Best Coast

Best Coast

Thursday 19th August, 2010 11:10AM

Best Coast is the project of former child prodigy/advertising actor turned singer and songwriter Bethany Cosentino who joined forces with Bobb Bruno and Ali Koehler (the former Vivian Girls drummer). Formed from the ashes of Cosentino's previous project Pocahaunted, Best Coast's popularity exploded following a number of successful 7 inches. Their debut album Crazy for You, released by indie label Mexican Summer, hit with a storm of publicity (making a star of her cat in the process) and peaked at number 36 on the Billboard chart and blended '60s girl groups like the Crystals and the Shangri-Las, '60s Californian surf rock, and scuzzy lo-fi noise of the '80s.

Best Coast seems to have exploded pretty quickly for you, were you prepared for the extent that it has?

No, not at all. I didn't start this band with the idea in mind of having anything other than I really wanted to write songs, and play shows, and put a record out. I didn't expect it to become something that took over my life in a way, but I'm pretty excited about it. It's better than having to work at a bookstore. I'm pretty excited that I get to travel and play music and see awesome places in the world I probably would have never have seen.

You have been in the spotlight for a good chunk of your life – do you think that helped ground you a little?

I guess so. I don't know if I've necessarily been in the spotlight my whole life. But I've been playing music since I was a kid, and before that I was doing commercials. I was always involved in performance in one way or another. It maybe made it a little bit easier for me. It's not like I randomly picked up a guitar and started a band. I've been making music for as long as I can remember. Because of that maybe it's been a little bit easier for me. If this had been the first time I'd ever written a song, then I'd be 'woah what the fuck, how did that happen?'

The famous story about you is that as a fifteen year old you turned down major labels. Do you ever imagine what might have happened, or what could have been?

Not really, I was a young girl and I wasn't ready to sign away my life to a record contract. Being a musician is not an easy job, and I don't think as a fifteen year old I was mentally prepared for it. I still don't think as a twenty-three year old I'm mentally prepared for the amount of work that comes with being a musician. I think I'm much more prepared now than I was then. I don't really think back about it ever. I think that it was a decision made upon my age. I'm pretty glad I made that decision. Who knows what I would have turned out to be like if I had turned out to be a fifteen year old pop star.

I imagine your music taste has changed since then?

Definitely. I was making really bad music then. I'm glad I didn't have to make a terrible record.

It seems to be that a lot of fans of Pocahaunted lament the loss of that project…

Pocahaunted was really just a hobby for me. I didn't have much going on. I was living in LA and going to school, and she [Amanda Brown] said 'do you want to start a band?' It wasn't something we really imagined to be anything other than putting out our own records and playing shows around town. That's essentially what we did. It kinda became something: we opened for Sonic Youth and we toured and we did a million releases and a bunch of random shit. Pocahaunted was obviously not my style of music that I ever have made or listened to. I think people change and do different things. I think Best Coast is more of a better fit for me. I'm much happier making this music than I ever was making that music. I just feel much more comfortable doing this because this is more in my element.

Did you have a plan when you started Best Coast as to how it was going to sound?

Yeah I had an idea in mind that I wanted to make music that was reminiscent of '50s and '60s old beach California sound. I had that in mind. I wanted something to mould my music after. The success of the band though, or whatever you call it: it's not something I had planned or even thought about. In the start I just wanted to write songs and that's what I did, and it turned into something completely different. At the end of the day I'm stoked to be doing it.

The late '50s, early '60s, that's the so-called 'black hole' of rock n roll? What drew you that music?

I grew up around that kind of music. When you're from southern California, the Beach Boys are a band played almost hourly on the radio, and my Dad was a huge Beach Boys fan, and my parents really introduced me to music like that. When I lived in New York for a year, dealing with the winter was really hard for me. I just turned to that kind of music because it reminded me of sunny California. I just wanted to make music which was influenced by that, which could possibly make people stuck in shitty weather feel like they were stuck in nice California weather.

So you needed to get to New York to feel that?

I didn't really appreciate where I was from until I left it. It was that cheesy 'you don't what you've got until you're gone'. I left thinking I was going to go live this awesome life in this awesome city and then I got there and realised I hated it and wanted nothing to do with it anymore. I had planned on coming back but I would feel like I can't drop out of college, and I can't leave my friends, and I was an intern at a music magazine and I have good shit going on but it got to a point where I was like 'fuck it, none of it's important, I just want to go home'. And I did.

How did you approach the album – did you have any plans beforehand. I hear it was recorded in a week?

It was recorded very quickly. We had an idea we wanted to do a record, but the first year of Best Coast was very fast-paced, and we had a million 7 inches come out, and we toured and played shows, and there was this gap of time which we had off and we thought maybe we should use that time to go in and record a record. I had a bunch of songs I had written, that we had never worked on together as a band so I thought 'let's just go in and record these songs'. Once we decided we were going to do a record for sure, I just wrote a bunch of songs and we did it as fast as we could and now it's history.

You had gained a bit of hype with the 7 inches – was there a temptation to put them onto the album?

I think that's what everyone expected me to do. But I didn't want to do that. It felt like a cop out. Why put out a record of songs people have already heard, and songs people have made some experience out of. I didn't want to go in re-record the songs. I didn't want to put out a compilation of the songs. I figure at some point, some kind of record will come out with all of the early songs. I didn't want it to be our first full length release. I wanted to do something different. Also, within the year our band has existed, there has been a lot of change in our sound and in my song-writing style and I wanted to make a record which reflected that.

The lyrics echo the melodrama of '60s girl groups and Phil Spector, was that intended?

Yeah it was definitely intended. I wanted to make a record which had one theme, and the them was 'crazy for you'. It's just a theme of a person being really in love with someone that they know isn't right for them, and there's a lot of s hit going on. I wrote a bunch of lovesick songs, and that was the point. If you listen to a Shangri-Las album, every song is 'I want to be with that boy, I love that boy'. That was the idea of what I did with the songs in the first place, it was kinda an homage to that.

It seems like a lot of reviews have assumed its autobiography…

I mean it's half and half. I don't really like to talk about what the songs are about, or who they're about, because I don't think it matters. There's definitely fact that I'm talking about, but a lot of it is just a situation that I've created or an emotion that I've felt. Not everything in every song is 100% true. I think a lot of people take stuff a little too literally at times.

Did the music come first or the lyrics?

I don't think about the lyrics at all. I'm not a person who sits down with a pen and paper and pick my brain to come up with the best lyrics. I really focus more on melody and harmony and what is this song going to sound like. The way it works most of the time, is that I play a couple of chords on the guitar, and come up with a melody, and I just sing a couple of times through and make up the lyrics, and write the lyrics down and look back at it, and think 'this song is about this'. I never really pre-plan my lyrics or think about the meaning of them. I think it's very obvious, they're very simple and straightforward lyrics. I like it that way. I don't want to hide a bunch of s hit under a bunch of boring metaphors, I just want to say 'this is what's up'.

The production is excellent on the album, did it just fall into place, or take a bit of work?

Not really. The reason why we worked with Lewis [Pesacov] was because he recorded 'When I'm With You', which was obviously our most successful song. We knew he had this idea sonically. He knew what we wanted our shit to sound like. When we went in to do the record, we kinda just threw out ideas of what we wanted specific stuff to sound like. The cool thing about Lewis is we can tell him 'I want this one part of this one song to sound like the Everly Brothers or whatever' and he's like 'cool'. He knows exactly what I'm talking about. That's also one of the things about Bobb. I love collaborating with Bobb. I can send him one of the songs that I've written and say there's this one part in this Crystals' song – I really like the sound of the drums, can we make it like that. He fully understands what I mean. Even if I'm typing a bunch of mumbly bullshit. As far as the production of the record, it was pretty easy. We just threw out ideas of what we wanted the record to sound like, and Lewis full understood that and would make it happen.

How did you end up working with Bobb?

I worked with him before in Pocahaunted and I knew him through a bunch of people in LA, and I knew he recorded bands and knew that he was this super talented multi-instrumental dude, and he loves pop music. When we were in Pocahaunted together, we would talk about the Beatles and the Beach Boys and all this sh it which inspires us to make this music. I knew I couldn't really do it by myself, because I don't really have the musical capabilities that Bobb does. I'm not that great at the guitar. I can't play the drums. I can play the bass but I'm not that good at it. I was confident in my song-writing, I just had to have someone else make it sound like the way they sound in my brain. That's basically what Bobb does.

You seem to have a more solid band, has that changed the way you've viewed song-writing?

Not really. I still write songs thinking these are my ideas. I don't tell Bobb what to do, he does make up a lot of stuff, but I kinda give him guidelines for what I want and then he basically makes that happen. I don't think in the history of our existence we will ever be band that sits in a room and write a song together. We tried to do that, I wrote a bunch of songs and took them to Bobb and said 'let's sit here and try to come up with your parts'. It's just weird. That's not the way I like to make music. I like to do it on my own and let whoever else is in my mind do whatever they want to do. We figured out a way to make it work. There's no sense in changing something that works. If it's not broken, don't fix it.

Has the success surprised you – number 36 on the Billboard charts for a debut album on an indie label?

Yeah, that blew my mind. I was shocked when I saw that the record was on the same chart as Miley Cyrus. I was like 'what the fuck. How did that even happen?' It's really crazy. It's awesome, but it's still something I'm not a little bit used to yet. It's still sinking in that I have a record on a Billboard chart and I tour all year long and it's still really crazy and something I'm getting used to, but at the same time it's something that's really exciting, and I'm really proud of this music, so it's cool I'm doing something I enjoy as opposed to being in a band I don't really care about. I'm actually in a band I genuinely care about, so it's cool to care about what you're doing I guess.

Has your cat got used to your increased success?

I think my cat has got used to his increased success. He's become a bit of a cat diva.

So the success has gone to his head?

Yeah, I'm going to rename him Hollywood, because that's basically how he acts now.

Do you have any plans to tour New Zealand?

We're coming to Australia and New Zealand in March.

Brannavan Gnanalingam

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Seven Quick Questions... Madison Van StadenLove your lyrics and sounds! ...Seven Quick Questions... Madison Van Staden

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