A week before Best Coast’s first headline gig in Ireland, Bethany Cosentino speaks candidly with Adam Lawler about growing up, the pressures of touring, and comparing crystals in Cali.
On the surface, Bethany Cosentino is the personification of every Californian stereotype under the sun. She takes a while to say everything, and speaks at length about New Age spirituality and feeling connected to the universe. When asked what she’s listening to at the moment, she says that she likes listening to the same things over and over because she “likes to be chill.” Like the music, then.
Formed in 2008 with co-conspirator Bobb Bruno, Best Coast play sunny surf-rock which pours languidly out of the speakers like a whole summer was taken and recorded onto a CD. The music is as much of an homage to the Golden State as their name. Why then, upon deeper listening, does the music feel like it’s questioning itself?
“It’s funny,” Cosentino says. “Whenever I go to the East Coast people are like ‘you’re from the East Coast, right?’ And I’m like ‘no’. That might be because I’m very neurotic. There’s a neuroses in people from the West Coast too, it’s just a bit different.”
“There’s a lot about California that I think is very spiritual. When I come home I instantly feel re-centred and re-connected with the universe.”
Some see California as a wonderland of opportunity where, in true Dylan style, you go when you’re at the end of your road with nowhere left to run. In Cosentino’s case, it took a stint in a New York university to make her appreciate her home state: every part of it. “I think there are times in any city you’ve lived in your entire life when you feel like you could see yourself going elsewhere, but I don’t see myself doing that. At the end of the day California is so much of who I am. I was raised in a place where my mom could take me to a doctor that would put crystals on my forehead and say ‘okay, you’re gonna feel better’. It’s something I love about where I’m from, that you can go up to someone and say ‘hey check out this new crystal I bought!’ and they’re like ‘yeah, look at mine!’ There’s a lot about [the place] that I think is very beautiful and spiritual and when I come home I instantly feel re-centred and re-connected with the universe. I know I’m making myself sound like the biggest California stereotype right now but to me there’s a vibe, and that’s what I wrote the song ‘California Nights’ about – the vibe in the air, there’s just something about it that feels totally different to any other place I’ve ever been.”
Best Coast try to take that “cool, chill, California vibe” with them wherever they go, especially on tour, but it’s taken a while to get to the point where they can pull off this easy-going presence. “Our live show now is a lot different than it used to be. We play as a five-piece now, so it’s a lot bigger and louder sounding and we present ourselves in a more relaxed sort of way. I don’t talk as much between songs anymore. I used to be so uncomfortable that I’d just start talking or laughing a lot during our shows. But for this record we come out, play five songs without stopping, and then I’d say ‘thank you’. There are a lot of people that really like that, and there are a lot of people that are like ‘what the hell, this band takes themselves too seriously’ or whatever. We’re just there to play the music. When I see a band I don’t wanna watch the singer up there doing stand-up, I’m there to hear the music.”
“I wanted to make a record with the underlying vibe of ‘what does it all mean?’”
However, it’s not all a breeze. “I think that when artists are constantly on the go it can do a lot to your psyche,” she says. “It’s important to take a week to disconnect yourself from everything. But I enjoy touring and it’s a big part of what I do. It’s about finding the balance, which is hard to do when you get home and you’re like ‘what am I doing?’”
The first two Best Coast records undoubtedly boast this “chill California vibe” but present on deeper inspection is a strong undercurrent of anxiety and self-doubt. It sounds as if the band members were going through one hell of a quarter-life crisis. The new record California Nights is vulnerable in a more relatable way than ever. Lost young souls will relate to ‘When Will I Change’, which might as well be called ‘The Exam Season Song’. However, its strongest moments are the ones so confident they almost verge on nonchalant (the first track and single is called ‘Feeling Ok’). It rocks with the heartening purpose of a person who has come out of the end of a long period of growing pains, not unscathed but, as Cosentino puts it, “feeling okay”. If she comes across as a typical chilled out Cali girl, it’s because she’s gone through everything and is more sure of herself than ever.
“I started Best Coast when I was 22, and I didn’t start it with the thought that ‘I’m gonna be famous!’ Or ‘I’m gonna make an impact’, I was just writing and playing music with my friends and trying to figure out what I was doing. When your life changes drastically, overnight, it really puts everything into perspective and forces you to grow up, even though being a touring musician keeps you almost childlike. I’m turning 29 in a couple of weeks. I went through a lot [in my twenties]; I did a lot of soul-searching and I think that this record really shows that. It shows that I still deal with the ups and downs of just being alive, and with this record it’s like ‘Hey, I’m the more grown-up version of Bethany but I’m still confused and still unsure of what the meaning of life is.’ I wanted to make a record that was confident and strong and bigger and fuller but also still had that underlying vibe of ‘what does it all mean?’, because I think that’s very much who I am as a person – without giving people the idea that I’m cured, I’m fine, my anxiety and existential dread are gone. Nope, it’s still there. It’s just a bit more confident now.”