There’s something about the West Coast even though it’s the endless cliché you imagine it to be. There’s the blue skies, the palm trees, the season-less days that stretch into an endless Valencia-coloured summer – it’s everything it seems, whether you’re picturing Boogie Nights or the Cohen family. But according to BEST COAST’s Bethany Cosentino, it’s more than just a stereotype. “I feel amazing when I’m in that kind of environment. That’s why we always make our records here. It’s the place where I feel the most creative and the most inspired because I can go outside at any given time of the day and just feel centered.”
Deploying a new found sense of self-assurance can be difficult, especially as a band’s worst critic is the Internet. Since 2010’s Crazy For You, Cosentino and guitarist Bobb Bruno have grappled with instant fame, sophomore curses, and meaningless criticisms, and it all spilled over, eventually making their recording sessions a draining experience. To counter it all, the duo took time off and as Cosentino notes in our one-on-one over the phone, it allowed her to understand “where Best Coast ends and Bethany begins”. It also allowed the group to hit “refresh” and write California Nights (out May 5th on Harvest Records), their third full-length and first that deploys a commanding sense of confidence from all angles. As a whole, it’s a project that plucks at the heartstrings of your teenage dream and wrestles with more personal subjects, whether it’s insomnia, jealousy, or “how we live in this world full of haters”. It’s also one that they couldn’t be more proud of because as Cosentino explained before their string of SXSW shows and random encounter with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it’s far from a replica: “Even when people see us perform live it’s going to be a totally different experience now because we all feel a lot more comfortable”.
Which would you say is more important: confidence or happiness?
I would say confidence is probably more important just because I think confidence is kind of the key to happiness. I think you can be a happy person but until you find confidence within yourself and within the things you are doing, I think it’s really hard to be genuinely happy for yourself and for the people around you. The big thing I’ve learned over the last year or so is that confidence is super important and it kind of helps you fix a lot of the weird issues.
You recently noted this is the first time you’ve been entirely happy with one of your records. How difficult is it to balance your inspirations with creative restrictions and outside opinions?
I mean that’s a part of the reason why I’m able to say I’m 100 per cent with this record. For our first album, we were making a record based on a reaction we had received off of a bunch of singles so we weren’t entirely sure what we were doing. We knew what we wanted it to sound like, but we didn’t know what was going to happen with it. Then it was very successful and then the second record was us trying to follow it up and it was a very stressful experience for me. There’s a lot of pressure on you to make, you know, a follow-up record that does really well. With this one, it was about going in and making an album we really, really wanted to make and not think about what critics are going to say because some of the songs are very different than previous Best Coast songs.
We decided we really needed to stay true to who we were, what was inspiring us, what we wanted things to sound like, and just not even think about anybody else. We realized we needed to let go of having some of those thoughts in the back in your head. Thoughts like, “Are people going to like this?”, “Is this showing growth?”, or “Is this too much the same?”. We wanted it to be more about what we wanted to do, what feels right, what sounds best, and what were happiest with. So, it was just a matter of turning off that inner-monologue switch of like, you know… your brain talking to you a million miles a minute, spewing all this doubt. You just have to push that out and say “Stay out of the studio!”. Like, “I’m going to be in here doing my own thing and not worrying about what I’ve worried about in the past.”
In regards to your new album’s title, ‘California Nights’, it’s almost become stereotypical for artists to praise Cali for being an influence. From your perspective and as a creative type, what makes it so inspiring?
I would say that for me, the most inspiring thing about California is just the fact that pretty much on any given moment, in any month, and on any day of the year, I can really just open the windows and see the sun. I can go outside and go for a long walk, and I can wear a t-shirt and shorts and a light jacket. I think people don’t really realize how rare that is. When you have that your entire life and then you suddenly leave it and you go live somewhere else where there are actual seasons and there’s extreme snow and like days where you don’t see the sun… that truly affects you.
So when I left New York and came back to California, I realized I had completely taken this place for granted for so long because I grew up here and it was very much just like, “This is what I’m used to”. This is just how I assume every other place in the world must be like. Then when you actually experience other parts of the world, you come back thinking “Woah, I can look out my window every single day and see blue skies, a little bit of clouds, and palm trees”.
I know that is a very stereotypical vision of what California is like, but honestly it makes me happy and creative and I feel amazing when I’m in that kind of environment. That’s why we always make our records here. It’s the place where I feel the most creative and the most inspired because I can go outside at any given time of the day and just feel centered.
Well, yesterday Toronto was the warmest it’s been in so long and even just opening a window to that kind of warmth inspires you. That feeling is sort of instilled in your new song, “Heaven Sent”, which sounds like it should have been featured in ‘10 Things I Hate About You’. Were there any more influences in terms of sound that cultivated the vibe on ‘California Nights’?
We definitely had a lot of influences that we had kind of talked about before we went in the studio, but I would say on past records – and even on the single we did in the beginning or even with our EP – we just tried to target specific ones. With this album, we approached it track-by-track our inspirations were less thought out and more free flowing in the studio. But the ’90s was definitely an inspiration in terms of a lot of the songs on California and “Heaven Sent” was definitely one of those where I was thinking a lot about the music I listened to when I was a teenager. It’s funny because a lot of the songs I wrote on the EP were very much me kind of trying to tap into my inner ’90s soundtrack. On “Heaven Sent”, I didn’t even necessarily think to myself, “Okay I want to make a song that sounds like it could be on a ’90s teen soundtrack”, but everyone’s been saying that since it came out.
It’s amazing and awesome to hear because it kind of shows me that I’m doing my job without even really trying too hard, you know? I’m giving people the impression of what I subconsciously want the impression to be without even having to say like, “Hey here’s the deal”. But in terms of the musical influences on this record, sonically, it’s more ’90s alternative stuff like Dinosaur Jr., Oasis, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Lush, and just different things we would have gone to in the beginning when we were making our earlier stuff. At the same time however, we have been playing with other influences, like Bobb would say certain parts of certain songs were influenced by Gwen Stefani’s solo record (laughs). In the studio, we were just like, “Oh what if we did something that was sort of like The Primitives or something that’s reminiscent of The Misfits?”. Just random stuff we like and less like going into the studio with a list of “bands that we want to try to replicate”.
How would you say your sound has progressed and matured over the past two years?
I think there is a large level of confidence that is very prevalent in our music and not only audibly. I wouldn’t say the lyrics aren’t necessarily more confident. I always write about internal struggles and just weird feelings of not necessarily understanding your own feelings because that is something that I deal with a lot, even when I’m feeling super confident. I did try to tackle some other topics on this new record, like I wrote a song about insomnia because it’s something I deal with. I wrote a song about jealousy and how we live in this world of haters and how everybody is always jealous. Basically you realize a lot of your hatred and weird animosity towards somebody stems through jealousy and that’s of course because you have your own insecurities that you need to deal with. I tried to write a song that was about that because I fall victim to it all the time.
On California Nights, I also tried to write a song that was a lot more atmospheric. I mean, it’s not psychedelic at all, but to me and in my world of Best Coast, it’s the most psychedelic we’ve ever been . It was really just a matter of becoming more confident and in turn becoming more of a confident songwriter and performer, and a woman in general. That’s reflected in the music itself. We also focused on our fans this time around because they’re super important. We wanted to make something that we are really, really happy with and have our fans also be happy with it because of that.
I think that shows growth because, you know, two years ago or three years ago or even five years ago when we made Crazy For You, I would have never walked into a studio and been like, “I got this. I know what I’m doing and I’m not worried at all”. In reality, I was petrified every time and it was just different this time around. There is not a single song on this record that I listen to and think it doesn’t belong or wish that I had done certain things differently. There’s an obvious confidence you can really hear, not only in the production but in the way that I’m singing and in the way the instruments are being played. Even when people see us live it’s going to be a totally different experience now because we all feel a lot more comfortable.
It was just a matter of taking a bit of time off and not touring a whole lot. That was important for me because it allowed me the time to be at home and center myself, and get to know myself again and be able to decipher where Best Coast ends and Bethany begins. Because for a second there, it felt like everything was just one giant thing and I wasn’t sure how to detach myself from it. Then I did and I realized it was exactly what I needed. I think if you overthink things too much it just ruins things, so that’s something I definitely learned in the last two years.
What was the most difficult song to write on ‘California Nights’?
I’m not really sure. I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to be cockiness as there’s a difference between confidence and cockiness, but I just don’t feel like there was period of difficulty with this record. Which I think was something that was probably prevented by how I allowed myself to actually think without being my own worst enemy and tearing myself down. The recording process was more of just approaching the songs in a relaxed and zen manner.
Lyrically and just thematically there are things I talk about on this record and every other record that are sometimes really hard for me to talk about just because it’s real, personal feelings and emotions. Sometimes it’s very therapeutic for me to write the way I do. The most difficult thing I would say is probably to admit that to not only to yourself, but the world because obviously the world is going to hear it. They’re going to find out that these are thoughts that you had or are having and that you draw from that to write a song. Being my own worst enemy at times was the most difficult thing to deal with.
Well, given what you’ve endured and achieved, what do you think it means to be a successful musician in 2015?
I think everybody’s level of success and interpretation of success is different, but I would say my interpretation of success is really just the fact that we get to do this as our jobs. We get to go on tour and people who don’t tour think it’s like this big fun wild party and it’s like it really isn’t. It is really hard work; it’s emotionally and physically draining at times but there’s nothing better in the world than being on stage and watching an entire audience or festival of people come from all over to see you. Like watching them sing back to you – sing lyrics that you wrote about problems that you were dealing with in your own identity because they can relate to it. That to me is what makes me feel really successful and I know that’s what makes Bobb feel successful as well.
Playing these shows and seeing how much our music means to people is gratifying. Like having people come up to us and say, “I literally listen to your music all the time. You have a song for each one of my moods” – when people say stuff to me like that, I’m like, “Dude, I have done what I wanted to do”. All I’ve ever wanted to do is to help people. I feel like by just talking about my own insecurities and my own issues, I have therefore allowed other people to deal with theirs. Being successful is great and all, but there is some 17-year-old girl in the Midwest right now, listening to my music and feeling so many emotions based on things that I wrote about in a room in my house, and that makes me feel amazing. That to me is my own definition of success.