With their new record, Long Slow Dance , The Fresh & Onlys have exploited their pop sensibilities to the max. It’s a crate-load of upbeat, acoustic and rumbling garage all jammed into one heady set of hook-heavy tunes, and you sure as hell won’t be finding many albums this year with such an infectious vibe. We hooked up with frontman Tim Cohen to dig a little deeper into the workings of all things Fresh and Only.
Bowlegs: 20 Days and 20 Nights opens the record with a real nod to old-school indie-pop. Yet lyrically it feels like you were on quite a downer when writing this tune? Is this record personal in terms of its themes, it certainly feels like it at times?
Tim: I feel that once a melody comes into your head, its already decided whether it feels happy or sad. Its not for me to decide what emotions it is going to stir in a listener. It is an arbitrary series of notes that came from the ether. Because music has such mysterious and impossible origins, I don’t like to ascribe black-and-white emotional descriptors to it. Therefore, many of our songs sound happy but deal with dark subject matter, or they sound foreboding but are lyrically quite innocent and fey.
20 Days and 20 Nights is not unlike many of our lyrics, in that my tongue is planted firmly in cheek for this song. It is meant to sound overtly like a downer song, but it is so ridiculous, how could I ever take myself seriously singing words like that? This is the challenge that we leave for our listeners. I believe there is an artful deception in most pop music, whereby as an artist you are always wearing a mask of some kind. There is a necessary separation between you as a person and the voice emitting from someone’s stereo 500 miles away. Thats why I like to have fun with moods and lyrics, it may make for a more compelling experience for the listener…
Bowlegs: Do the other band members ever ask you what the songs are about, or is that strictly off limits?
Tim: Now that I think about it, none of them has ever asked me what a song is about. I think its because they know I don’t really know. I pose more questions than answers in my lyrics, I feel earnestly that we are always searching for meaning, and thats what keeps us living day to day. So I guess my bandmates appreciate the questions I ask, and the mysteries that lay beyond them or inside them. There are always exceptions; for example, one time on tour I blurted out in the van, “what if I wrote a song called Be My Hooker but it was about a fisherman?” Sure enough, the song came to be, and not without a LOT of misinterpretation and mixed responses. That was our little joke on the world for a minute.
Bowlegs: Instrumentally do you try to experiment on each new release? The back-end of Foolish Person is a relentless run of guitars for instance?
Tim: Yes, experimenting with new instruments is part of what makes recording my favorite all-time activity. We (Onlys) all believe that as in all artistic expression, in music there are no rules. That is why we exist in the milieu in which we exist: on a business level, we have always surrounded ourselves with people who believe in us as artists, and have faith in us as performers. Therefore, there are no rules to follow. There are infinite ways to imagine a melody or a lyrical passage taking form in a song. Everything has been done in recording studios, to a wide range of mixed results. With patience and a thirst for newness, which we as a band have in spades, anything is possible…
Bowlegs: How about the acoustic based tracks on this record – when you start writing a new song do you instinctively know if it belongs on an acoustic or an electric? Might we one day get a completely acoustic Fresh & Onlys record?
Tim: Instinctively, they would all be played on acoustic guitar. They are almost all written on acoustic. However, that goes out the window when you collaborate with such forward thinking musicians; Everything is considered, we can’t seem to let an idea get away. As a song begins to take shape, and we start to see colors in our minds, and we talk and play and imagine together, the song ultimately decides. We allow it to tell us. As for the other thing, I would love to do an acoustic record. At my core, I really appreciate “the song” in its primal state, naked. As a songwriter, I endeavor to create that which can stand alone, it’s almost a survival tactic. I think, what good would I be if I couldn’t play my songs in a subway station or in the desert, or on the last island on earth? It helps to have a great band behind me that can create living environments of sound, and add swaths of brilliant color to the simplest of songs. But, it would be a good exercise in restraint to make an acoustic album. Don’t rule it out.
Bowlegs: Being that all the members have other projects does it feel like The Fresh & Onlys are on borrowed time? Maybe that’s what makes it so special – every record might be your last?
Tim: Not at all. The Fresh & Onlys are priority number one for me, musically speaking. For me, it’s nice to have a surplus of material, its refreshing to step out of my comfort zone and play in another, slightly different style, with other folks. But we all acknowledge that the band will end when its supposed to. We have great opportunities ahead of us, I feel. We just now made the record we have wanted to make, and hopefully we will feel that way about the next one. I don’t think of something as special because it may be fleeting or ephemeral, I think it’s special because it will be around forever, with intention behind it and passion and hard work poured into it. But I see what you’re saying, too.
Bowlegs: My personal high on this album is Yes or No – are there songs on here you feel closer to than others? Do you ever have songs that didn’t make the cut that a few months down the line you kind of wish had?
Tim: My personal favorite is Euphoria. It’s the closest thing to actual euphoria that I feel that our band is capable of playing. I also like No Regard. That was a handful of Pop music cliches, thrown together in a clothes dryer, and it came out fresh. Lyrically, Yes or No is my favorite. It seems a pretty clear-cut narrative, with a huge chorus, but I hope it raises some eyebrows in those more contemplative listeners. As for regrets concerning the track list, well that is something that every recording artist contends with. I’m pretty sure we nailed it with this album; that being said, once an album is committed to wax, you have to let it have a life of its own. It no longer belongs to us, in a way. Therefore, let it be.
Bowlegs: OK so how about the record’s title, are we reading too much into the L.S.D coding? Are Drugs an influence on this album?
Tim: The title is half happy accident, half poetic license, and a third half wholly reverent. I’ll leave it at that. I am delighted that people are reading into it, and that none of us will ever offer a lucid explanation thereof. That’s why LSD remains one of life’s great mysteries. And it still is, one sentence later.
Bowlegs: Finally what records in 2012 have you been spinning on a regular basis?
Tim: Bill Fay’s new record, Life is People. The MC from Cool Kids, Sir Michael Rocks, has some dope mixtapes out now. Ariel Pink’s new record, still trying to figure that one out. The War on Drugs album. Rockin Horse, a re-issued power pop record on Sing Sing. A local San Francisco songwriter named Jessica Pratt, her album’s not out yet but I will be wearing that one out on my turntable. Deep Time.