During a two hour conversation in a restaurant in the sleepy Los Angeles neighbourhood of Eagle Rock, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino uses more “dude”s, “whoa”s and “y’know?”s than Keanu Reeves in 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s easy to see why, in the past, the 28-year-old has been depicted as a cartoonish, one-dimensional airhead. It’s a character she, both in real life and on her band’s two albums – 2010’s ‘Crazy For You’ and 2012’s ‘The Only Place’ – has been prone to exaggerate. Not any more. She’s dealing with a medically diagnosed anxiety disorder, and learning how to handle success.
“I’m almost 30, but I’m not,” she says. “It’s a weird age. Like that Britney Spears song ‘I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman’.” To help her deal with the confusion of her late-20s, Cosentino is taking better care of herself. Her weed consumption is restricted to edibles such as honey, lollipops and lemonade. “I exercise like a maniac,” she says. “I’m coming to terms with life being shitty. Before, I’d deal with it by asking, ‘Where’s the booze, where’s the party?’ Now I need my couch and a white wine spritzer.” Gone are the inane Twitter ramblings about her cat, here to stay are 140 character missives about long hot baths. She’s also been having regular acupuncture sessions and studying astrology. “I’m into metaphysics,” she says. “Chakra aligning, aura cleansing, aromatherapy diffusers.” She thanks her “free spirited hippie artist” mum for helping her adopt a new lifestyle. A scorpio pendant dangles from her neck.
These themes have found their way into Best Coast’s third album, ‘California Nights’, recorded with the band’s less prominent second member, Bobb Bruno, and written in the small hours as Cosentino battled from insomnia in her Eagle Rock home. It’s a place where the local supermarket shuts at 9pm, and has a fake 1950s diner, a donut shack and a Methodist church. When the pink sun sets, she can hideaway like a recluse. “I’d think about death,” she says of her lonely nights. “I’d be up watching The Simpsons and Bart would say, “What’s the point, we all die in the end?””. I thought, “A fucking cartoon character knows how I feel.”
Everything changed for Cosentino when she realised she needed to take Best Coast’s future into her own hands. The band’s career began with the acclaimed debut album ‘Crazy For You’. But making good on the success was nerve-wracking and Cosentiono and Bruno tried too hard on follow-up ‘The Only Place’. They were allowed no creative control over it, had an ill-suited producer forced upon them (Jon Brion, who’s worked with Fiona Apple and Kanye West) and were given just three weeks to prepare. As a result, it lacked the smart surf rock of their debut and met with unforgiving reviews. It was a shock. “In the internet generation one day you’re up, the next you’re down,” she says.
Then the personal attacks came. Bobb would be credited for playing every instrument, while Bethany was mocked for having a bad hair day. “Nobody cares if Bobb has a zit,” she says. “People say the stupidest shit. One interviewer said, ‘You don’t see a lot of women playing guitar.’ I looked at him and was like, ‘Are you fucking out of your mind?’” It took ages to stop giving a shit about what people thought. People said awful things. What did I ever do to them? The California jokes, cat jokes, weed jokes, they’re so fucking old. If you’re gonna say something be original. I’ll laugh.”
She hit rock bottom, and started smoking too much pot. Change came in 2013, when Cosentino fired her manager and created her own record label, Jewel City, named after the LA suburb of Glendale where she was born. That October’s ‘Fade Away’ EP was a way for Best Coast to abandon the fey Americana of ‘The Only Place’, and reconnect with the slacker rock of their debut. It also provided the opportunity to work with producer Wally Gagel for the first time. So when the time came for Bethany and Bobb to make ‘California Nights’, he understood their intentions. “We got back to that spirit of ‘fuck it’, let’s make something raucous,” he says. Cosentino brought the songs she wrote in Eagle Rock to the Hollywood recording studio, Bobb added his guitar parts, and 12 songs were thrashed out. They felt invincible again. “Fuck what critics think, man,” says Bethany. “I’m 100 per cent happy. I can’t say that about anything we’ve done in the past.”
After completing “the record we always wanted to make” Best Coast bagged a deal with Columbia subsidiary Harvest. “Dude, this is the way to do it,” she says of the decision. “I have more freedom than ever. It’s so backwards!”
‘California Nights’ will resurrect Best Coast’s reputation. The title track is confident beyond belief: a shoegaze-y dream-pop sprawl reminiscent of The Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now?’. Cosentino describes it as “Spiritualized meets Spacemen III meets Oasis”. Then adds: “It’s six minutes! For Best Coast, that’s like a one hour song.” It came to her after a phonecall spent convincing her friend to move back to LA. “I said, ‘Listen to ‘Going To California’ by Led Zeppelin.’ After we hung up I listened to the whole Zeppelin discography for the first time and was like, ‘Dude where have I been?’”
The album is a feast of major pop melodies given a dark underbelly via their exploration of intense human experiences such as jealousy (‘Jealousy’), insomnia (‘Sleep Won’t Ever Come’), self-doubt (‘Unaware’), and Cosentino’s own growing confidence (‘Feeling OK’). The lyrics are a giant leap forward from lines such as “We’ve got the ocean, got the babes / Got the sun, we’ve got the waves” that appeared on 2012’s ‘The Only Place’, but they’re still from the heart. ““Best Coast songs have always meant a lot to people because I talk about relatable feelings,” she says. “I’m not gonna apologise for how literal I was lyrically in the past. Some of the greatest music in history has the simplest lyrics.” She adds: “I take Drake’s approach. I love his full-blown honesty. On his new mixtape ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ he raps, “If I die I’m a motherfucking legend”. I don’t think if I died I’d be a legend per se. But I’d leave behind a legacy that would mean something to people.”
Elsewhere, lead single ‘Heaven Sent’ is a punk take on The Rembrandts’ Friends theme tune, and ‘Fine Without You’ may well be about Bethany’s ex, Nathan ‘Wavves’ Williams. Then again, perhaps lyrics such as “If you spend all your life wasting all of your time / Eventually you will drive yourself out of your mind” are aimed at the new love in her life: herself. Influences range from My Bloody Valentine to Pixies via Sugar Ray. “With this record I didn’t care if [the sound] belonged,” says Bethany. “I wanted to do The Cure, The Primitives and ‘Cool’ by Gwen Stefani.”
Via simple lyrics, basic melodies and attainable ideologies, Bethany Cosentino offers up a fantasy world for fans to escape to. ‘California Nights’ is her most substantial work to date, and it’s confirmed the staying power of the band to her. “Bobb and I joke about how long we can make this last. He’d keep going until he can’t. That’s how I feel, too.”
More importantly for Cosentino, it’s secured Cosentino’s position as an independent woman. “Before I started the band I was a two-time college drop-out, selling clothes on eBay to make rent,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine my life being what it is now. I own a home. Nobody in my family owns a home. When I signed the papers I said, Dude I just bought a house. I worked my fucking ass off.”
Bratty Bethany has grown up.