Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino talks songwriting, scoring free swag, Stevie Nicks and smoking with Wiz Khalifa
California, California, California. With Bethany Cosentino, it’s always about California.
"Everything I’ve ever read about myself says, 'Oh, you write songs about California,’” said Cosentino, singer of the indie rock outfit Best Coast. “If you listen to the lyrics, they’re not really about California. But I think the sound of the music has a kind of California sound. Bobb (Bruno, guitarist) and I are very influenced by California bands like the Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, and these bands that came from this scene in California. When people hear these bands, they think of California, and I think that we’ve kind of become one of those bands.”
Maybe it’s the sound, maybe it’s the tattoo of the state on Cosentino’s right forearm, maybe it’s her effortlessly cool thrift-store aesthetic. Whatever the reason, Cosentino has emerged as a California Girl for the twenty-teens, and a hot commodity on Madison Avenue — she has her own clothing line at Urban Outfitters, and Best Coast will on Record Store Day release a new 7” single, Fear of My Identity, in collaboration with footwear line Clarks Originals.
But it’s the music — a deceptively simple mix of fuzzy surf-rock guitars and harmonic vocals drenched in reverb and sunshine — that keeps Cosentino’s haters at arm’s length. Best Coast’s 2012 album The Only Place polished and deepened the gleefully lo-fi jangle of their 2010 debut, Crazy For You, and this spring, they’ll open for Green Day in arenas nationwide.
But first: A stop at Saturday’s Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa. Cosentino recently called from her home in L.A. to talk about Stevie Nicks, rock-star swag and her famous cat, Snacks. Here are excerpts.
I understand you guys have been in the studio these past couple of weeks, working on a new EP. How’s it going?
It’s going okay. We finished tracking (on Feb. 22), and this week we’re going to be doing a bunch of mixing and stuff. It’s been really fun to be back in the studio, for sure.
Did you work with anyone noteworthy or do anything different?
We worked with a guy named Wally Gagel. He recorded our iTunes EP that we did maybe two years ago. He’s done almost all of the live iTunes EPs, and he’s worked with a bunch of awesome people, but he is just a super chill guy, and we really wanted to do something a little more laid back than the last record. The songs kind of sound like a combination of Crazy For You and The Only Place. I would say if you drew a line down the center of those two albums, that’s kind of what the EP is going to sound like.
Were they written after The Only Place or between those two albums?
I wrote the songs for this EP literally five days before we went into the studio.
When do you think you’re going to ready to debut them live?
We don’t really like to play stuff live until it’s close to coming out or if it’s already come out, just because people record things on their iPhones and then they put them online and it sounds really bad, and people hear the song for the first time that way. We want people to hear how it’s supposed to sound. We don’t even know when this EP is coming out. We’re not on a label right now, so we’re kind of like free agents — we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do with it, so we probably won’t play it for a while.
You’re a festival veteran. What’s been the most fun experience you’ve ever had at a music festival?
The craziest thing that’s ever happened at a festival: We played Coachella, I think it was maybe 2010, and our trailer was next to Wiz Khalifa’s trailer. His manager came over and knocked on the door and was like, “Oh, Wiz is a big fan, he really wants to meet you.” So I went over to his trailer and then I ended up smoking weed with him, and then I was so high for our performance that I was, like, giving these really embarrassing inspirational, motivational speeches onstage. (laughs) That’s definitely the most memorable festival experience that I’ve had.
How was Wiz? Did he manage to perform?
He had already performed, so he was just chilling after his set. He was like, “Do you have to play soon?” I was like, “Yeah, but I’ll be fine.” And then I was like, “Oh my god, smoking weed with rappers is definitely not something that I should ever do again. (laughs)
You’re touring with Green Day this spring. Is there any part of that that makes you nervous?
I’m really excited because Green Day was one of the bands that got me into music. When I learned how to play the guitar, I would take Green Day and Blink-182 and California pop-punk into my guitar class, and tell my teacher that that’s what I wanted to learn, and he would teach me the songs. So it’s kind of bizarre that all these years later, I’m getting to open for a band that taught me how to play music. I’m very nervous because they’re arenas and we are definitely not an arena band, so I think it’ll be a little bit weird at first. But we’re pretty good at just playing anywhere. We’ve played at the mall. We’ve played Sweet Sixteen parties. We’ve played some interesting places. So I think that after the first show, we’ll probably be like, “Okay, this is a breeze. This is no big deal.”
What were the Green Day songs that you wanted to learn when you were starting out?
One of the first songs I ever learned how to play on guitar was Time of Your Life. I used to play it over and over and over in my room. And I only knew half the song, so I would just play the part that I knew over and over again.
Best Coast is so associated with the state of California. Do you think the songs that are in your head would still exist if you lived in, say, New York?
It’s hard to tell. I did live in New York, and when I was living there, I tried to write music, and it was really bad. It didn’t sound like what I wanted to be making. And then as soon as I came back to California, there was this burst of creativity that exploded from me, and I just started writing these songs, and I was like, “Okay, this is exactly what I want to be doing.” California inspires me so much because of the weather. I don’t do well in gloomy, cold, rainy weather. Ninety percent of the time in L.A., it’s sunny and it’s warm and it’s breezy, so I can open the blinds in my bedroom and my room will be filled with sun and I can write a song that sounds beachy or upbeat and poppy. If I lived somewhere where it was not like that, my music might be a little bit down and sound a little bit darker and a little bit lazier and kind of... I guess I would maybe be writing a lot more ballads.
In The Only Place, when you sing, “Why would you live anywhere else? / We’ve got the ocean, got the babes, got the sun, we’ve got the waves,” how sincere are you being? Is there any trace of irony there?
That song was meant to be a kitschy throwback to a ’60s kind of song. They wrote these almost childlike lyrics where they would talk about California or Los Angeles or the beach, like ... the '60s surf movement made everything seem like California was just one big beach party, and obviously it’s not. I don’t live anywhere near the beach. I never go to the beach. I am sincere in the sense that I’m saying, “Why would you live anywhere else?” I personally don’t want to live anywhere else, and that’s my own opinion. But the whole, “We’ve got the ocean, the babes,” that kind of thing, that was kind of a throwback, trying to emulate those artists and that era of music that has inspired me so much in Best Coast.
How do you feel about the concept of writing ironically to make a point? Is that something that you’ve ever done as a songwriter?
My songs are really 100 percent honest. I write about what I know. I write about experiences that I’ve been through or that people I know have been through, and I think when people buy our records, they’re taking away a piece of me or of an experience that I’ve had, and they can listen and say, “Oh, I’ve felt this same way before. I’ve gone through this. I know somebody that’s gone through this.” That’s why the band has been so successful, is because of the honesty and realness of the lyrics. So with the exception of those couple of lyrics in The Only Place, when I’m writing, I’m really writing from the heart. That’s something that I’m very proud of, as far as being a songwriter. I know that people criticize my lyrics and say they’re very simple, they’re trite, whatever. But I’m proud of it, because they’re 100 percent honest, and there’s no sugarcoating.
You’re pretty vocal Stevie Nicks fan. Have you picked up the deluxe reissue of Rumours yet?
I haven’t gotten it yet. Bobb got it, and he was telling me how great it is. I’m probably going to pick that up pretty soon.
You did Rihannon on a Fleetwood Mac tribute album. Were you given a list of options, or was Rihannon your first choice?
Actually, it was bizarre, because I had done a cover of that song on my own. Sometimes when I’m bored, I just cover songs that I like on my computer, in GarageBand, and I don’t really send them to anyone; I just do it for fun. And I had done that song, and we got an email and it was like, “They’re doing this Fleetwood Mac comp; do you want to be a part of it?” And I was like, “Oddly enough, I just recorded a demo cover of Rihannon.” I sent it to our manager, and then it got sent to the supervisor for the comp, and they were like, “Okay, this is great, they can have Rihannon.” Which was really cool, because that’s obviously one of the most popular Fleetwood Mac songs.
What would be your second choice?
We did Storms as a 7-inch that came with The Only Place if you bought it at a record store. And we performed it live on a U.S. tour that we did. That’s actually my favorite Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks-written song. I think maybe Go Your Own Way would be a fun one. Honestly, I would cover any Fleetwood Mac song. I love all of them.
You’re releasing a single for Record Store Day. What can you tell me about that?
We had a lot of downtime after we did the touring for The Only Place, and our manager emailed me and asked, “Do you want to be involved in this project that Clarks is doing for Record Store Day? You basically need to record two songs and they’ll put it out as a 7-inch, and you’ll do a performance on Record Store Day.” I think Record Store Day is a really awesome thing. It’s really important to remind people that they can buy music in stores and not just online. So to have a special day where people go out and buy these special things recorded by artists is really cool. It was just fun. And I also think Clarks is really cool. I’ve always really liked Clarks shoes, and they seem like a really cool company and really cool brand. It was just something that fell into our laps. We were also just really ready to record something new, because we had done the record and toured the record and we were like, okay, now what? It was just a fun experience and I’m glad that we got to do it.
You must have labels falling all over themselves to send you free clothing. Is that the case?
I get a lot of free stuff. That’s a nice perk. (laughs)
When that happens, are you able to define your own personal style like you would like?
You know, sometimes people send you stuff and you’re kind of like, “Wow, have they ever seen a photo of me? They obviously don’t know what my style is.” But sometimes people nail it on the head, and they send you something that’s totally made for you and totally perfect and looks like something you would wear every day. I’m just very flattered that people want to send me their products and like my music or like me and think that I would represent them well.
I have a room in my house, actually, that I really lamely refer to as the swag room. (laughs) It has a lot of the free stuff that I get. My friends will come over and be like, “Whoa, where did you get this?” “Oh, blah-blah-blah sent it to me...” It’s definitely a perk of being a musician, is that people want to shower you in nice gifts.
What’s the weirdest piece of swag you’ve gotten recently?
I don’t really have anything too weird. I think the coolest thing that I’ve gotten is those Sonos wireless speakers. They’ve kind of changed my life. That was one of the things I was most stoked about getting. I’m a nerd when it comes to that kind of stuff, so I’m like, “Oh, cool , speakers!” People are like, “Do you want some crazy clothes?” “I want speakers!”
Your cat, Snacks, has more than 11,000 Twitter followers (@snacksthecat). Do you have a sense of who those people are, and how they differ — if they do — from the 102,000 people who follow you (@best_coast)?
I have no idea. I’m 100 percent baffled every single day of my life at the fact that people know about my cat. I don’t run Snacks’ Twitter; my friend does. He’s like my baby. I take a million pictures of him and I send them to my friends, and I’m like, “Look how cute he is!” And they’re like, “Yeah, I’ve seen him 100 million times.” It’s bizarre to me. When we tour, people come up and are like, “Where’s Snacks?” I’m like, “Snacks is a cat. He’s at home, sleeping. He’s not on tour.” It just goes to show you that if you want to make something happen, you can. I didn’t intentionally want to make my cat a weird celebrity. It was just like, “Oh, he’s cute, I’ll put him on the cover of my record.” It’s bizarre. He’s a cat. He has no f---ing clue that anybody knows who he is.
Does he get swag? Like, cans of Fancy Feast from fans?
He gets a lot of fan gifts. He got a free cat teepee. It’s really cute and it’s in my living room, and he sleeps in it sometimes. People make him little toys filled with catnip, and they give them to us at shows. He’s crazy. I just look at him sometimes and laugh, because I’m like, “Dude, you’re famous. I don’t even understand.” (laughs)
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*