I’ve been humming “Summer of Love” for the past week; before that, it was “Until the End of Time”; and before that it was “Who Needs a Man.” Suffice it to say, every moment of Play it Strange is incredibly infectious and full of the strummed charm we’ve come to expect from San Francisco’s The Fresh & Onlys.
I spoke to bassist Shayde Sartin over the phone as we discussed being a downer band (they’re not), labels, genre names, and band-mentoring.
New Vague: How’s the tour going?
Shayde Sartin: It’s going great. We just left New York City and we’re headed to Vassar.
NV: How was touring with Royal Baths? You mentioned earlier that you had handpicked them.
SS: Yeah, they’re amazing. They’re one of those bands that, for me personally, I love watching them every night and they have such a thick, heavy vibe when they play, they always kind of transform the environment you’re in when you’re watching them, you know? I really like that about them.
NV: That was like one of their first big tours, right?
SS: It is, I think it’s their second. I know they toured with Thee Oh Sees at some point last year. But they are such a mess, man! Every night they, like, leave a guitar or their merch at the club. You know, we’ve had to jump their trucks twice because they keep leaving their lights on. [laughs] They’re kind of a mess but they’re great.
NV: Sounds like you have become their mentors of life now; you’ve become mom and dad.
SS: Yeah, “Don’t forget to get paid, guys!” [laughs] We’ve definitely toured more than they have. You know, I remember my first tour and I certainly did the same kind of thing where we left stuff and forgot things.
NV: You should do a band-mentoring program. So, I didn’t want to ask about your job or anything but I was wondering, since you’re in a record store often and you’re a touring band, are there any genre names, that are either ill-fitted or aptly-named, that you absolutely detest?
SS: No, there’s not really. For me, personally, I don’t think that when people come up with these subgenres within subgenres within subgenres, and they start naming things, it’s kind of, like…for the journalists it just shows lazy journalism if they just kind of cling to that or use that as a placemat to describe whatever music they are writing about.
But I don’t take any offense to being called garage, or pop, or whatever. It’s also kind of a necessary evil because when you’re trying to describe music; you can’t put it in clear terms always.
NV: Let’s talk about the new album, Play it Strange, on In the Red Records. How’s that process going?
SS: It’s great. He’s a legendary dude and his back catalogue is incredible. It’s more dynamic than people recognize. Like, he’s put everything out from Pussy Galore to the Strange Boys. He’s pretty broad and he’s definitely enthusiastic. He’s not your typical record label person; he’s not out there just to make money.
NV: Do you feel like label nomads sometimes?
SS: Unfortunately, I feel that way a little bit, yeah. [laughs]
NV: I think that works for you, though. Especially in Play it Strange—this album moves in a different direction (not totally unrelated) but the production leads to a different vibe.
SS: Yeah, totally. As far as working with a bunch of different labels: every label we work with, we like. We definitely at this point want to be more focused with one label and do it right, every time.
NV: What can you tell us about Play it Strange? It’s kind of a darker album for you guys. It’s not like a summer pop album; I feel like it came out at exactly the right time. It’s kind of an autumn album.
SS: [laughs] I totally agree with that. I think it’s coincidentally in the direction we’ve always been heading in and that vibe for us is really prevalent. I don’t think we’re a downer band or anything, but we certainly relate to melancholy melodies and it’s a comfortable place to be.
NV: “Tropical Island Suite” is a seven minute long track, which is pretty long in comparison to other tracks you’ve done. Do you think it’s part of your narrative of moving and growing as a band, being able to make longer tracks and going into different directions?
SS: That specific track came about in a really natural way and it’s just how it happened. The latter half of that track is something we’re definitely playing with more now—that feeling and that vibe. So yeah, I guess you could say that; it is kind of our narrative.
NV: There’s a lot more punk influence in this album than in your previous albums. Is that a new direction you’re exploring? Is that something we can expect in the future? Or was it just something you guys were listening to a lot?
SS: You never know which direction you’re headed in until you actually start record. We just finished an EP that was a perfect example of that. If you were to listen to the original demos and the songs we used, they’re entirely different-sounding.
When we record a record, everything just happens as it comes in the moment. If we were to record those same songs next year, they would probably sound entirely different and be composed entirely differently.
The Fresh & Onlys are currently on tour with Clinic, promoting Play it Strange–out now on In The Red.