FALL ARTS PREVIEW: The Fresh and Onlys have the record they've always dreamed of making in 'Long Slow Dance'
FALL ARTS "You're at the right place," Tim Cohen mutters, holding a large laundry sack swaddled like a burrito to his chest as he walks up to the tri-level white Victorian on McAllister Street in San Francisco's Western Addition. A prolific singer-songwriter with morose pop vocals and a gruff exterior, Cohen is preparing to once again tour with his band, the Fresh and Onlys. And Cohen is flying out to the East Coast earlier than the others so he can play a few shows in his other incarnation, Magic Trick.
After dropping off his laundry sack upstairs in the top tower of the Victorian, Cohen climbs down the steps and stands against a railing on the front stoop with the band's newest member, pony-tailed drummer Kyle Gibson, who really isn't all that new. Gibson's first show with Cohen, bassist Shayde Sartin, and skinny, pompadoured guitarist Wymond Miles, was at Noise Pop on Feb. 26, 2009. Before he came along, the band dilly-dallied around with a bunch of different drummers for around eight months, says Cohen.
The cohesive four-piece hit the ground running, creating psychedelically swirled darkly moving garage and psych-pop in home recording studios, and releasing records and EPs at a dizzying speed, touring nearly nonstop through the past three years.
Now signed to Mexican Summer, the Fresh and Onlys have slowed down a bit, spending the end of last year recording 2012's Long Slow Dance (which sees release Sept. 4), their fourth long-player and first since 2010's noisier Play It Strange. This fall they'll again pick up the pace, and tour the West Coast, East Coast, and Europe through early next year.
"I feel like this is the record we all wanted to make, we've been wanting to make this record for a long time," says Miles, who slinks up last to Cohen's stoop on this unseasonably warm summer day in SF. If not for the occasional cool breeze, the day would be downright hot. I ask him to expand and he laughs and says, "Take it, Tim."
"We were all a lot more patient with the process," says Cohen. "It was like, it's already been this long, let's do it right. Let's get the sounds right, let's get the takes right, let's get the feelings and the moods right."
Moods come up frequently in both the stoop conversation and the record itself. The dark poetic drawl is inherent within Cohen, that Morrissey-Robert Smith pain paired to jangly pop. Album opener "20 Days and 20 Nights" has a classic hook, but matched to Cohen's words, it's actually quite sad. "Something so heavy/in my mind/I think I want to try and get it out/So I cry/and I cry."
Many of Cohen's lyrics come lifted from his dreams, so naturally he keeps a notebook by his bed in the tower. "When I write something down, I'll look at it a few days later and be like, 'wow, that's kind of strange,' and I'll usually turn that into something."
He feels he may be subconsciously influenced by the absurdist and surrealist fiction he reads, by authors such as Kafka, and conversely, classic radio pop. On jangly "No Regard," he opens with "ever wonder why fools fall in love?"
"I don't know how aware Tim was of Frankie Lymon when he wrote it," says Sartin. "Not only is it a classic lyric, it's a classic sentiment in pop culture in general. Whenever you hear that song, Frankie Lymon still lives, even though he died a miserable death."
After a hot pause of silent remembrance, Sartin continues, "So I think sometimes those things pop up in Tim's lyrics. They get mangled by the time they get to the pen and paper in Tim's hand or onto the record for that matter."