Shayde Sartin’s musical odyssey started in the coalfields of West Virginia, took a scary turn to Tampa, Florida, and eventually ended up in San Francisco, where he has found success in a number of well-regarded musical projects and as a floor manager for Amoeba Music’s store in the city’s famous Haight-Ashbury District. Sartin is perhaps most well known as a founding member of the Fresh and Onlys. The band is currently putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to its 2010 breakthrough Play It Strange, which continued its trademark sonic experimentation while finding a much wider audience.
The first question is pretty obvious. How does a guy from Willamson, West Virginia end up playing indie rock in California?
I had a stepdad who was a coal miner. He started to develop black lung in his thirties, and he and my mom moved to Florida. It was Florida in the ’90s, so I learned about punk rock and indie rock there. In West Virginia, this was pre-Internet, obviously, and there was no culture like that. Kids had never heard of a skateboarder, had never heard of punk rock. Nothing. I started seeing lots of shows in Tampa, but one day I realized I needed to get out of there. I had a pretty bad drug problem, and it’s really easy to be on drugs in Tampa. I literally got into my car and drove to L.A. because I had never been to California. Once I was there, I knocked around a while and ended up in San Francisco, the most amazing city in the world.
I only wondered because I’m also from West Virginia.
No way. I love to meet people from West Virginia. I still have this weird pride thing about West Virginia. Any time there’s a West Virginian involved in anything, I’m like “Whoa.” If you start doing research, there are a lot of people from there. Bill Withers is one of my favorite West Virginians and Anne Magnuson is from there. A totally bizarre crop of people come from that place.
I’ve ended up in Atlanta, but then you did too.
When I first started Fresh and Onlys, I almost moved to Atlanta and relocated the whole band there. My girlfriend is from Atlanta, and she was still living there. She decided to move out here instead.
And then you went right out on tour. She wasn’t that cool with it, after having been the tour manager for Black Lips. Those guys are deviants.
I love those dudes. We toured with them in Germany this past year, and I was amazed at the insanity of their function as a band. I don’t think people really understand that band entirely. It was one of those things when I’m on tour, and I can’t believe I’m seeing this day to day. They’re kind of all emotional wrecks, and then there was the dude that tried to strangle Cole because he peed on him. He came to the back stage and tried to attack Cole for pissing. What the fuck did he expect? He was at a Black Lips show. That’s what they do. They have this huge tour manager named Martin Rapalski- he looks like a footballer. He choked that guy out pretty hard. Sorry. I’m rambling.
Back on topic, then. Fresh and Onlys is currently recording its fourth full-length album. How’s it going?
The recording was awesome. It was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had recording. We tried mixing the record ourselves, but after sitting on it a while we decided to try a pair of fresh ears. We sent it to Mark Needham who did a great job with it. I think it’s important not to repeat yourself and take some chances every time out. I feel like we definitely did that with this record.
Is it as exciting to make the fourth record as it was the first?
To me, it’s ten times more exciting. We’re more functional as a band now, but we’re fortunate in that none of us has ever gotten tired of doing it. We’re not always playing to our safety. When you first start working on a record and you’re really focused, there’s a point where you’re pushing and you’re pushing and trying to make it the best thing you can do, then at some point you cross this threshold where it starts to push you and then takes you away. That’s when you know you’re making a good record. You’re not in control. You’re just there and it’s happening.
What in particular sounds fresh to you this time around?
First of all the batch of songs- there were about thirty of them- that we’re pulling from. I think also we’re getting better at honing in on the sound we want, which is a kind of melancholia matched with an awkward pop sensibility. It’s a little bit uncool, I always say. It’s hard to put to into words. We have this awkward melancholy paired with playfulness. It’s kind of hard to do, man. Some bands, like the Go-Betweens, did it effortlessly. Or you take a song like “Frankly Mr. Shankly” by The Smiths, that’s a got a frumpy, awkward tip, but there’s this sort of weird sadness to it. I feel like that’s the thing we always try to target in our songs.
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard of your band?
Describing music is just altogether too hard. It’s like food, where it’s really hard to explain and you turn to more esoteric ways to describe it. If someone asks me what kind of band we are, I say we’re a pop band. We’re a pretty direct pop band. If I had to describe us sonically, I’d be totally lost. I have no idea what happens, why it happens, or how it got to be that way. It’s so strange to me after years playing in bands, that’s there’s always some kind of agenda. There’s a place sonically or artistically that the band is trying to fit in; one of the great things that comes with age is that you quit worrying about that. Fresh and Onlys happened right around that time in my life, where I could start playing music and not worry about those other things.
Even though Fresh and Onlys came about in the maturity of your music career, what is the musical influence that nobody would ever guess?
It’s actually pretty easy. One of the greatest musical influences for me and Wymond (Miles) is Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons. If people look at the Fresh and Onlys, they would say it makes no sense at all, but somehow it does. Every time he puts out a record, my life is absorbed with his music. I don’t think people who listen to our band would particularly like Antony and the Johnsons, but he has been a massive influence on me since 1999. His was actually one of the first shows that I saw when I moved to San Francisco. I think a lot of times it’s obvious that we’re country music fans, but I don’t think anybody could understand to what degree I’m into Antony and the Johnsons.
You’ve mentioned that San Francisco has a great music scene, and you’re also involved through Amoeba Records. What are some of your recommendations for bands from your adopted town?
I always feel that with San Francisco one of the most overlooked eras is the punk rock era. The punk bands that came from here were totally bizarre, and they were overlooked a lot of the time- like Factrix. That was an incredible and extremely unique band. Cole Palme, the main guy from that band, is still around the city, still out of his mind; it’s kind of bizarre to me. There’s also Tuxedomoon. I’ve always been enamored with that era of music here. I of course also love the heyday in 1967. I still listen to Big Brother and the Holding Company once a month at least. It’s just one of those records that you throw on. It’s fucking awesome. There are always bands popping up and disappearing here, and there are always good bands. This city is the perfect place to be in a band, and a strange band. People have this conception of San Francisco as being kind of hippie and granola, but that’s not what this city is; this city is dirty and it’s fucking dark. It’s a strange place, but it’s a paradise for fuck-ups.