THE SELF-TITLED INTERVIEW: Best Coast

October 30, 2013 The S/T Interview
  • Photos by David Black

    “When I make art, I like to just get it over with,” explains Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino. “I write songs, and I move on.”

    That explains why the singer/guitarist and her sentence-finishing bandmate (multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno) have a couple records on the way in the coming year—because they’re not about to spend the next six months holed up in a high profile studio like they did for last year’s The Only Place LP. Getting Shit Done is their modus operandi instead, beginning with the recently released Fade Away EP, which pairs the duo’s recent Record Store Day single (“Fear of My Identity” b/w “Who Have I Become”) with five songs from the same low-key Hollywood session.

    All of which reflect the increased confidence Best Coast gained in the three surreal years since their breakthrough album, Crazy For You. Aside from tackling the trial-by-fire tasks of warming up arenas for Green Day and working with the same hi-def producer (Jon Brion) as Kanye West, Fiona Apple and of Montreal, Cosentino has also spent her free time performing an impromptu show with Kendrick Lamar, trading verses with Iggy Pop for a True Blood track, and developing a ’90s-leaning Urban Outfitters line that referenced everything from Stevie Nicks to Seinfeld.

    Meanwhile, Best Coast have made considerable strides musically, stripping back the sheen of their Brion-backed LP without losing track of why people started caring in the first place.

    “I loved the songs and the process of making the last record,” says Cosentino, “but sometimes I wish we could have made it sound a little grungier. This EP is a chance to go back in time.”

    Fade Away also benefits from being the first release on Cosentino’s Jewel City imprint, setting Best Coast off on a course to cultivate future material—including an album they’ll start recording in November—without the pressure of pleasing third parties. In this case, the close-knit collaborators didn’t even tell anyone they were wrapping a new record outside of a stray YouTube update that was forwarded to fans in January. The freedom Cosentino suddenly felt led to a well-balanced set of songs that was loosely inspired by such wide-ranging artists as Mazzy Star (the desert-dwelling balladry of “Baby, I’m Crying”), Patsy Cline (the gear-shifting grooves of “I Don’t Know How”) and My Bloody Valentine (the entire record, in spirit at least).

    “We felt like we were secretly doing this awesome thing that we were stoked to share with everybody,” says Cosentino. “Headspace-wise, I was in a totally different place than I was with the second record. It probably shows…a lot.”

    When was the new EP written and recorded?
    We had a decent amount of time off from touring, so I just threw out the idea of doing an EP instead of rushing into another record, and [Bobb] was totally down with it. This was probably in the beginning of the year. We went to Japan and then we came home and started recording these new songs. We were really excited about it because the reactions to the last record [were mixed] and that’s kind of how I feel about how different it is from the first record. I feel this EP is kind of…it’s not super lo-fi and DIY sounding, but it’s not too produced [either].

    It sounds more confident.
    It’s weird…Making The Only Place was just this really intense time for me…When people asked “how do you feel about the sophomore slump?”, I was like, “Oh, that doesn’t exist!” But I was just bullshitting so much because I didn’t want anybody to know that I was actually worried. Making this EP was a breath of fresh air—so nice and not complicated.

    Since you and Bobb have such a tight creative relationship, was he worried about how you were feeling about the second record?
    I’m a Scorpio, so I’m pretty good at hiding my emotions. Bobb was kind of like the rock in that situation. He would just be like, “You’re gonna be fine. It’s gonna be fine. Just relax.” And I was just like “Bob…” He knew what I was going through, and I think that he kinda stepped it up a little bit and was like, “I’m gonna take the reigns here and allow you to chill out.”

    The first record took two weeks to record; the second record took six months. So it was like…insane. When I write songs I don’t really revise them; I just make them and then I’m like, “There, that exists—that’s something in the world now.” And I move on. So I think that the process of going into the studio every single day for that long…I was so ready to, like, wrap up and just be done.

    How has your creative/personal relationship with Bobb evolved?
    Since the band started, it’s always been this dynamic of I write a song and then I send it to Bobb and I say, “This is what it was inspired by; this is what I want the song to sound like or some parts that I want in it. You can take it and finish it.” I’ve been in a lot of bands and I’ve done a lot of collaborations, and it’s really fucking awkward to write with people. Bobb and I tried to sit in a room and jam once, and we found this process works better instead.

    I don’t know how I got so lucky to work with somebody who is so chill. We have this weird psychic connection where I’ll write a song and I’ll send it to him and I have this one part in mind that I think will be really cool, like I’ll say “think of the Beach Boys meets the Go Go’s” and he makes it happen. In other situations some people would be like, “What the fuck does that mean? That doesn’t make sense.”

    Your ideas sound kind of abstract.
    I am so challenged when it comes to explaining how I want things to sound. I’ve been playing music and singing since I was a little kid, but I literally don’t know anything about music terminology. It’s hard for me when I co-write things; if I’m in the studio with an artist and trying to help them write a song, they’ll be writing out music, and I’m like “I don’t know what’s going on!” Bobb is the same way…I can say, “I want there to be hand claps with reverb that sounds like you’re in the shower!” and Bobb will be like “Okay!”

    If your tendency is to be spur of the moment, making the last album must have been excruciating.
    I don’t want to make it sound like it was a terrible experience; it was great and I feel so privileged and I do really love the record, but I feel like there were parts about it, and the length of time that it took, that was just like “oh my god, we just gotta get this done.”

    No matter what, it was going to be a growing pains situation.
    Totally.

    Was the first time you and Bobb worked together through some of the last Pocahaunted stuff you did?
    Yeah, I met Bobb through my friend that used to play in a band called Miko Miko that now plays in the band Bleached. When I started Pocahaunted with Amanda [Brown], we were like, “We need somebody who can help record us and help us plan stuff.” So we brought Bobb in, and a lot of the time, it would just be me and him sitting in the studio, talking about pop music. So that’s when I had the idea to start Best Coast. Even though Bobb looks like a weird metal guy, and had hair down to his stomach when I first met him, he has this ear for pop music. We were making these really weird, experimental, abstract noise collage things in Pocahaunted, and it was not at all like anything I was remotely interested in. I was in the band because I just wanted to play music, but it wasn’t like I was playing the kind of music I wanted to listen to.

    So when Bob and I would get into these heavy conversations about pop music, I would just get so excited, because it was just so nice to have a friend who was also into the Beatles or the Beach Boys. And then legit radio pop music, like Bobb and I bonded over being really obsessed with Hillary Duff, and we went to see her movie together. It was this weird, awkward hang out. That’s how we started playing music together…When I planned out the idea of Best Coast, I felt like I wanted it to be a solo project, but I knew I couldn’t do what I wanted on my own, so Bobb was the only person I knew I could do it with. I wrote him a message on Facebook and said I wanted to start a band that was super influenced by the Beach Boys and ’60s pop music, that I’m living in New York City right now, but I’m moving back to L.A. soon, and I would love if you would do this with me.” And he said, “Yeah, just send me music when you start writing it.” I literally moved back to L.A. that weekend. I was living at my mom’s house in Burbank and I wrote “Sun Was High” and I sent it to him. He said, “This is the only kinda music I want to make.” Everything in this band has worked out so organically and perfectly that sometimes it scares me that something bad is going to happen.

    It’s only been four years since those first singles came out…
    People ask “How did you do it?” all the time and I’m like “I literally didn’t do anything. I made some songs, I put them up on the internet, and here I am now.” It’s this really insane thing I still don’t know how to process, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world. If I wasn’t doing this, I don’t know what I would be doing…This has become my life; I’m even enjoying being on tour. It’s at this point where I’m at home and I’m like, “Fuck, I just wanna be on tour! Home is boring.”

    I feel like it takes awhile to figure out who you are as a performer, and I’m finally at a point where I’m super confident on stage. I don’t even feel uncomfortable or awkward. When we first start performing, I was like, “Oh my god, I have to look at an audience and talk to people and introduce songs.” And I didn’t know what to do. Now it’s just second nature.

    I remember being at South by Southwest, and we were like, “We’re going to play songs off our new record!” And people were like, “Play the old songs!” I just lost my mind. I do that all the time. I don’t put up with hecklers…When people come to see us play, they need to understand that we’re in charge of the show. We’re performing for you. We make the setlist. We pick the songs we’re going to play. And you paid money to come see us do that. So if you yell some annoying thing to me, I am not going to pretend I didn’t hear it. Last week, we played at Indiana University, and there was this kid that kept yelling “Play something better!” and I was like “What the fuck does that mean?” And then he threw a cheeseburger at me, and I lost it. I was like “Fuck you! Get the fuck out of here!” I was just screaming on the mic, and all the kids at the concert were like, “That was so badass, I can’t believe you did that!”

    How was the Green Day tour?
    We’ve done shows before where you open for a huge band, and you typically just get treated like an opening band. You get a room and one bottle of liquor and some Cheetos, but the Green Day tour was the opposite of that. Everybody was so welcoming and so nice. Billie Joe would watch out sound checks and Tré Cool would come up and talk to us as we were setting up. The tour wasn’t that long, so we didn’t get a lot of time to hang out and become super friendly, but the time we spent with everybody was really, really awesome. People can say whatever they want to say about Green Day now as opposed to Green Day in the ’90s, but if you see them play, you are like “Holy shit, man! This is crazy!” They perform for two and a half hours and they don’t take any breaks. Billie Joe is amping up the crowd the whole time. I would watch and be like, “This is insane to me! I could never captivate an audience like that.”

    To see him on that stage…like literally every single person in those arenas were on their feet dancing and singing along. Getting to see that made me kind of develop more confidence as a frontwoman and a performer. I’m not trying to be Billie Joe and make Best Coast a crazy arena band, but I definitely would watch him and be like, “That’s what I wanna do! I want to make every person in the room have a good time.”

    I was a huge Green Day fan growing up. I remember taking Dookie into my guitar classes and being like, “I want to learn all the songs on this record!” I basically learned how to play guitar through blink-182 and Green Day songs, so to get to hang out with them and go on tour with them… I mean Bille Joe and I will text each other sometimes. If you told the 13-year-old Bethany that the 26-year-old Bethany would be friends with Billie Joe Armstrong, she would have cried. I thank him all the time.

    Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno

    If you hadn’t met Bobb, do you think you still would have pursued poppier music?
    Yeah. When I was doing Pocahaunted, I was very satisfied because I was doing something creative; I was going to someone’s house on a weekly basis to practice and record, so it was cool. I had a solo project when I was a teenager that was a singer/songwriter kind of thing. I had this whole idea that I was going to be, like, Katy Perry or something. I was gonna be a weird indie darker pop star.

    So you basically wanted to be Avril Lavigne?
    Basically! Yeah, I did. And it was weird, because I was given that opportunity. I was courted by major labels when I was 15 and they were like “We want you! We want to do this.” And I freaked out and was like, “I don’t want to do that, I’m scared.” In a way, I feel it was the best decision ever, because I don’t know who I would have ended up if I had signed my life away at 15 to a major label, and became this artist they created. I was writing my own songs, and they were like “Well, you can write with people.” I walked out of so many offices, and I threw away so many business cards.

    My parents were like, “Are you sure this is what you wanna do? You wanna go to high school? You don’t want to be a rockstar?” I think I always knew in the back of my mind that music would somehow come back to me because after that I kind of stopped playing and chose to focus on other things. I went to school for creative writing. I wanted to be a writer. Then when Pocahaunted started, I was like “Cool, okay, I’m making music again!” It wasn’t the music I wanted to be making, but I was getting to be creative, which was all I wanted to do. When I quit Pocahaunted and moved away to New York City and started school, I was like, “Okay, this is the life I’m living.” But I realized I wanted to make music again. I just dropped out of school, didn’t tell everybody I was leaving, and told them on Gchat, “This weekend, I’m leaving!” And I went back to L.A. and started writing again. Just like everything else, though, it took a while to get to the point where I was comfortable making it. It was a growing process. I had to go through a couple different phases to get to the one that made the most sense.

    It sounds like you have pretty supportive parents.
    You would think that most parents would be like, “You’re not dropping out of college and moving home this weekend.” But I called my mom and told her I was coming home, and she booked a flight and came to get me. My parents are so amazing. I was the kind of kid who every single week had a new goal or aspiration or something I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be an actor and then a chef and then a ballerina and then an astronaut. And they were just like, “Okay! We will put you in the right place to try and make that happen. Whatever you wanna do, we are going to back you 100-percent.” They’ve just always trusted me. I’ll make a shitty decision, but then something really good comes from that. I mean, I’m still paying off my college loans, and I think about it every day—”Why did I do that?” But I never would have started this band if I hadn’t gone to New York City and tried school out and tried writing. At the end of the day, when I’m paying off my college loans and I’m still pissed about it, I’m like, “At least I have a job now and can afford to pay this off.” Whereas before I was working at a soap store and couldn’t even afford to pay my rent.

    I’ve always been super super spontaneous; I’ll just make these random decisions and just do it. I’m the kind of person who will get in the car and drive to Las Vegas for the night. I’m just really like that. And so when I said I was dropping out, they were like, “Yeah, okay, that makes sense.”

    Was there any point in those early singles when you started to realize, “Man this is starting to take off”?
    Well, I remember when we recorded “When I’m With You.” It was the first time we weren’t doing it on our own. When we first started recording, we did everything at Bobb’s using electronic drums, and people were approaching us and being like, “Can I put this out on a 7-inch?” And we were like, “Sure, that’s cool; whatever!”

    We had this manager when we first started, and he had these friends who had this company called Black Iris. It was this ad agency, but on the side they were doing a label too, so he was like, “I wanna pair you up with them and I wanna see what comes of that.” I remember going to meet Darren and Lewis—Darren is the owner and Lewis is the producer—and we were like, “Do we really wanna do this?” We made an agreement that if they seemed lame, we’d just leave the meeting. And then we went in and they were both super nice. “We don’t want to change anything about you guys! We wanna help you and record you and put one of your songs out.” And we were like, “We don’t have real drums!” And they were like “Well you gotta use live drums.” And I just remember recording that song, and not even really thinking too much about it, but just recording it and being like “This sounds good!” and when it came out and people freaked out, that was the moment I was like “this is actually happening. This is a real thing.”

    But then again, there’s been 90 of those moments. I’m still having those kinds of moments. I’ll be in the airport, and somebody will come up in the bar and say, “I’m a huge fan of your band!” and then 10 seconds later Best Coast comes on at the airport bar and I’m like, “What the fuck is going on!” We really have Black Iris to thank for kind of helping us get to where we are. They essentially taught us that it was okay to allow other people into the process.

    Didn’t you used to be self-conscious about your voice?
    When we first started, I had this weird perception that if you make music that’s lo-fi, you can’t have a good voice. You have to be a shitty singer. I don’t know why I thought that! I’m a classically trained singer; I took opera lessons; I have a crazy range, but I was like, “If i’m going to be in this band, I can’t sing like that. I have to have a nice voice, and we’re gonna put a bunch of shit on it so it’s just normal sounding.” But because we were playing so many shows, and I didn’t have those same effects live, I started to hear my own voice with the music, and I was like, “Wait, there’s really nothing wrong with having a good voice and singing pretty and doing what you do well.”

    On the second record I was like, “Fuck it, dude! Don’t even use reverb.” I mean, there is reverb. But it’s very scaled back in comparison to the first record and the early singles. Every day I did vocals, I was like, “This is the best thing ever…At the end of the day, if these songs suck and nobody likes this record, at least I know my voice sounds good.” With future Best Coast stuff and the EP, my voice will be way more prominent on things, because I’ve realized there’s no need to hide my voice. In the beginning, I was terrified. I didn’t want anybody to know that I could sing.

    Bobb was like, “Are you sure you want to put that much distortion and reverb on your vocals?” As soon as we started working with producers they were like, “Bethany you are a singer; that’s what we have to showcase.” Now I’m the asshole who goes in and is like, “Okay, when do you want me to start singing?” If I have confidence in anything in my life, or about myself, it’s definitely my singing. I know now that I don’t need to hide this or be weird about it. When we’re on tour I’m like, “Can we go to karaoke?”, and I’m the girl who gets up and sings Mariah Carey really intensely…Whereas before I was like “I’m not gonna sing in front of anybody,” now I’m like “I’m gonna sing in front of everybody!”

    Do you ever think of doing a side project that is just straight up pop music?
    Yeah! At the end of the day, honestly, that’s why I do things like collaborate. I don’t want to box myself in. I love Best Coast— it’s my life, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me—but I like to do other things. That’s why when New Found Glory was like, “Do you want to sing on our song?”, I was like, “Sure! This is a fun, catchy pop-punk song, and I grew up listening to your music, and I can sing differently on this song than I do in my own band.” And it was just a cool experience. Sometimes I secretly want to make a Katy Perry record. I don’t think it’ll happen. But I think it’d be fun. That’s why I do things like cover songs. I’ll just cover a song on my computer, and it’ll sound like shit, but I’ll just post it anyway, because I’m like, “Whatever! Maybe somebody cares about this.” I just recorded a Taylor Swift cover the other day, and I’m debating whether I should put it on the internet. That’s why I’m into karaoke—I can go and pretend I’m somebody else for a second.

    How was the Kendrick Lamar show you had to do?
    That day was so insane; we literally woke up at 3 a.m., flew to Portland, and went directly from the airport to the venue. I hadn’t met Kendrick, and we hadn’t rehearsed the song, so I was freaking out. He showed up, and he was literally the nicest guy ever. We did a bunch of press stuff together and then we rehearsed the song a couple of times, and I was like, “This is insane!” This was right before he blew up. Two months later, he was on the radio every five seconds. It was really surreal.

    Are you writing any other new material right now? Or are you waiting until you’re home for good?
    I’ve been picking up the guitar and trying to write every day, but I’m also just the person who, when I write, I write kind of well under pressure. Even when I was in college, I’d wait until the last second to write my essays. But we’re supposed to be recording in November, so I’ll start writing a lot of the material when we get a little closer to that, although I do have a lot of songs I’ve written for the next record. I feel like I’m having a little bit of writer’s block right now. I’m in this zone where I’m trying but I don’t want to force it. I don’t believe art should be forced. I feel like you should make something when you’re in a creative zone, so I am waiting for that to happen. I know it’ll happen. We’re not even on a label right now, so I have absolutely no idea when the release will come out or when it will be finished.

    I created my own label called Jewel City for this EP. Jewel City is the nickname for the city I grew up in, Glendale. I don’t know why; that’s just what they call it. This is the first self-released Best Coast thing we’ve ever done, with the exception of a demo that I made when we first started. We’re excited to get to do it ourselves. We just did all the press shots and stuff the other day. It was fun to be in total creative control, and not have anybody be like “You gotta do this!”

    Best Coast - 'Fade Away'

    Is the cover meant to be a reflection of the label—this jeweled city?
    The cover was actually…I had this image that’s been the background of my computer for like two years. It’s these crystals, and they have these insane colors coming from them. And it’s just the image I’ve always been really drawn to it. I sent it to Bobb and [my manager] and they’re like, “No, it’s such a boring image!” So instead of using the image, I said “Let’s take a picture of L.A., kind of a clouded, faded thing, and we can throw these colors on top of it.” I’m obsessed with diamonds and minerals and crystals and stuff. So I wanted to give a shout out to the town I grew up in, but I also thought it made sense to name it after a jewel, because I like jewels. The logo is a diamond and I have a diamond tattoo and I was like, “Okay. There are all these stupid meanings.”

    My mom is super New Age and she’s really into crystals. She got me into them; I have a million crystal healing handbooks and stuff.

    Is there one crystal you really dig?
    Well I’m kind of superstitious and can’t go on tour without taking any of my crystal necklaces with me, because I feel like they protect me in this weird way. Especially when we’re flying all the time. I’m really into tiger’s eye. It’s a protective stone. My dad got me this really awesome tiger’s eye crystal that I wear a lot. If I’m not wearing it, I just tend to always have it on me. I am super weird about flying. I hate it so much, so I picked the right job for sure. Luckily Xanax and alcohol exist.

    You’ve been so open with fans, and created this larger-than-life personality on Twitter. Do people expect that from you all the time?
    It’s weird sometimes, because people will come up to me at shows, or at parties, or at bars, and they’ll act like we’re best friends, but I don’t know them. They’ll be like, “How’s your cat? Have you been watching Seinfield?” And I’m like, “Whoa! How do you know this?” But then I remember that I literally talk about those things 24/7, so people feel that they know me from my Twitter or my Instagram, or whatever. Even though I write really emotional, personal music, sometimes I wish that I wouldn’t, because I feel like I give so much of myself away.