He was a trip. He was such a funny guy. I noticed that we all started picking up his speech. It’s pretty infectious. He’s got a real strange way of talking. If I were to characterize it, it’s the typical ’60s ex-hippie kind of burnout guy.
Speaking of touring, do you make a deliberate attempt to play gay biker bars?
Shayde Sartin: Gay bars are the best bars to play. I don’t know why. In San Francisco—The Eagle, which is this gay leather bar—they are so cool and the vibe is good. Better than your rock or punk dive. And they give you a great percentage. It makes me feel at home, a little, when we play those kinds of places out of town. It’d be cool to do a tour where we only play gay bars. We can sell Fresh & Onlys sex toys.
What would the sex toy be?
Shayde Sartin: None of us are really into sex toys, actually. A brand of condoms with holes in it. Fresh & Onlys mesh condoms.
What does the name actually refer to?
Shayde Sartin: It’s best left up to imagination. Some say it makes them think of a feminine product or a grocery store. One of our bandmates came up with it. She was all crazy and ranting and that one stood out. I think it sounds like a virgin. Which is sinister and dark. It’s pretty creepy of me but that’s who I am! I like that it also makes me think of mundane and domestic things.
How does the band’s sound reflect domesticity?
Shayde Sartin: We have a pretty accessible pop sound. There are a lot of extremely damaged bands out there that we really enjoy. But a side of us comes from a pure pop thing. The Clash or R.E.M. wouldn’t be too far off. We get lumped in with the trashier psych-punk stuff. I enjoy that, of course. I wouldn’t distance myself from that. It’s who likes us that likes us. But pop, for us, is a source of inspiration and making pop music is really fun—not burying melodies or obscuring the songiness.
Would you say pop is being embraced in ‘alternative’ music?
Shayde Sartin: I love seeing all these bands embracing pop wholeheartedly. Everything goes in waves. There’s always trends and I enjoy that stuff and I think it is useless to try and push against everything happening. At certain times things get more popular than others. Wounded Lion has their own brand of pop that I think is amazing.
What does it mean to write a pop song instead of a rock song?
Shayde Sartin: ‘Pop’ gets used like ‘punk’ and ‘garage’—as popular music. That’s a great question. When people refer to pop, they refer to an embrace of saccharine melodies, music that’s joyful or gleeful. Pop is an easy way to describe that we aren’t making tragic drone music. We write simple pop songs. Then in journalism those words get used, and a lot of times they start to lose their meanings. We are a rock ‘n’ roll band. I don’t think there really should be a distinction at the very heart of it.
Where does the name Shayde come from?
Shayde Sartin: It’s actually a name common in the Appalachians—where I’m from. I’m told it’s popular in New Zealand, but I’ve never met anyone from New Zealand before.
Was Appalachian music part of your upbringing?
Shayde Sartin: It’s not as popular as people would want to think it is. When I was growing up, ‘80s radio is what we listened to. All new wave. But a lot of the old timers still have a relationship with the music. It wasn’t a part of my life growing up, though. A few years ago I took an interest in it and learned stuff about the music. I even learned how to play banjo. My curiosity would be to see how certain songs have evolved and changed over hundreds of years and taken on different structures, and the vocal accents in speech as well.
Does your bass playing honor any traditions? Would you consider it essential to the Fresh & Onlys sound?
Shayde Sartin: A lot of punk rock that I first discovered and even still that I see—the ones that don’t have a bass, they kind of blow my mind. Even Thee Oh Sees use a guitar in the role of a bass. One of my fave bands is Beat Happening and they don’t have a bass. The Cramps’ first album doesn’t have a bass, which is so crazy and punk rock, and then I love Nirvana, and their bass sets them apart from the scene they were in. Something that was perceived at their time as alternative. I wouldn’t say that the bass sets us apart from other bands but it is an essential part of our music. I don’t spend time when we are recording in laying out my bass lines, though—I try to see what happens and then take it from there. It’s about going all over the place when we record so I don’t have to just sit there. I have the stock of fills and moves that I make on the bass so I just rip into these. There are still bass lines I recorded that I can’t play because I can’t remember what I played. I don’t know what is going on there but I am glad that it at least gets recorded.
How’s it feel to know people far away sink their teeth deep into your work?
Shayde Sartin: The greatest gift you can have with music is for someone to really get into it. It’s one thing to create something and lay into it yourself. You have a definition of where it’s coming from. The greatest aspiration is to give something to someone else. When I started absorbing records for real—not just putting it on to listen—I was in a really oppressive environment in Florida and being able to hear the Smiths—something exotic from my immediate environment—it was the key to my sanity. It made me really get to wonder what it feels like to be in another place, or imagine another place. It was culture shock back in Florida. I grew up in an old part of the country. I had never met a black person or a Hispanic person before. I was a white hillbilly kid. I didn’t know what a skateboarder was. All I knew was basketball and new wave cassettes. Lake Wells in Polk County—if you put your finger in the middle of the state, you’d have your finger on it. People don’t understand what it’s like to live in Florida. But I am actually proud about Florida being part of me.
THE FRESH & ONLYS WITH THEE OH SEES AND DAN MELCHIOR ON THUR., OCT. 22, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8:30 PM / $12 / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM. THE FRESH & ONLYS’ GREY-EYED GIRL IS OUT NOW ON WOODSIST. VISIT THE FRESH & ONLYS AT THEFRESHANDONLYS.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/THEFRESHONLYS.