Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino Keeps It Chill

The west coast songwriter reflects on her rise to stardom and her new album, California Nights.
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The west coast songwriter reflects on her rise to stardom and her new album, California Nights.
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Six years on, with three albums now under her belt, Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino still has a pretty basic approach to composition, never mind the more sophisticated production that powers California Nights, her band’s latest release.

The L.A. native’s songwriting formula has always more or less hinged on the absence of complexity. Best Coast’s has always been, and still very much is, music that suggests sun-dappled California beaches and carefree '90s slacker-ism, the kind of thing someone might listen to while they're trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their life.

“When it came time to make California Nights, I was in this place where I knew I needed some time,” Cosentino told Maxim. “I think it was a matter of spending time at home, reconnecting with myself, figuring out what I enjoy outside music, relaxing. This record, to me, is the first one I feel really happy with across the board. And it’s because I was able to get into the headspace of making the record prior to making it.”

Cosentino is serious about keeping her work simple and free of the tendency to smooth the unpolished edges. And she doesn’t write on the road, preferring to put her thoughts down on paper at home.

“I’ll usually start writing by picking up my guitar and messing around – I’ll kind of sit and do that and start singing and saying things,” Cosentino said. “For me, whatever comes out is what comes out.

“I’ll usually type up the lyrics as I’m singing them, then start recording on the computer, then look back at the lyrics and say, okay, is there anything in here I need to change? For the most part, I don’t second-guess myself. I just kind of let it happen. I think that’s why my music is so relatable. I’m not trying super hard.”

Cosentino grew up around music — her father was a musician, and she grew up singing in church, in talent shows and in school, then later playing in bands as a teenager.

When she eventually told her parents about her plan to go to college, even they suggested (in a very atypical parent move) she think about giving serious thought to music.

“For me, it really kinda took going to New York and starting college and doing that whole thing and then realizing, fuck, this isn’t what I want to do, writing papers at 2 a.m.,” Cosentino said. “When I decided to drop out of school, that’s when I thought, okay, I have to figure out what I’m going to do.

“I came back to California and worked at Lush, the soap store. I’ve worked every kind of retail job. Going into Lush every day and getting migraines from how intense the smells are, pushing soap on people, I’m like – what am I doing? I have to focus.”

At that point, she’d already started writing songs for Best Coast. She was in her early 20s, selling clothes on eBay to pay her rent. Thanks to having some money saved up, she had a bit of runway on which to get a band going.

“The level of success we hit even before ‘Crazy For You’ came out, when we were releasing singles and getting attention on blogs, I thought if I can do this and these small tours and make a little money and sell my stuff on eBay – I’d do session singing, where I’d get paid $300 an hour to sing on some song – I thought I could make it work,” Cosentino said. “And then I closed my eyes and opened them, and Best Coast was a thing.”

There’s a distinctly California vibe in the way Cosentino says she tries not to force anything.

“It’s funny, me writing songs at 13 isn’t that different from the way I write at 28,” she says. “I still approach things in a simplistic way, not overthinking it, no poetic, seven minute-long epics. That’s sort of the way I’ve always approached it. And honestly, if I wanted to write some seven minute-long, deep, metaphorical thing, I could. I just don’t believe in forcing things.

“I go into this room in my house where I keep my guitars, write a song, and just get some feelings off my chest.”

Photos by Ethan Miller/Getty Images