Bethany Cosentino – Best Coast (2012)

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“I feel like Crazy For You was really rushed,” Bethany Cosentino proclaims down the phone. “We had a lot more time to be in the studio and flesh things out this time, so we wanted to use that to our advantage. Not to mention that the studio we are in [Capitol Studios] is absolutely amazing, so we want to spend as much time in there as we can.”

Bethany Cosentino is in that exciting position where, after months in a storied studio with a name producer, she is tantalisingly close to having her second record finished. It’s been a relatively long haul when compared to the quickfire approach of debut record Crazy For You, which was recorded in a whirlwind two week session in order to meet the demand of an industry that had quickly fallen hard for the Californian band. Acclaimed producer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion came on board for album #2 after befriending the band and playing keys with them at an LA show. His ornate style of production has adorned recordings by Elliott Smith, Fiona Apple and Kanye West, but Brion was determined not to leave his fingerprints too prominently on Best Coast’s record.

“It’s definitely been a different experience,” Cosentino says. “Jon’s been fun. He’s a really fun guy, he has great ideas and opinions and Bobb [Bruno; the other half of Best Coast] and I really respect him; not just as a producer but as a person and a musician. Jon is a friend and I think a lot of times when you work in big studios with big producers you can feel like they are kind of taking the wheel, but we don’t feel that way with Jon; everyone is in agreement and it’s been very easy.”

With Best Coast due in Australia in under a week to play the Big Day Out and accompanying sideshows, a portion of the album will be mixed while Cosentino and musical partner Bobb Bruno are on the opposite side of the world, a prospect that is clearly exciting to Cosentino. While her and Bruno very much played auteur on previous recordings, it is clear they trust Brion enough to hand over the reigns, somewhat.

“Jon was very, very straight with us at the beginning in telling us he wanted to play on the record, he wanted to do some stuff but he didn’t want to make it like a typical Jon Brion thing,” Cosentino explains. “We didn’t wanna do a record that is totally different to our first record, either, but I didn’t wanna makeCrazy For You part 2. Jon is bringing some go interesting ideas to the table and he has some instruments that we never really thought to use, but it’s adding a lot to our sound without taking over the sound.”

The record also sees the band branch out into torch-ballad territory, although longtime fans can attest to the fact that early tracks such as Sun Was High (So Was I) were hardly of the jangly pop persuasion. Still, while Cosentino notes there are still a number of “fast, power chordy, pop songs,” to appease fair-weather fans, the main difference has been in her approach to vocal arrangements, with the singer’s voice no longer wrapped in the hazy hug that reverb provides.

“I did really want to make a record that showcases my vocal ability because I feel that, before anything else, I am a singer, so that was something I really wanted to focus on. When we did the first record and the earlier recordings I was very shy and uncomfortable about people hearing my voice. This time around I am way more comfortable and I wanted to have songs on the record where people go, ‘Oh, this girl can actually sing and she doesn’t have to hide behind reverb and distortion and things like that.’ We’re not trying to put out a record of sad lullabies though,” she quickly adds, “there’s definitely an edge to what we are doing.”

Cosentino has been criticised in the past for her penchant to write solely on adolescent affairs of the heart. “I write very much based on my experience, and what’s happening in my life, and that’s just the way it’s been as long as I have been writing music,” she offers up by way of explanation. This record will see Cosentino move past her perpetually stoned heartache into more existential issues, brought upon by her rapid ascension in the pop culture pantheon.

“This record is really a lot more focused lyrically on the past few years, which I have spent away from home, and away from friends and family. It’s a lot less about the confusion of love or the confusion of a relationship, and a lot more about the confusion of personal issues and bigger questions and identity, and reflecting upon what I was going through. Best Coast took off out of nowhere; for me that was something that took me by surprise and it brought out a few things inside of me that I didn’t know how to deal with, so I guess it was therapy in a way,” she says.

“It’s just a little bit more life problems as oppose to boy problems, but I didn’t want it to be totally un-relatable to people.”

Hopefully record #2 readdresses some of the perceptions built around the band; namely that Cosentino is a boy-crazy, cat loving stoner. This was an image she admittedly created herself, but which threatened to overshadow the music on her debut record, as countless interviews lazily focused on the holy trinity of weed, cats and California. Add to this her public relationship with Nathan Williams – the similarly weed/cats/California obsessed artist who plays under the moniker Wavves – and Cosentino was in very real danger of becoming a one-dimensional figurehead for a musical movement that was already on its last legs by the time Crazy For You was released in mid-2010.

“I want to be known a little bit less as the stoner girl that likes cats a lot,” she sighs. “That’s definitely who I was at the time; I started the band when I was 22 and I’d just dropped out of college and moved to LA and I was just figuring things out. It so happened that I started a band that people cared about, so I was like,‘Whoa, ok’ and I didn’t realise that everything I say in the public eye gets interpreted.

“I have started to see now that I need to hold back a little bit. Also, people think that Bobb is exactly the way I am, because I speak for the band. He was like, ‘People will think we are both weird stoner cat people,” and I was like ‘I know, it’s my fault!’

“A lot of the time people say, ‘You don’t take your job very seriously because all you do is talk about YouTube videos of cats.’ People need to understand that I actually do take this very seriously. I just do, on the side, enjoy watching YouTube videos of cats!”

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