A conversation with Bethany Cosentino
Interview by Adam McKibbin
After attracting major label interest at an early age and flirting with blog buzz as an indie rocker (as part of Pocahaunted), Bethany Cosentino decided it was time for a change of scenery - but her time away from her native LA proved to be short-lived. Much to the apparent lingering shock of some scribes, Cosentino moved away from New York City! And not just that, but she did it because NYC was kind of uninspiring to her personally! Maybe she just needed to spend more time with Ed Droste, Dave Longstreth and Jay-Z - but, whatever the case, she soon wound up back in the land of palm trees and hippie surfers.
As a playful nod to her previously spurned homeland, she christened her new project Best Coast. And Best Coast quickly made - wait for it - waves last year, releasing a series of seven-inches and singles that charmed indiephiles with the combination of fuzzed-up, lower-than-lo-fi production and undeniable pop hooks. Best Coast was (and is) right at home at LA's famed noise/art-rock mecca The Smell, but Cosentino's key influences include the Beach Boys and Phil Spector's girl groups.
The anticipation for Best Coast's first full-length this year has been heightened by the fact that her latest release - the "When I'm With You"/"This Is Real" 7" on Black Iris - is her best by some margin.
In the meantime, West Coast audiences should be sure to catch her shows this month with Vivian Girls (San Diego, Costa Mesa, LA, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver and Seattle - check the band's MySpace for dates).
After LA emerged from winter hibernation (week of rain, man - tough times), Cosentino gave us some answers about soaking up sunshine, selling out, and soundtracking your next smoke.
Let’s hit the obvious serious question right off the bat: what’s the latest on the album? Is it a wrap? Any idea when the world will get to listen?
The album is finished; well, the tracking is at least. We did it in about a week and a half. It was a really stressful process, but also a very fun one. I think it’ll probably be out in the Fall of this year—but I can’t say for sure.
A fair number of folks in the industry – albeit usually people who aren’t actually making music – like to speculate that albums won’t be around much longer. What’s your take?
I think albums will always exist, but it depends what kind of world you live in, music wise. Maybe for bands like the Jonas Brothers or something, albums will be obsolete in a few years, because they can literally sell a million albums on iTunes alone—but I think for a band like Best Coast, records will be around for as long as we are around. There is just something special about listening to an album in its physical form. Obviously it’s nice to buy something online and just upload it right to your iPod or something, but you lose out on a lot of what the album is about. You miss out on artwork, and you miss out the album as a complete package—that’s the way the artist originally intended for you to hear it.
For someone who hasn’t heard your music, where do you think is the best place to dive in?
Probably the When I’m With You 7”—I mean that is more of the direction the band is going now, and though the releases prior to that are all important to me, I think the songs on the Black Iris 7” are the ones I am most proud of, and they are the songs that represent us more, since we are using live drums now, and before everything was samples.
Best Coast hit the blogosphere pretty hard – and this feature is promoting your shows with Vivian Girls, who obviously were/are an online darling. How much do you think their success has helped you find a bigger audience – or do you think more is made of the lo-fi connection than necessary? My assumption would be that while there are clear differences, most people who come out to a show to see you would probably be into Vivian Girls and vice versa.
I think that Best Coast and the Vivian Girls have completely different sounds. The only thing really obvious is that it’s both female vocals, and we both have harmonies, and we both use reverb—but to me, that’s about it. Ali, Cassie, and Katy are close friends of mine, and I am really excited and proud of what they have been doing with their music.
As a fan, how do you find new music?
To be honest, I really don’t listen to a lot of new music, haha. Most of the time, if I know of a new band, it’s because it’s my friends' band—or it’s a band my friend suggested I listen to. A lot of times I just hear stuff in people’s cars, or in a bar or something and I’m like “What is this?” and then I go home and I look it up on the internet or something. For me, the internet really seems to be the only place I find out about anything, haha.
I read that you had a “don’t know what you got til it’s gone” relationship with California, having kind of fallen in love with it after you left it. What are the things you didn’t really appreciate until you came back?
Palm trees, the weather, amazing Mexican food, the mountains—pretty much everything. I look at California in such a different way now.
Were the classic California musical influences amplified then, too, or did you always have a fondness for them?
Nah, I always listened to stuff like the Beach Boys, and I always liked girl groups, and oldies and stuff—but I think it definitely was something I turned to when I lived in NY to make me feel better. Even though a lot of the Phil Spector shit, and almost all of the girl groups from the '60s were East Coast—that sound is very warm and sunny to me, and it gave me hope when I was stuck in the snow and I hadn’t seen the sun for weeks.
You were featured recently on NikeWomen.com, and your songs were recommended for anyone looking to hit the gym. Your music doesn’t make me want to hit the gym, but that’s probably more about me than about your music. What’s a backup plan? What other situations do you see Best Coast perfectly soundtracking?
Yeah, I don’t see the gym thing either, haha. Hopefully people are making out to Best Coast in their cars or something. Or are smoking weed in their cars listening to it.
Even though it was just a feature and not an ad, the polarizing nature of Nike still meant there was a little bit of pushback about them being involved with offering a download and so forth. As an indie/DIY artist with a growing profile, you’ll probably have more and more people scrutinizing those sorts of things. Are you sympathetic to fans who make a musician’s business their business?
I think people should be less concerned about that shit. When the Nike thing was posted, I got like 4 or 5 emails from people being like “fuck you.” It was pretty stupid. It’s not like I’m fucking sponsored by Nike, give me a break! They just featured a song on their website, and that was it! I think people should take a step back and quit caring about stuff like that. It’s just so funny that fans seem to lose interest in you as soon as they see your success begin to grow. I mean I understand it, because in a way it becomes less personal to you when a song you love is available for download on a website like nike.com—but in all honesty if someone is a fan of my music, that shouldn’t change anything.
Some of our readers across America are in the midst of ongoing bouts of miserable weather. Having just (hopefully) emerged from our recent rain marathon, what tips do you have for coping with a brutal winter?
Make sure you have really good lighting in your apartment, house, or bedroom. Drink a lot of tea, and eat a lot of soup. Listen to a lot of Pet Sounds and Endless Summer and watch any or all television shows that were filmed in Los Angeles.
Alright, so I always try to do my serious research with these things… and I read an interview where you said that more interviewers need to ask about your cat. So… what’s up with your cat? How does he/she feel about you going on the road for a more extended period of time?
Snacks! I think right now, he is outside playing in the sun. He’s indoor outdoor, so I let him out for a few hours everyday so he can roll around in dirt and do whatever cats do when they're outside. I’m really sad that I have to leave him for such an extended period of time when I go on tour, but he will be fine. I have good people looking after him! I read somewhere that Katy Perry takes her cat on tour with her—maybe she is on to something.