“We’re stubborn assholes—down to the person, we all are,” said Tim Cohen, lead singer and guitarist of the Fresh & Onlys, perhaps San Francisco’s most beloved local band. “But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re talented, and unique and progressive — you can be all those things and still be an asshole.”
Cohen used those terms to describe the tumultuous past several years for the band. The four-piece garage rock institution struggled to coalesce after Cohen moved to Arizona for a brief sojourn to raise his daughter, getting to the point where the band members hardly spoke to one another as they pondered an uncertain musical future.
“We’ve never been stable really — we’ve gotten into fights, we’ve had shouting matches” said Cohen. “In my experience, if you put four grown men in a car together, and you stay in the same hotel room for six weeks, there should be some deep-seeded tension. But there is a dark energy that we couldn’t manufacture or practice, and I think that’s what makes us a good band.”
Cohen, who has always been refreshingly candid about the challenges of being in the group, has been back in San Francisco for a year and a half, and he said the Fresh & Onlys — made up of Cohen, bassist Shayde Sartin, guitarist Wymond Miles and drummer Kyle Gibson — are on much better terms now. So, fans of the group’s ever-evolving sound – which has ranged from psychedelic-branded garage rock to lush, dreamy pop inspired by the Smiths — can rest easy knowing that the recent period of uncertainty is drawing to a close.
Cohen said the group is on the verge of signing a three-record deal with a new label (he couldn’t get into too many details) and that they could start recording a new album as early as next January. He’s hoping to put out the finished product at some point next year.
The new album will also likely see the band return to the form of their earlier years, when their lo-fi, grizzly pop nuggets stood at the centerpiece of San Francisco’s then-burgeoning garage rock scene. It will be a departure from the sound of their more recent records, which increasingly-embraced pristine, vast and clean-sounding pop expositions.
“I think we had an idea that when we started doing records in the studio, we had to make them sound a certain way, and after we made one record in the studio, we had to improve upon that sound,” said Cohen. “The songwriting was geared toward songs that would sound good in the studio, but I’m really not concerned with that anymore.”
The September release of Early Years Anthology, a compilation of the band’s unreleased material recorded during their first and second albums, also helped inspire Cohen and the group to embrace their more rough-around-the-edges tendencies.
“It was really motivating to go back and revisit some of those songs,” said Cohen. “Back then, it was really just me and Shayde making music in a bedroom, high out of our minds. With a full band, we’re a much more powerful presence, so it’s exciting to think about what we could accomplish now with that approach.”
The group will put their ongoing rebirth to display at the Hemlock on Saturday night, where they’ll play with Apprentice Destroyer and Fronds in a performance presented by The Bay Bridged. Cohen said the last time they played the Hemlock, it was one of “worst shows in the history of the Fresh & Onlys.”
“It was a nightmare,” said Cohen. “So I guess we’re looking for a bit of redemption there.”
That positive scenario is one of the many rosy outlooks now facing the band. The Fresh & Onlys story has always been an up-and-down saga, but the latest chapter looks to bode well.
“At one point in the not-too-distant past, we had no record label, we had no songs, we had no touring plans, and we were hardly speaking to each other. So, going from that to a potential record deal and potential songs — it’s like a brand new opportunity for us to pretty much reinvent ourselves as we see fit. That can be hard, but we’re a lucky bunch. We’ve had a lot of things handed to us and someone out there believes in us — that we’re still going to make great records and put on good shows. And for that, we’re blessed.”
The Bay Bridged presents: The Fresh & Onlys, Apprentice Destroyer, Fronds
The Hemlock Tavern
November 28, 9 p.m.