The Fresh & Onlys | Demon Dance

Tim Cohen is no stranger to a busy schedule—his main outfit, The Fresh & Onlys, has released three albums in the past four years, while Cohen has released three other albums in as much time with his side project, Magic Trick. So when he and his family moved away from the noise and stimulation of San Francisco to the Arizona desert for some space and silence, Cohen went all-in on turning inward—relying on a landline telephone, taking bedside notes on his dreams, and focusing on raising his daughter and writing music. The result is House of Spirits, an expansive album that brings The Fresh & Onlys to darker territory and, perhaps, to a place less energized and exciting than when Cohen drew inspiration from more lively surrounds like San Francisco. While the record is lacking in the jangly guitar pop that The Fresh & Onlys once prided itself on, its contemplative songwriting packs an emotional punch that makes for music best spun after everyone else has gone to bed and the coyotes are still out howling at the moon. The one thing Cohen asks is that you make sure to listen to the record with some decent headphones, please.

How different is Arizona as a source of influence for your music, as compared to San Francisco?
In the desert you’re basically looking at complete silence, tarantulas, scorpions, coyotes, roosters, the occasional braying of a horse, and just the moonlight. It lends itself to a more contemplative process…so I’d have one or two melodic ideas, and I would throw those down and then have the lyrical ideas pretty fleshed out because I had hours and hours to write. There wasn’t a lot of text-y stuff, or the constant interaction that you have in this new world of smartphones and living in cities.

Was this trip to Arizona inspired by a feeling of being overwhelmed by this culture of smartphones, and constant interaction over text?
Yes and no—the real reason I moved out there was because we had a baby daughter in October of 2012, so the reason for leaving the city and the over-stimulants was to give ourselves a bit more space. My parents live out there and they wanted to help out with raising her, and I knew I was going to be travelling.

Does it ever feel like life in the music industry is at odds with being a father?
Definitely. Touring has been a lot more difficult, both logistically and emotionally. I’m so wrapped up in my daughter’s emotional and physical state, I would say it’s closer to me than my actual own physical state or emotional state. So when I’m away from her I feel it a lot deeper than I would for anyone else, ever. 

Can you tell me a little about your side project, Magic Trick? 
Sometimes I need be able to go and do what I used to do, which is record songs by myself on a four track. It's a little more complicated than that now because I’m trying to make [the Magic Trick songs] sound good. At a certain point, I really enjoy playing with Magic Trick because there’s women in the band, and the songs are written so that there are women singing vocals as well—it's a more vocal oriented thing. 

Has a more lighthearted project like Magic Trick become an even more necessary counterweight as The Fresh & Onlys has taken a slightly more sombre turn?

As Magic Trick has become more of a yin to The Fresh & Onlys’ yang, I think a lot of Magic Trick is where I’m writing these love songs—poppier, kind of mellow, stoney, happy vibe kinds of things. And The Fresh & Onlys, because we’ve been a band for longer, and we know each other and our secrets and all that, our darkness has always been at the fore with us. Actually in recording this last album, with me being gone, the band started to lose a sense of itself and it’s togetherness, the reasons for its inception and its reasons for carrying on. There was a lot of loss, and a lot of addiction, and a lot of unwillingness to face the demons, which resulted in succumbing to a lot of our demons. 

In your recent piece on Impose, you talked a bit about our current constellation of audience culture and blogs; you seemed a bit wary of the rise in blogging and online music. What’s your relationship to that whole culture?
I can’t possibly begin to explain or understand growing up in a world where we listen to music the way that a lot of the youth listen to music [these days]. I didn't live that, so I couldn't begin to understand it. I’m not cynical about it, and I don't hate that it’s happening, but I also wish so much that it never existed. The age that I grew up in, I was able to take this stuff in and really have a relationship with it, and hold it, and cherish it, and let it become part of my soul and my reason for living.

Now, if I recognize in someone’s writing that they didn't actually listen to an entire album or give it the chance that I felt that it deserved, that’s when it’s a little bit annoying. A person listened to our song “Bells of Paonia,” and mentioned in the description of it that there were no drums in it. However, if you listen to it on any stereo other than your Apple Macintosh speakers, you would know that there’s a pulsing drumbeat throughout the entire song. That person is entitled to their opinion, but I really wish that writers who are paid to write about music would listen to it, with decent headphones. 

Are there any other music genres that especially interest you right now, or that you’d like to branch into?
I’ve always loved hip hop. I’m really into battle rap right now, which is a cappella live performance rap music. Basically, you watch two dudes spit free verses or whatever at each other, that are never going to be recorded on a record, never going to be repeated again in live performance. They just have one chance to say this piece that they’ve written for this other dude. That’s the most immediate, intense experience. So I’ve become obsessed with battle rap. You know, I’m talking about Loaded Lux, Hollow Da Don, Bigg K…it’s pretty dope. 

So could you ever see yourself jumping in on battle rapping?
No. I’m good at writing battle rhymes. I’ve written my share of them, but as for performing them, I don't know if I have that aggression. I could never take myself seriously as a rapper and therefore I’d be a joke rapper, which is the worst kind of rapper. 


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