Bethany Cosentino is the lead singer and chief songwriter for LA-based pop band Best Coast.
Epilogue: So how long are you back in New York?
Bethany: Today. We fly out tomorrow morning.
Do you ever feel like this is moving way too fast?
Bethany: Not really. The only thing that’s weird to me is the whole, “We’re going to fly you out, we’re going to put you into a hotel.” And I was like, that’s totally not something I’m used to doing. But it’s exciting, and it’s fun, and I’m excited that I got to come out here and see friends and stuff. It was a fun interview. The guy was really really nice, and I got to play a few acoustic songs which I’d never gotten to play—songs alone, acoustic. So that was cool.
You’ve lived in New York before, moved to LA, now you’re back. Any weird emotions cropping up?
Bethany: We came here for CMJ and we played two shows: one at the Cake Shop and one at Monster Island in Brooklyn. When I lived here, I lived in Williamsburg, so I got to have that Brooklyn-hang kind of thing once again, which is cool. But I dunno. It’s different visiting New York after living here because I feel like I have a better sense of direction, of where I am. I like New York. It was really hard for me living here, but I really like visiting. This is only the second time I’ve visited here since living here, but it’s really fun. I think the city’s beautiful. But being on the Upper West Side is something that I’m like…Alex and I used to come up here just for fun.
Alex: It was like a vacation.
When I first got here it was so crazy. It’s just a different place than Brooklyn.
Best Coast has put out a handful of 7-inches and cassettes. Why did you decide to put stuff out on those formats?
Bethany: The reason I did the cassette was because the guy who put out the cassette (the label’s called Blackest Rainbow), it’s based out of the UK, the guy Joe had put out some stuff for my previous band Pocahaunted. In the very early stages of the band, he asked me if I would be interested in doing something. I had all these demos I had recorded essentially on my laptop, GarageBand style, and I was like, it might be cool to put something out that’s demo and really super lo-fi, minimal stuff. As far as the 7-inches go, the first 7-inch I did which was the Art Fag, 7-inch, Mario who does that label is a friend of mine and he just approached me and asked me if I wanted to do it. I also think it’s cool because it goes a little with the aesthetic of the band, sort of that 60s thing, like how bands in the '50s and '60s would put out singles instead of a full record. So it’s cool to put out a 7-inch that has three or four singles on it.
Do you think Best Coast's music is tailored to do something like that? Or do you not really think about it?
Bethany: I don’t really think about it. It’s just a thing where it’s like, the second 7-inch, the Group Tightener 7-inch, they were like, we’re doing a label that’s doing predominately 7-inches, would you be interested in doing one? So I did that. We’re going to do a full-length. The 7-inches were just a way of starting out. It was easier to do the 7-inch because the songs were already pre-recorded; we already had stuff. When people wanted a product, it was like, oh, here, just take it and put it on this 7-inch.
The other thing, I feel like, is if you are a band that has existed for five months, or whatever, a band like that, and you work so hard on this full-length record and you put it out, with people never having heard of you. It’s harder getting people to buy it, you know? But if you put it out slower, you have a 7-inch, and another 7-inch, it sort of builds things up a little more. Then you’re like, here’s my record! Now that you have the 7-inches, you can have this record.
In the music, is there something in particular you’re trying to communicate? Is it all personal?
Bethany: It is a little bit of a mix. The songs, the content of the songs, I always say, are not specifically personal to experiences in my own life. A lot of the songs are about heartbreak and love, and stuff like that, and that’s stuff I’ve borrowed from inspirations, girl groups, stuff like that. Lots of girl group songs are about a boy, or being in love, or being broken up with, they’re cheated on—something like that. But I just want the music to be fun. I want people to listen to it and have fun with it. Bop their heads. I’m just really into making really simple, happy, fun music.
What inspires that idea?
Bethany: When I lived here, I was really bummed out and missed home. I started listening to a lot of Beach Boys and 50s and 60s stuff, Motown. I think that that genre is really reflective of that happy-go-lucky attitude. Some of the content of the songs is a little bit dark, the melodies are really fun and happy. That’s what inspires me to make it sound like that, or to have a specific feel like that.
And you've been writing songs for a while now.
Bethany: I started playing music when I was five, or something like that. My dad was a musician and music was something that was always around me. I performed in school plays and talent shows, I went to church when I was growing up and played in weird church bands. The music I was writing when I was a teenager was a lot more folky and singer-songwriter-y, and as I progressed, the music that I listened to progressed, I changed as a songwriter. I think it’s cool though because the music that I was writing then is so different than what I’m doing now. But it is where I got started and I still appreciate that.
Do you listen to the old stuff at all?
Bethany: I do sometimes. It’s inevitable that I stumble upon my old MySpace or something. I kind of laugh at it. But I was like, fifteen and just had my heart broken for the first time. I wrote a bunch of songs about my ex-boyfriend. I’m not regretful or embarrassed of it in any way, though. It’s cool that that’s where I got my start. I can appreciate that as what got me on this path to songwriting.
Do you group yourself in with the recent popularity of surf rock/lo-fi pop rock?
Bethany: It’s funny because everyone always wants to say it sounds like “such and such” band, and it’s lo-fi. The only thing that I ever think is lo-fi about it is the fact that it’s all DIY recordings, I add effects to my vocals and things like that. But I think that it’s a little bit different then stuff like that, but it could be clumped together with something like those bands. I think people have a tendency, especially if you’re a woman and you’re making music, you’re getting compared to another band with a woman in it that has reverb. And not that I have a problem with that, because some of the artists I get compared to it’s flattering and it’s nice. There’s a tendency to lump certain groups together because they’re either friends or they live in the same city. And often times, it doesn’t even sound the same.
Has that been positive at all, in any way?
Bethany: I’m excited about it. We’re actually doing a tour with the Vivian Girls in February which is really fun. The three of them are all close friends of mine, so it’s exciting. I’ve been a fan of theirs since they first started. They played a show in Alex’s basement in DC.
Alex: It was fun!
Bethany: I don’t have a problem with it. Like I said, a lot of the bands are friends of mine and I’m supportive of what all my friends are doing, whether it’s music or writing or painting. I think you should always support your friends in terms of art and decisions they make.
It has so much to do with the Internet. A band starts, then they get some kind of buzz, then another band starts, and they get some kind of buzz, and all of the sudden, you’re like, these bands sound exactly the same! Only they don’t really sound exactly the same. They got talked about at the same time.
And you’re young, right?
Bethany: Yep, 23. When you’re 23, it’s a little easier to be taken seriously. You’re TWO years past 21. You know? You’ve been drinking for two years (laughs).
Have you checked out the fan videos people have made?Pretty cool clips.
Bethany: Yeah! It’s also weird because people think that’s an official video. We did an interview not too long ago where this girl was like, “What was it like making that video? That sex scene.” I was like, that’s obviously not me! It’s a black and white French film from the '60s, clearly. But it’s awesome. I didn’t really expect any of this. I’ve been playing music for so long and I started this just as a creative outlet when I moved back to LA. I just really wanted to be playing music again. It all started to happen a little bit fast, but I’m just so happy that people like it. It makes me so happy that people enjoy it, that they come to our shows and buy our records and stuff like that.
Near future plans?
Bethany: We’re playing a show with this band Foreign Born, and actually one of the guys in Foreigh Born just recorded this 7-inch for us that just came out on this label Black Iris. We’re doing that tour with Vivian Girls, we’re going to South by Southwest. I’ve never been before; I’m a little nervous but I’m excited as well. I hear it’s like indie rock spring break. But I think we’re going to go into the studio and record a record in January, we’re still trying to figure out logistics, where we’re gonna do it, and stuff, but I’m really excited. I think 2010 will be a really good year for us. We have a lot of stuff on the horizon and we’re definitely gonna do a tour. It’s just weird because the band hasn’t really existed for too long, not even really a record yet.
Do you ever feel any pressure?
Bethany: I’m really adamant about having creative control. It’s just like, I don’t really feel pressure at all. I’m taking my time with it. If people wanna complain that it’s taking too long, they can complain. I’m doing this at my own rate. I don’t feel the need to rush things. I think it’s better to take it slow, because if you take it too fast then people forget about you faster. You blow up and all the sudden, who cares about that person anymore? And that happens so often that sometimes it’s just better to go with the flow and let things happen the way they happen.
The Internet is just so crazy now. It’s just insane. The Internet is totally crazy. It’s changed music so much, it’s just crazy! I think it’s really cool that anybody can just make a record or make songs and put them on the Internet and it’s accessible to anybody in the world. It’s really cool. At the same time, it gets a little invasive sometimes. People start talking about things that are irrelevant to someone’s music. It’s weird, gossipy, TMZ stuff sometimes.
What kind of new challenges are you looking forward too?
Bethany: The exciting thing about doing the Black Iris 7-inch was that the label that put it out actually paid for us to come in and record there. We didn’t have to spend a dollar on it, and they actually ended up being two of my favorite songs that we’ve ever done. That was the first time we ever used live drums on any songs; prior to that, we were recording in Bob, my bandmate’s, bedroom. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but having the ability to go into a studio and be the artist and be able to focus more on your songwriting and allow someone else to engineer things. You get to sit back…it’s just easier when you don’t have to do all the tough work. But I think that our record is going to be a little more leaning in that direction; we’re gonna do all live drums, we might re-record some of the older songs (not any of the stuff that’s on the 7-inches) but I have a shitload of songs that we haven’t done anything with. So I think we might go back in and re-record some of that stuff. I think the record will be like, not really different-sounding, but less of that bedroom-y we-recorded-it-ourselves type of thing, but sonically it will still have that reverb-y, Phil Spector-y, Wall of Sound type of thing going on. At least I hope it does. At least that’s what I’m aiming for.
Ok, so I read that you're really into "Seinfeld." That was a New York-themed show shot in Los Angeles. Do you think that's a fair comparison for your situation? Compare yourself to "Seinfeld."
Alex: She was Elaine Benes for Halloween one year and she was dead on.
Bethany: It’s stupid sounding, but I really, really relate to the character of Elaine Benes. I have a ton of male friends; most of my friends are male, and she’s in this environment where she’s surrounded by men but she’s this empowered women. She bosses people around and doesn’t take shit from anybody. She’s kind of crazy and neurotic. That’s sort of like me. But I think it’s really interesting that "Seinfeld" was this totally New York show with New York humor and the New York neurosis, but it was filmed in LA. My mom never knew that. She was like, “I totally thought that they filmed that in New York.” I want to start saying that I’m the “Seinfeld” of LA. In television a lot of times, they depict female characters as whiney, and that they can’t do anything for themselves. But Elaine is just like, “No, I got this.” She just walks in, throws her shit down, tells people where they’re gonna eat, and stuff like that. And not to say that I’m some bossy bitch, or something like that. But I relate to that. Everything she does, I just watch it, and I’m like, she is the best person ever. That character is just one of the greatest characters.
Best Coast Interview