Bethany Cosentino has never been shy in her adoration of the Golden State.
“We’ve got the ocean, got the babes, got the sun, we’ve got the waves,” she boasted on Best Coast’s “The Only Place”, sounding like an apparatus of the state’s travel and tourism commission. “Why would you live anywhere else?”
Almost six years after the baked reflections of “Sun Was High (So Was I)”, that flame burns just as bright.
“California nights make me feel so happy I could die,” Cosentino sings on “California Nights”, the torch-song-gone-supernova title track of her recently released third LP. With a more mature outlook to accompany her heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics, it’s an album that remains sonically upbeat even while touching on feelings of loneliness and coping that we don’t usually associate with our collective mental imagery of the West Coast.
But California covers a vast territory, and when I reach her in late May, she’s enduring a chilly and soggy afternoon in San Francisco. “It’s freezing,” she tells me, less than enamored with the Bay Area’s climatal eccentricities. Even now, after all the songs and the videos and the album art and calling her band Best Coast, Cosentino takes the opportunity to rep her home state, particularly its southern half.
“You see the stereotypes in movies that people in California are chill, but it’s kind of the truth,” she says. “I think it’s got a lot to do with the weather and the sunshine.”
Cosentino and longtime Best Coast collaborator Bobb Bruno both reside in Eagle Rock, a quiet suburb of Los Angeles that’s just a smidge east of hipster haven Silver Lake. Nestled between Glendale and Pasadena, this community has been home to the band for over a decade. And after a spell of East Coast living, Cosentino isn’t going anywhere.
“When I lived in New York and had to deal with the gloomy weather and the winter, I was an absolute nightmare of a person,” she recollects with the knowing laugh of someone who has trudged through streets smothered with grey snow. “When I went back to California, I knew that Seasonal Affective Disorder was real. The sun gives you vitamins that are imperative to being a normal, functioning human!”
As usual, she makes a good pitch.
How’s life on the day to day in Eagle Rock?
It’s sort of becoming more up-and-coming, and lots of people are moving that way, but it’s still very neighborhoody. Los Angeles is a huge city and has so much traffic and people, and it’s very chaotic at times. The reason that we love where we live is because it’s very, very calm. We leave that world of Hollywood and Santa Monica and the crazy LA areas. Eagle Rock is relaxation zones all the way, and that’s very much what Bobb and I are into.
We’ve both created these fortresses for ourselves for when we’re home. It’s our place of total relaxation. There’s no greater feeling than being on tour, and then walking into your home and you don’t hear sirens or people yelling. I’m just alone in my house with my cat, chilling and watching TV. It makes me happier than most things do. [Laughs]
What would it take for you to move from California?
I often do actually think about being bi-coastal, because I really do like New York, and I have a lot of friends there. If I could afford it, it would be nice to have a place out there. As much as I love LA, and as much as I love California, it’s nice to get out and go do things and go be in other places. I’m a homebody, so when I’m home, I’m straight up home, you know? [Laughs]
Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting another place in the middle of nowhere, where I’m surrounded by nothing. I think that would be really awesome. I haven’t exactly decided where yet, and I don’t even know if it will happen, but I think about it. I have no plans to leave any time soon – and people ask me that all the time – but you know, it’s something I think about from time to time. [Laughs]
If you had to pick between the beach, the desert, the mountains, or the forest, where would you get your second home in the middle of nowhere?
Oh man, I feel like it would be between the desert and the forest.
I’m obsessed with the desert right now. I’ve always been fascinated by it. I’ve been spending a lot more time at Joshua Tree and Palm Springs recently, and it’s so awesome out there. The one thing is that it’s so hot and kind of intense.
And, you know, forest vibes are really serene and awesome, but they can be kind of scary sometimes. [Laughs]
But, yeah, I would say it’s between the desert and the forest. If I could combine the two, and just make a desert-forest hybrid, then that would be perfect.
You’ve mentioned that you and Bobb did a lot of pre-production on this record – a first for Best Coast. Why is that? Was it a matter of what the songs called for, or a general decision to shake things up?
Our producer Wally Gagel suggested that we do a week of pre-production before we started tracking the record, and we sort of decided when we went into the process of making this record that we were going to try different things and be open to letting a producer produce us. We know when to push back on an idea, but at the same time, we realize that we have been a little stubborn in the past. We decided that we were going to listen to Wally, because we really trust him and he’s worked on a lot of amazing stuff. He suggested that we come in a week before we started, and go through every single song and jam it out live in a room together.
The second we started doing this, I felt like it was the best thing ever! Wally would make small suggestions, and he helped me structure the songs in more of a typical way. I feel like my songs have always been such that you can’t differentiate between verse-chorus-bridge; I don’t really write in a traditional structure. Having him help with that, and suggest we do this was really awesome. It also allowed us to leave a couple of songs behind.
That’s the first time we’ve done that. In the past, I’d come in and say, “Here’s twelve songs. These are the songs. This is the record. Let’s get to work.” And that was that. But with this album, I came in with sixteen songs, and there are twelve songs on the record. There were a couple of songs we tried to work on, and they just didn’t really work, so we left them behind.
It was really beneficial for us to do something like that. I think it shows on the record that we spent more time trying to structure these songs and figure out what we were doing before we actually started making the record. Once we started tracking, we sort of went with ideas as they came to us.
What do you do with these songs that fall by the wayside? Do you have plans to revisit those ideas and turn them into something else?
I mean, in the past I haven’t really done that a lot, because as I said, I would just go in with the material for the record and those were all the songs we had. And, of course, they’d ask for, like, three bonus tracks, and I’d be like, “Shit! I don’t have anything!” [Laughs]
For this album, we actually recorded a few extra tracks, but I don’t even know they were used for anything. We did record a couple – one of them was a song we cut from the record, but went back and reworked it.
I have so many songs on my computer that I’ll listen to and have totally forgotten about. Some of these I won’t even send to Bobb – stuff that I record and keep in my computer. Sometimes I think, “This is kind of cool. I want to revisit this.”
But for the most part, if it doesn’t work from the beginning, I’ll just toss it to the side. I’m the kind of person that if things feel right, they feel right, and if they don’t, then they’re not right. If everyone in the room agreed that the song wasn’t working, we would just discard it.
Who knows? Maybe in a couple of months, or years, or whatever, I can go back and work on these songs. But since I’m sort of new to this whole “having songs to cut” thing, I’m not entirely sure what I want to do with all of those. [Laughs]
You said that making this record without a label allowed you to make what you want, unencumbered by outside opinions, and that you were worried that a prospective label might later ask you to change things. That didn’t happen with Harvest Records, but it made me wonder what kind of experiences you’ve had with labels in the past.
When I said a lot of that stuff, I realized people would think that I’ve had terrible experiences with our past label, which I never did. When we made Crazy For You, we were not on a label either – we just made the record and then signed.
When we made The Only Place, it was our second record with Mexican Summer, and there was a bit of pressure to have the record made at a certain time. And we were super protective. Nobody was allowed in the studio – I mean, not even our manager at the time. The only person that came in was our publicist at the time, because she and I were close friends. No one else got to come in. We just wanted to do it without any outside opinions. We sort of wanted to make the record and be like, “Here’s the record.”
I haven’t had any negative experiences in the past, but it can add pressure when you’re making a record and you know that the label is in there, looking at the clock, and setting a timeframe for you. I feel like that’s the way things operate, and not having that at all was really important to us, because we could go at our own pace. We were working with Wally, who was doing a million other things at the same time, and we had the luxury of him telling us that we could take a week off, and come back and pick up where we left off. That was really cool. That would never happen if we were on a label.
In the past, things felt rushed, but this process did not feel rushed at all. We spent the perfect amount of time on it, and got to do things the way we wanted to do them. I knew that when the record was done and I started taking it to labels, whatever label thought it was perfect the way it [the album] is was the label I would go with. That’s how Harvest was. They heard four songs, and they told us they didn’t even care how the rest of the record was: They wanted us on board. They’re great people. They appreciate music. They’re fans of the bands they work with. They work with artists they truly believe in, and that they put in a ton of work for. I’m really happy with the decision I made for us.
This feels like a break up record, but I know you’re still in a relationship. How do you channel these feelings of longing and heartbreak when you’re still with someone? Is it the feelings of separation because you’re on the road? I guess what I’m saying is that I just got out of something recently and this album really captures the emotions I was experiencing.
I don’t ever really like to directly answer those questions. Obviously, I’m no stranger to talking about my personal life, because that’s all I write about. But I feel like relationships – regardless of if you’re still with the person or not, and especially ones that have gone on for a long time – there are always so many ups and downs. Even relationships that are much shorter, you always have ups and downs. And it’s not just romantic relationships – it’s relationships with your friends, your parents, people you work with. Human relationships, in general, are always in flux. One day things feel really perfect, and it’s all great, and then four days later, it’s like “This is insane! What’s going on?” [Laughs]
For me, I’ve just been realistic in the sense that shit is not perfect. There’s been a lot of stuff going on while I was writing this record reminding me that things aren’t always perfect. And coming to terms with that is why I wrote a song like “Feeling Okay”. It’s ok that not everything works out the way you want it to, but at the end of the day I’m content and I’m happy with the way things are. I’m finally at a place in my life that regardless of all the ups and downs of relationships, and the insomnia, and all the other shit that I talk about on this record, I’m dealing with that, and I’m getting older, and I’m learning.
When I was 22 and I wrote “Crazy For You”, I was in this place where I thought everything is crazy, and everything sucks, and nothing works out. Now I know that if I continue to feel like that, I’d be my own biggest enemy for the rest of my life. I got to this place where I realize that shit happens, and it hurts sometimes, but it can go back to being really great as well as really shitty.
But at the end of the day, the other stuff going on in my life – my career, my friendships, my family – that I have around me is super important to me. At the end of the day. this is what makes me feel ok with the fact that life around me is chaotic and crazy at times.
So, it’s not specific to a break up, but it’s this idea that the way relationships operate fluctuates from the day to day, and I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to.
How’s Snacks doing these days? We haven’t heard from your cat in a while – our access has been cut off! We want more Snacks.
[Laughs] He’s good! Now that I’m back in tour mode, and I’m crazy busy traveling all the time, I don’t get to see him as much, but a really good friend housesits for me and she watches him. She keeps me updated with pictures and videos. He just likes to chill.
I just got back from Europe three days ago, so I got to spend some time with him. He always does this thing when I get back from tour where he’s a little standoffish. He’s a bit pissed at me that I’ve been gone for so long.
But then he’ll eventually comes around, and it’s nice to wake up and have him meow in my face. [Laughs] Since I’m in San Francisco for the day, my dad is housesitting for me, so Snacks is with his grandfather right now.