For a band that so often sings the pleasures of laziness, Best Coast has certainly been busy this year. So busy, in fact, that we were only able to pin down vocalist/lyricist/cat fancier Bethany Cosentino for a twelve-minute conversation.
Best Coast originally emerged from a small, bicoastal scene of lo-fi bands that included Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, Puro Instinct and Girls at Dawn. With bassist Bobb Bruno, SoCal native Cosentino released a series of singles and EPs that recall several nostalgic eras at once: '60s pop and surf music, '70s singer-songwriter confessions, '80s British anorak pop and '90s-style lo-tech production.
In July, Best Coast followed up these rough gems with Crazy for You, its debut album. You is a concise, focused set that cleans up the earlier production a bit but leaves enough aural haze to evoke a wistful late-summer mood. The album entered the Billboard charts at No. 36, which surprised the band as much as anyone else. With new drummer Ali Koehler (ex-Vivian Girls), Best Coast has been on the road for much of the year.
In our brief chat, Cosentino spoke about the rigors of touring, the pressure of being a sudden buzz band and the long-term effects of hearing the Beach Boys and Phil Spector as a child.
Mike Appelstein: Has all the attention taken you by surprise?
Bethany Cosentino: We didn't expect it at all. I really just started this band as a way to kill time after I dropped out of college [in New York City] and moved back to California. It was just like, "What do I do now?" It was almost this instantaneous thing after I got home. I felt very creative and started writing songs very quickly. I had mentioned to Bobb that I wanted to start making music again, but I couldn't have done it in New York. There's something about New York that doesn't fuel my creativity, and I really missed home. So in the beginning it was just a hobby. We just really wanted to experiment with what kind of music we could make together. But almost overnight it was, "OK, you're playing South by Southwest," or "You're playing fourteen shows." After South by Southwest is when things got crazy. We are still dealing with the whiplash of it all.
Does it change your creative process to know there are people now listening and expecting?
No. I write all the music in my room sitting on my bedroom floor. I don't ever do it thinking, "Oh, a thousand people will hear this." When Bobb and I go to record songs, it's not something we ever even think of, that it's going to be on the Internet or on a record. We just do the songs, and as long as we're happy, that's when we're ready to send them out and let other people hear them. I try really hard not to think about what people will say or expect. I don't do it for other people's validation; I do it because it's something I enjoy and feel like I'm good at. I've never felt that way about, like, any job I've had. Music is the one thing where I feel like I know what I'm doing.
Do you need to recharge yourself in order to stay in that head space?
When you're playing the same twelve or fourteen songs every night, over and over, it's hard not to get burnt out on it. But I think what helps us stay excited is just that every single city we go to, there's always something different. So you go and play a show in Michigan and then Chicago, and it's the same exact set, but people interact with it differently. Sometimes I might be in an absolutely awful mood and feel like, "I don't want to do this, I don't want to play a show; I just want to sleep." But almost always, as soon as we get onstage, it's like, "OK, I'm excited again." You just have to make sure you can keep yourself entertained so you're not appearing bored to everyone that's watching you. At first I didn't know how people did it; I'd never toured before, so it was something completely new to me. Now that I'm becoming a quote-unquote "road dog" or whatever, it's a lot easier for me.
Your father is a professional musician who's played with the likes of the Hollies and Badfinger. What do your parents think of Best Coast?
My dad is my number-one supporter in basically anything and everything I do. He honestly is our number-one fan. He knows all the lyrics. He's happy to see me doing something that's taking me to places like Europe and Australia. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming with my parents because they'll e-mail me link after link and say, "Look what I found about you on the Internet!" I try really hard not to read about myself on the Internet, but I'm like, "Thank you for being a proud parent."
Is that where your love for '60s music came from? Was music playing in your house?
Yes. Growing up my dad would listen to things like the Beach Boys and Beatles, and my mom was really into Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan, that '70s druggy music. I remember the first time I heard "Don't Worry Baby"; I think I was in my dad's car, and it was on the radio. My parents also like the Phil Spector Christmas record and the Home Alone and Home Alone 2 soundtracks, which had, like, the Crystals and Darlene Love. That sound was something I was introduced to at a very young age. It makes me feel very nostalgic. I think that's why I choose to make music that's a modern take on that; I'm a very nostalgic person, and my favorite music is very nostalgic-sounding.
A lot of that music is very melancholy at its core. "Don't Worry Baby" is a good example. I remember as a kid hearing the Beach Boys' sadder songs, like "Wendy" or "In My Room," and liking those best. Did that aspect rub off on you as well?
I'm the kind of person who, for whatever reason, has an easier time writing lyrics if I'm focusing on something melancholy. I think that's something I probably did learn from listening to the Beach Boys and even the Beatles. They have these really catchy, upbeat songs but also slower and darker ones, and even some of the happy and upbeat ones have darker lyrics. I think that's an interesting contrast. It's interesting to write a song that makes people dance, but if you take the time to listen to it, it's actually kind of sad. But I [also] didn't want to make a record of just whiny songs, so we decided to make it more upbeat.