eMusic Selects: Best Coast
On her Make You Mine EP, Best Coast’s chief member, Bethany Cosentino, seems like she’s trying to make pop music history over in her own image. There’s the shoo-wop girl group song (“Make You Mine,” with its thumping floor tom and soaring background melodies), its ‘early days of indie’ melody-driven heartwarmer (“Over the Ocean”), its quasi surf song with a gnarled riff and dreamy vocal (“Feeling of Love”). But what makes Best Coast so endearing is that Cosentino does all of this on a budget. All of the songs on Make You Mine are fantastically lo-fi, powered by lint-covered guitars, Cosentino ‘s vocals drenched in reverb and floating almost ghostlike over top. It’s a heavenly combination, put over by Cosentino’s skill for crafting instantly singable melodies. eMusic caught up with Bethany at her home in Los Angeles to talk about the origins of the band.
What were some of your first musical experiences?
I got involved with music at a really young age. My dad is a musician as well, so music is something that was always around me in one way or another. I was heavily involved in, like, school talent shows and plays and stuff as a kid. I also did commercials until I was like seven or eight. I remember going to my dad’s shows, and a lot of times he would let me get on stage and sing. I remember once, his band played some New Year’s Eve show, and I sang a song and this kid was tripping on acid and I was really freaked out by him. And then I think the next day I got the chicken pox.
The first concert I can fully remembering going to was 311 at the Hollywood Palladium when I was in, like, the 7th grade. My dad took my best friend and me, and we felt like we were so cool. I can’t really remember the first album I ever bought, but I feel like it was probably Mariah Carey or something — I was obsessed with her.
So when did you first start playing an instrument?
Well I took piano lessons for like two years. I think I started when I was maybe seven? I never practiced, and my teacher would always get so pissed at me, so I quit. Then my dad tried to teach me to play drums, but my coordination was way off, so I quit that too. When I was 13 my dad got me a guitar for Christmas, and then I started taking lessons. I hated the idea of practicing and stuff, but I went to the lessons every week because I had this really cool guitar teacher who would basically just teach me any song I brought in on a CD. I would always bring in things like Nirvana, Green Day and Blink 182 — so those are the first songs I learned to play. Which actually in a way is still relevant, because I basically still only know how to play bar chords/power chords, and those are the first things I ever learned to play.
Tell us a bit about the Bethany Sharayah project — how did those songs come about? You got offers from majors almost instantly, right? What effect did that have on you?
I had never really written music before, but I really wanted to — so I took a stab at it. My first boyfriend had just dumped me and I was super bummed, and filled with a ton of teen angst, so I just wrote like 10 or 12 songs, and when I played them for my dad and my friends and stuff they were like, “you have to record these.”
So I went in and started working with a friend of my dad’s and we recorded the songs together, and he played on the recordings as well. I made a MySpace for the songs, and then started playing shows locally, and it was crazy how fast people were interested in the songs. I was so young, and I was really confused about what I wanted to do in terms of music. I just really wasn’t ready to devote so much time and energy to it. I think it was cool though, because it sort of introduced me to the world of songwriting. I mean, I had never really written a real song prior to those, so I guess in a way it was the start of everything.
Your career is already kind of off and running — tell us a bit about how the opportunity to open for Sonic Youth came about. What was your reaction? How did that help you?
I will never forget the day Amanda, my bandmate in Pocahaunted, called me and told me we had been asked to open for Sonic Youth. I thought she was totally joking with me, and I just remember saying something like, “Oh yeah, right” and then she was like, “No! I’m serious!” And I, like, hung up the phone and told my mom and she was like “I’ve heard of that band!!” It was really crazy.
Thurston is just a big fan of experimental music, and he was a follower of the label Amanda does with her husband Britt, Not Not Fun. I guess he had bought a Pocahaunted release and got really into us, so he just emailed Britt and was like “Does Pocahaunted want to open for Sonic Youth?” and we were all sort of just speechless. I mean, we were a band that just played shows around LA and stuff, and all the sudden we were playing on this gigantic stage in front of thousands of people and we were all a little bit freaked out. It was so cool though! I was really nervous, but as we were playing I just got really into it, and was like so excited to be doing it. To this day I think it’s still one of the coolest moments of my life.
So let’s talk a little about your time in Pocahaunted — can you tell us a bit about that experience, and what it was that brought it to an end?
Pocahaunted was definitely fun while it lasted, but it was really hard to keep a band going once I moved away. We had every intention of continuing, but once I moved to New York, I realized just how difficult it would be to keep things moving at such a long distance.
Did you like making music with someone else?
I did, but the way we wrote music was done in a very improvised way. We didn’t work long and hard on specific songs, or parts. The music was really almost always improvised, though sometimes we would base something off an idea, or a specific sound we both wanted to aim for.
What moments of that experience are you most proud of? And does it surprise you how often the band continues to come up?
I mean obviously, opening up for Sonic Youth with Pocahaunted was a great accomplishment, but mostly I think I just learned a lot about being in a band while I was in Pocahaunted. Up until that point, I had never really been in a band that had real releases and did tours and stuff. Pocahaunted is what introduced me to that world. I am sometimes a little surprised at how much people want to talk about Pocahaunted as something I used to do, but I mean, it was a huge part of my life — and a band that I dedicated so much hard work and time to — so I can’t really just dismiss it.
So let’s backtrack just a little — what was it that brought you to New York? And then what returned you to LA?
I moved to New York to go to school. I wanted to be a writer, and I had this totally romanticized idea of New York and writers, etc. I got accepted to the New School, and moved to New York in the summer of last year. I pretty much hated it instantly, and I just knew it wasn’t the place for me — both the school and New York in general. I can’t really put my finger on why I was so unhappy there — I think it was just really stressful, and once winter hit, I couldn’t stand the cold, and it made me never want to leave my apartment. I stuck it out as long as I could, and was there for about a year.
I decided to move back to LA because I was just really unhappy, and I thought that what I was lacking must have been in California. It definitely was, because I can’t even begin to say how happy I am that I came back.
We talked a little about the songs you first learned to play on guitar, but I was wondering what records or bands do you think were chiefly responsible for shaping your aesthetic? And how do those sounds translate into your songs?
I think a lot of it comes from music of the 50s and 60s — girl groups, Motown. I was basically only listening to that kind of stuff around the time I started Best Coast, and I think it really influenced me to make the kind of music I make. Maybe the sound isn’t totally parallel to the sound of that era, but it’s really what inspires me most.
I borrow a lot of ideas and themes from music of that time, like the idea of love and heartbreak, things like that. A lot of those girl groups songs are really about sorrow and longing to be with someone you can’t be with. That’s what a lot of the Best Coast songs are about as well. They’re not all specific to my own life and my personal experience, they’re sort of just like a little homage to that era.
When I write, I really just try to keep the idea of melody in mind — I want things to sound happy and sunny. I think a lot of that also comes from the ’50s and ’60s stuff I listen to, as well as bands like the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers, the Four Tops, the Temptations, all the oldies stuff. Even the ballads from bands like that have really upbeat melodies, and everything is always so dreamy sounding. I’d like to think that I have my own way of incorporating those influences into Best Coast.
I wanted to ask specifically about the song “Over the Ocean” — the imagery in it is so vivid. Can you tell me a bit about how it came about?
When you fly out of LAX, you fly directly over the ocean for a few minutes, and then the plane eventually turns and the ocean disappears. I remember the day I moved away, looking out the window and seeing the ocean and thinking to myself, “Oh my God, I am totally leaving all of this behind.” It was this crazy feeling, and I would have the same feeling basically every time I would fly back to New York after a visit. Sometimes I would just stare out the window and watch the ocean until it completely disappeared, and then I would look at the clouds and the mountains until they too disappeared. There is just something really emotional to me about viewing the world from an airplane window. I guess it just reminds me that distance sucks, and that it’s so hard to be away from things you love.
What’s a typical day in the life of Best Coast?
I pretty much wake up and take it easy for a few hours [laughs]. Sometimes I’ll work on music, other times I won’t. I play with my cat for a while, watch some TV, answer emails, get something to eat, and then basically just hang out. My life kind of differs from day to day, especially now. Sometimes I have shit to do like interviews, or I’ll go to Bobb’s and we mix a song, or I’ll work on songs on my own — and then other days I just lay around on the couch until one of my friends calls me and we go do something!