Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino
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It’s been a busy couple of years for Best Coast since the Pacific-loving act released its debut, Crazy For You. The act’s lo-fi take on So-Cal sunshine pop turned a lot of heads, of course, landing in the Billboard pop charts, scoring coveted support-band slots on big-name tours, and garnering tons of mainstream and blogger press. As her band was finding its footing, Bethany Cosentino was also finding her own, growing up and refining her songwriting. The growth’s readily apparent on the act’s new album, The Only Place. Produced by Jon Brion, the album ditches lo-fi for high-dollar studio polish as Cosentino’s lyrical focuses evolves beyond flirtatious crushes. Before the act’s upcoming tour, The A.V. Club spoke with Cosentino about growing up in the spotlight.
The A.V. Club: People seemed to be really fond of the lo-fi production values of Crazy For You. Are you afraid they might not understand a polished Best Coast album?
Bethany Cosentino: No. I think that people definitely liked the production values of the first record, and I think the band grew, and we grew as musicians and songwriters, and we wanted to show that growth. That’s why we chose to do a bigger, more produced record. The people who really enjoy the songwriting and the songs will... you can hear things a lot better this time around. I think if people are in it for the music, they will probably appreciate this record a bit more.
AVC: You talk about growing as a band, but the album’s title track is another song about loving California, which is pretty much what people expect from Best Coast.
BC: The record is really about, it comes from a point of view of being very homesick and feeling like my feelings were all over the place because of the fact that I was so busy and scatterbrained and traveling all the time. “The Only Place” is in reference to my home, which is Los Angeles. As soon as I get back here, I just feel more like myself. My stress level instantly decreases. The title track is really supposed to be setting you up for this place that is almost this fortress of solitude for me, that kind of place that has become my safe place. That was the meaning behind “The Only Place.”
AVC: Before starting the band, you briefly went to college in New York to study nonfiction writing. Did that shape the way you approach songwriting?
BC: Not really. The thing is, when I was living in New York, I was studying creative writing, but focusing on nonfiction. I was writing mostly about California and my experiences as a child here, and the differences with New York. I think, if anything, it just shaped me more as a California-obsessed person. It made me appreciate where I’m from. I think that whole idea is what spawned Best Coast. I don’t think Best Coast would have started had I stayed in California and continued doing what I was doing before I left for New York. Just the idea of how personal things are, and the idea of writing about personal experiences, I think that’s probably inspired by the way I wrote in college.
AVC: You’ve said that you don’t really like going to the beach or swimming. Isn’t that kind of a weird contrast to the image of a California-obsessed woman your songs foster?
BC: I think I represent a different kind of California girl. I do like the beach and I do like going to the beach, but I’m not the biggest fan of swimming in the ocean. I just think it’s kind of creepy. I think that my personality is more of a laid-back, relaxed... more into the Valley and the other side of Los Angeles that people don’t get to experience, the mountains and hiking and things like that. People just instantly think of California as the ocean, the beach, Santa Monica, Malibu—areas like that. I represent the East Side of Los Angeles, a little more of the city aspect of it. I think that’s my role as a California girl.
AVC: The Only Place’s songs touch on more adult themes than the stories about pining away over boys that made up Crazy For You. Is that just a process of growing up between albums?
BC: Yeah. I did a lot of growing up between Crazy For You and The Only Place. I think that Crazy For You was written from a [point of view] where I was young and I was still kind of figuring things out. I was kind of doing a little bit of soul searching on this record. Spending so much time away from home really gave me a lot of time to think. It was really difficult for me to grow up on the road. I’m 25 now. That’s an age, especially for girls, I think, where you’re like, “Wait, what’s going on?” That TV show Girls on HBO just premièred, and I was watching that show thinking every girl at this age goes through this point where they don’t really know how to continue supporting themselves or doing certain things. I think this record is really coming from that point of view, where the first record was coming from a very, like, “How do I get the boy I like to like me?” This one is more about, “How do I figure life out?”
AVC: So it’s a quarter-life crisis album?
BC: Yeah, pretty much. Inspired by the John Mayer song. [Laughs.] Not really. I wanted it to be relatable to a lot of people. I think the first record was really relatable to people of all ages and gender and everything. I think this one is as well. I think this record will speak to a lot of people who are at a point where they’re like, “What the fuck is going on?” Just those feelings of insecurity and just feeling unsure about yourself; this record is meant to speak to people like that. I like to write things that are enjoyable to people besides just myself.
AVC: That early-adult crisis is a pretty common occurrence in modern society.
BC: It’s like that Britney Spears song, “Not a girl, not yet a woman.” You’re not a child anymore, but you’re not really an adult. I know tons of people my age who are married with kids, and I think that’s absolutely insane, because I can’t imagine taking care of another person, let alone taking care of myself. I think it’s just a pivotal time where you have to figure things out. Some people feel like they should really grow up at this stage, and other people feel like they can just keep partying and doing whatever they want. I think I’m definitely the kind of person that was raised to be very self-sufficient and take care of myself. This job kind of forced me to take care of myself. When you’re out on the road, there’s no mom and dad to take care of your laundry or take you to run errands. You’ve got to be very, very independent sometimes. I think it’s definitely a point in life where you’re like, “Whoa, wait a second. I’m out on my own!” It’s just a bizarre feeling.
AVC: That’s different than how many people would view the life of a touring musician, which is often seen as an extended adolescence that’s all about not growing up and goofing off for your career.
BC: I think at certain times it is. You have certain days when you can goof off and do whatever you want. It is a very, very time consuming, strenuous job. You have to be on top of your game to perform every single night. If you’re messing around and partying and doing all this stuff every single night, your performance is not going to be as good as it should be. It is finding that balance of having fun and being goofy and taking care of yourself and taking things seriously enough so that you are performing to the best of your abilities for your fans. These people are paying money to see you perform, not to watch you give drunk monologues onstage.
AVC: You’ve said in interviews that you’re just as likely to want to stay home and watch TV after a gig than go to a party. Is it hard to explain that to fans who expect touring bands to just want to party until dawn with them?
BC: [Laughs.] I think it’s important, when we’re touring, to take some nights off. You definitely have to take some nights off. It’s a difficult environment to try to stay healthy in. I think a lot of people just think that touring is just about sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll—that whole Spinal Tap idea of music and what touring is like. I’m sure for some bands, it’s exactly like that. I mean, if you’re Guns N’ Roses, that kind of shit is happening all the time. When you’re Best Coast, you’re lucky to even get invited to a cool party.
AVC: You got a lot of attention early in your career. Was it tough balancing your personal life and your career at a time when you were so young?
BC: Definitely. I think that’s really a lot of what this record is about, figuring out how to draw the line between Bethany and Best Coast, and still be myself and know who I am outside of being Best Coast and being a musician. It’s difficult and yet really, really awesome and amazing when you’re out and someone recognizes you and says, “Oh, I’m such a big fan of yours.” It’s one of those things where I’m still not used to it. I’m not used to seeing myself; if I’m in line at the grocery store and I pick up Rolling Stone and I see a picture of me, I get really embarrassed and close it. I’m like, “Oh my God! I didn’t know that could be in there!” It’s one of those things where I’m still like, “Wow, this is all happening.” I have a lot of pinch-myself moments, which is really cool, because I would much rather be in a “Wow, this is all so cool!” feeling as opposed to being very bitter, not really caring about things.
AVC: The Internet’s also put even independent-level artists in a fishbowl, albeit a much smaller one, where they’re always in front of their fans in the way that big celebrities were in traditional media.
BC: People have access to you at all times. They can contact you through Twitter or Facebook, or whatever. I think you have to figure out a way to be yourself, but also at the same time not expose too much of yourself, because then everybody thinks they know you on a personal level. I also find it very interesting and fun to be myself on Twitter. I’m very awkward in person and shy. When I meet fans, I get kind of more star-struck by meeting fans than by them meeting me. I’m like, “Wait a second, you like me?” I’m still not used to it. I definitely feel like Twitter is a good thing, because I can talk to people without seeing them face-to-face and not feeling awkward or uncomfortable.
AVC: This spring Urban Outfitters will begin selling a fashion line you designed. Can you talk about that?
BC: It’s for a line for Urban Outfitters called Urban Renewal, which is their vintage line. It’s basically everything is made from dead-stock vintage material. Basically everything was either inspired by a vintage piece that I owned or a piece that I found at a thrift store, and I took it and turned it into a completely different piece and modernized it. When you first go shopping, you find something that’s really cool, but you wish that it looked a different way, or if it had one addition, it’d be way cooler. That’s kind of what was really cool for me with this line. I got to create my dream vintage pieces.
AVC: Your music and your fashions draw heavily on ’60s influences. Do you ever feel like you’re living in the wrong time period?
BC: No, I enjoy this time period. It’s a little bit of a crazy time. Technology is definitely pretty crazy, and there are a lot of crazy things that happened in the world these days. I do feel like I’m more fit for a modern time, although I do look back on different eras, and they do inspire me, but I’m perfectly fine living in the 2000s era.