Photo by James Cromwell Holden
The Fresh & Onlys are prepping to release their first album in three years, Wolf Lie Down, next month through Sinderlyn Records. The House of Spirits follow-up was recorded at the home studio of the band’s own Wymond Miles and produced by garage/psych rock stalwarts Kelley Stoltz (Electric Duck) and Greg Ashley (Creamery).
Described as a passionate “return to form”, it’s being previewed today with a track called “Impossible Man” as well as an illuminating Q&A with the Bay Area-based outfit. As singer Tim Cohen tells Consequence of Sound, “Impossible Man” was loosely based on Ralph Ellison’s classic novel Invisible Man, but features a much more personal familial premise. At the heart of the steadily simmering garage rock cut is a reflection on “the eventuality of life,” specifically the way in which Cohen’s parents not only gave him life, but also helped him sustain it after a harrowing near-death experience in his early years. “I am an impossible man to understand, breathing into a mic/ Born in a hospital dead, good as dead, looking up through the ice,” the opening lines read.
Cohen explains further, saying: “The eventuality of my life has brought me here, forty years hence, to finally understand that life itself is only possible when all possible possibilities conspire together in a perfect union. But beyond the love and science behind my birth, and the evil of illness that cursed me at first, the thing that made me possible was the enduring belief of my parents, my creators, who pulled me with their minds, their feelings and I believe with the power of their souls, from the brink of existence, back into the realm of possibility.”
Hear “Impossible Man” below. Wolf Lie Down arrives August 25th.
In addition to further elaborating on the new song, our accompanying Q&A (conducted by CoS’ own Ben Kaye) sees Cohen and Miles discussing the garage pop sound of Wolf Lie Down; the lessons they learned from compiling their Early Years Anthology LP; and their various individual projects outside of The Fresh & Onlys. Read on below.
From what we’ve heard so far, it sounds like Wolf Lie Down leans harder into garage pop sounds than the psychedelic washes of House of Spirits or the jangly jams of Long Slow Dance. Obviously those styles are still very much part of your sonic tapestry, but was it a conscious decision to focus more on what your press release calls “chugging full speed rhythms,” or at least lead with two tracks that highlight that?
Wymond Miles: We’ve got a patent on those chug-a-lug-no-foot-boogie rhythms, they’re innate to what we do! We did intentionally lean out the jangle, but those psychedelic washes flow more rapid than ever. We’re always playing with dichotomy—the tender paisley romance against the blasted claustrophobic wryness in us.
Between 2014’s House of Spirits and this new record, you went and did the Early Years Anthology. Did working with those older songs and spending that much time with them impact your songwriting for Wolf Lie Down, and in what ways?
WM: Yeah, it was great to compile that Early Years Anthology, some of my favorite tunes are on that. It’s really the “lost album” between the first couple albums and stands has an equal companion to those on its own merit. What I took from listening back was to keep the recordings off the cuff, amps and tape meters blown out, and to minimize/maximize what you’ve got to use.
Outside of The Fresh & Onlys, you both have incredibly active and numerous other outlets. Tim just released a new solo album earlier this year, Wymond dropped his latest last year. What is it that keeps you guys together as TF&O, especially since the project is essentially the two of you now?
WM: All our work has a pretty humble following. If we were tossed into the juggernaut of constant touring and mid-level R’N’R fame all that might be different. The work, the discovery, the muse is what drives. It’s not really a choice for either of us at its source. Practically I think we both might wish the beckoning of song wasn’t our siren call, but here we are nonetheless. Clearly we have enough going on that if F&O lost its luster we’d walk away, as it in fact did for two of our bandmates, but for us the embers in this cauldron still ignite. When we toured House Of Spirits we brought along some close old friends to play in the band and everything felt fun and vital again. We were just slow to shed the projected brand of how a band is supposed to function. We’ve got two new boots in the rhythm section now that feel like an elemental force so the well isn’t even close to dry.
What about Wolf Life Down in particular; what sparked the group songwriting this time around? How much overlap was there between your individual projects and this, and what let you know a certain song would sit better in TF&O as opposed to on your own records?
WM: Tim played me the Wolf Lie Down demo on an airplane some years back and my hair stood on end, I just knew it was going to to be the foundation stone of our next work. This LP was built on the back of demo CDR’s Tim made. My eye is always on album flow and questioning if I’m best suited to give something wings, a patient objective ear to the pile of thirty something song sketches.
Talk about “Impossible Man” in particular. It seems to me it’s touching on average people’s quest for happiness and the sort of archetypal nature of it all. Close or completely far off? What’s the track to you guys, and where did it come from?
WM: Lyrically I liked where Tim was reaching and what he was revealing. Those blown out guitar riffs were in my wheelhouse, and I knew we could make a classic F&O anthem out of it.
Tim Cohen: “Impossible Man” came from a song I came up with called “invisible man”, based loosely on Ralph Ellison’s sole but legendary novel. In it, I fancied myself figuratively invisible, like Ellison’s protagonist, but realizing it would be construed as either a pure homage to another, expressly literal character or as a literal ghost story, I quickly changed the title to “impossible man”.
Rhythmically and syllabically, it was a perfect match. But it allowed for much more room to imagine. After all, an invisible man would be known by no one actually. To refer to myself as such would just be a predictable exercise in self-loathing. I pondered the circumstances that can actually make a man be impossible , and there was no end to my discoveries.
But I thought that there must be a reason that I changed That word to “impossible”. So I ascribed the idea of being an impossible man to the one enduring condition of my life that has been the most constant and long- lasting, which is the relationship between me and my parents. I was born very sick, and lapsed into a coma just a couple days into my life. My understanding is that the coma lasted about a week and a half, during which both my parents balanced precariously on the verge of devastating loss. They stayed by my side for every waking second, imagining the impossible, that my two day old body would somehow survive the ravages of this mysterious illness.
The spoiler of the story, I survived. I took some time to get going , but I certainly developed a personality, all difficult and stubborn, talented but without focus, and my personal relationships would suffer these shortcomings quietly, until, in my mind, even my parents, and every single one of girlfriends, and friends would eventually ComeTo question my merit as a family member, a partner, a lover. This was the inevitable result of my own self-doubt and my willingness to perpetuate the idea that I was a dark, disconnected person.
The eventuality of my life has brought me here, forty years hence, to finally understand that life itself is only possible when all possible possibilities conspire together in a perfect union. But beyond the love and science behind my birth, and the evil of illness that cursed me at first, the thing that made me possible was the enduring belief of my parents, my creators, who pulled me with their minds, their feelings and I believe with the power of their souls, from the brink of existence, back into the realm of possibility. And in the long term, to becoming a man with his own children to wish into existence. What my parents did was actually scientifically, realistically, impossible. It was pure unadulterated love. A pure impossibility, giving birth to that which is almost impossible.