Hailing from London, and sometimes France, Fresh started life as the songwriting venture of Kathryn Woods. Long since expanded to a four piece band, Fresh released their self-titled debut album back in 2017 and made their much anticipated return last week, with the release of their second record, Withdraw.
Even a cursory listen to Withdraw shows a band expanding on their previous work. While their debut was a collection of rapid fire pop-punk songs, on Withdraw, Fresh are pushing out in a series of directions. The heavier moments are crashing and monstrous, the poppier tracks more polished and pristine. The words too seem to have developed, Kathryn’s lyrics, once acerbic and angsty, now feel more subtle, more guarded, the openness weathered by the inevitable grinds of growing older. In many ways, Withdraw is a record about growing up, and finding life is both more challenging and more rewarding than you ever dreamt it would be.
Throughout Withdraw, there’s both an anger and a defiance, twin threads that run through all of Kathryn’s songwriting. The record’s first single, Willa, lays the seeds, both a celebration of the joys, “when I’m on stage I feel safe, you can’t hurt me up here”, and struggles, “I just want to be acknowledged please”, of being a woman in a male dominated industry. The theme continues elsewhere, whether revelling in being, “unapologetically vulnerable”, on the title track, or defying stereotypes on the excellent No Thanks, where Kathryn sings, “despite what you might think I am not a baby bird with a broken wing for you to heal“.
As much as one can take a cerebral appreciation of Withdraw, there’s something to be said too for just letting the joyful noise wash over you. Fall for Going To Brighton, with its bouncing riff so exuberant it’ll have you grinning from ear to ear, marvel at the interplay between bass and drums on New Girl, fall for the Allo Darlin’ like Punisher, and try to pretend you’re too cool to enjoy the way it morphs into Summer Nights at its finale. Perhaps the most thrilling, or at least the most cathartic moment, comes in the penultimate track, Revenge, it’s as if Arya Stark wrote a My Chemical Romance song, as Kathryn howls, “I am valued, I am love, I will get revenge on everyone who’s done me wrong”, over a clattering, crescendo of noise: it’s absolutely wonderful.
With Fresh soon to take Withdraw out on the road, Kathryn took some time to talk about favourite tour destinations, making music as a woman in 2019 and finding catharsis in songwriting.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who are Fresh?
Fresh is a punk band from London that I started when I was eighteen. We love travelling and playing LOUD.
FTR: Your new album, Withdraw is out now, what can you tell us about recording it?
Recording Withdraw was intense. It took us about seven days, all in all. Four of those days were given to vocals. We chose Rich Mandell (from Happy Accidents) to engineer and produce the album because I feel like his aspirations for Withdraw were in line with what I wanted, we’ve toured with him and we’re already close friends, so it felt right to trust him with something as big as our record.
FTR: What did you do differently compared to your debut album?
I spent more time writing for Withdraw, but both albums have the same basic process of writing on an acoustic guitar and then taking the demo to the others in a room to jam out. A big difference was that this new album was written with our current guitarist, Myles. We were a real established unit for this album. I think that helped enormously.
FTR: The album’s coming out via Specialist Subject, how did that come about?
I met Andrew and Kay in 2015 when we opened Shit Present’s London EP release show. I admired their ethos and commitment to their bands, they truly care about what they’re doing and they only put out stuff that they really like. When they offered to release our debut album I was thrilled because I am such a fan of so many of their other bands. It was also really important to me that our label not be made up entirely of cis men. This is my music, I’m a woman, and I want that part of Fresh to be reflected and represented.
FTR: Listening to Withdraw, it feels a lot more diverse musically than your debut album. Were you consciously trying to push yourself on this album?
It wasn’t conscious or deliberate, but Withdraw does go a little further musically than the first record. But I think that’s only natural, our first album was us establishing our “sound” and laying down a foundation, and now that we’re all really comfortable around each other we were able to build on that and go a little further for this coming record. I think I’m a much more confident guitarist now and that shows, we also had more time to write and work on ideas at our own pace.
FTR: There’s a definite personal feel to some of the lyrics on the record, do you find it easy to discuss aspects like mental health/brutal revenge fantasies on record?
It’s not easy at all. I don’t actively seek out darker subject matter for songwriting, but what usually happens is that I’ll write whatever I need to get out of my head, and that can be something that does affect me negatively. It’s really rewarding and cathartic for me to speak about bad experiences or bad times in songs, because once they’re made into Fresh songs they’re kind of aired out and they’re not so personal anymore. It’s a tricky one. A lot of young women and non-binary people feel pressured by the industry into making trauma public, making themselves emotionally available to a mostly older male audience. This makes them “real.” On the flip side, we’re also told to be stoic and repressed or else we fall into that more classic “hysterical” model and we’re laughable. It’s really conflicting and I’ve felt pressure to do both. At the end of the day I write what I feel like I need to write and one of our new songs “Punisher” came out of that observation. There’s power to sharing and there’s power to not sharing, as long as you’re comfortable and you’re doing it on your own terms.
FTR: Where do you think the DIY-scene is at currently? Do you think this is a good time to be making music?
That’s very general! Globally, It’s the best time for women in music, but it’s still shit. Bands like Camp Cope have been uncompromising in the lack of respect women get in alternative music, and that’s been huge for the scene. But as usual men in positions of power will try to cash in on movements of social justice and representation. So now we get offered massive shows and tours for all-male bands for almost no money, and that’s upsetting because I work really hard to do what I do. It’s insulting to be underpaid. These men in power know they have to have women included somewhere because it makes them look good, but they don’t want to pay us adequately. The UK feels like a very hopeless place right now politically, and we’re seeing a lot of venues close down due to Tory austerity and this basic lack of respect for arts and music.
FTR: What are your aspirations for Fresh? Do you see music as a viable career?
We all have other jobs that we do, and I’m an undergrad, studying French at university in London. When I graduate I want to do a masters straight away, but we’ll see. I don’t see my band as a career, and I don’t think any of our contemporaries do. With streaming services paying us the way they do we will never make substantial money out of Fresh, and in a way that frees us of any stress or pressure. It’s purely art for arts sake!
FTR: Who are your influences? What were you listening to when you wrote Withdraw?
I listened to Charly Bliss, Big Thief, Adult Mom, Hop Along was a big inspiration. But I also read a lot of Willa Cather, Doris Lessing, Val Brelinski.
FTR: Why do you make music? Do you have any other creative outlets?
Fresh is my main creative outlet. I love writing and reading, which I obviously do at university, and that’s also creative and fun. But I make music for the solidarity. I can say that creating something with three other people and taking that thing to a community who encourage and support it is easily the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done.
FTR: The album’s obviously coming out on vinyl, are you attached to physical formats? Do you see streaming as a good thing or a bad thing for the music industry?
I will always buy a record physically (usually on vinyl) if I really like it. It’s a bonus to have your music on physical formats, and it’s a good way to interact with the record as a whole (the album art, the lyrics on the insert etc). With streaming services – it really depends. Spotify is great for discovering new bands but they pay us next to nothing. Bandcamp is just as good for getting into new stuff and we get more money from it! We paid for Withdraw’s recording entirely from people buying merch/music on Bandcamp and from touring, which says a lot.
FTR: What can people expect from the Fresh live show?
Lots of dancing about, lots of great guitar solos, a group of people who all want to forget the bad stuff for an hour and have a good time.
FTR: Did you enjoy the acoustic tours you did? How did it compared to touring with the full band?
The dynamic between the two is so different. Full band Fresh is loud and fast and urgent and sometimes you feel like you can’t even catch your breath, which is the fun of it! When stuff is a whirlwind and the energy is high you get that adrenaline going. Obviously on an acoustic tour we’re all sitting down, we don’t have loud drums, it’s a lot more “bare bones.” We had Tom Lee from Tea Leaf/Hora Douse accompanying the Fresh songs on keyboard and vocals and his parts brought a new colour to the songs. I actually found it a really meditative experience. I got to focus completely on what I was singing and it made for some beautiful moments in or set, and people who came to the shows felt that atmosphere too. We did 9 countries in two weeks or so, and it really created a bond between us three – Me, Tom and Myles. It was a completely crazy experience and there were times were I just sat back and tried to soak it all in. It was intense! I found Lausanne, Switzerland especially beautiful and Graz in Austria was really cool. It was the first time I had been to those countries.
FTR: Where are you favourite places to tour?
I love touring mainland Europe and going to new countries, it’s so exciting experiencing new cultures on top of playing a set. We played The Fiest in May 2018, which is a festival in Madrid, and the punk ethos there was really incredible. I have a soft spot for Spain because of that! But I usually like something about every place we go to, so it’s hard to pick a favourite.
FTR: What’s next for Fresh?
We’ve already started writing for “thing three” and we’re gonna play lots of shows! I think we want to take this album further than the last one and do bigger things, so stay tuned for that!
Withdraw is out now via Specialist Subject Records. Click HERE for more information on Fresh.