“People still ask me about smoking weed and loving cats,” Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino says as I look down at my own questions, double-checking that I haven’t accidentally slipped any in sub-consciously. “It’s like somebody bringing up something you said or did years ago”. Anybody who has ever stumbled back upon their old diaries or, worse yet, their now-deserted MySpace pages will sympathise with this sentiment. And now imagine that the person you once were is not just apparent via a quick Google search but instead is present in the form of records, interviews and endless photos online.
“A lot of the time it’s just people trying to be friendly and like ‘I know you’re into this, so…’ But I just feel like I’ve finished making a new record, let’s just focus on that. Yeah, that person is kind of still me, but it’s not all there is. I’ve also changed and matured since then, you know?” Snowballing onto the scene with sun-kissed, lo-fi anthems about sun, love and all things you could categorise with the tag “youthful” in between, it seems to have been something etched onto music critics’ collective minds ever since, no matter how her press bio expands.
But that was all a while ago now, and there comes a time, normally the album number two such as this, where a musician or artist gets a little tired of the original point-of-interest that the press initially latched on to. This is the place where we meet Bethany, as we huddle in the cramped East London offices of her UK label. A couple of months ago while speaking in one of her first interviews of this album cycle, Bethany told Pitchfork that she felt she’d grown up a lot over the last couple of years, and in the public’s very eye no less. So two months later and with publicity levels at their all time peak for the band, does she feel like there’s been a shift in media treatment of her and bandmate Bobb Bruno? “Well it’s still a ‘thing’ to some people, so I don’t think it’s completely changed just yet.”
From a critical standpoint, however, and despite all the questions about her pets and relaxation techniques, there seems to be shift in the media treatment of the band with this release. No longer confided to the blogs, Best Coast have been welcomed with open arms by the broadsheets and glossy magazines as well. Sure, Bethany’s new clothing line for Urban Outfitters, endless comparisons to the Sharari-Las and repeated proclamation of her love for golden oldies such as Fleetwood Mac and the like would have done much to earn some new fans not restricted to the counter-culture peripheries. If ever there was a time where you’d be likely to see Best Coast listed in one of those “Going Up” columns of the Sunday supplements, it is very much now. The main reasoning for this, though, must predominantly be taken as the music featuring on the new record itself.
There had previously been some hesitancy shown to the band, some apprehension to give complete credit even when it was certainly due. It may have been the joyfully naïve lyrical matter, a truthful manifestation of modern woes it could be deemed, Ivor Novello fodder it certainly could not. There was a general critical view that stripping away the production values of an artist like Best Coast, or any of the other hazy shoegaze-nostalgists that came to prominence a few years back, may reveal a certain lack of depth underneath. In this day and age when high-end recording techniques are manageable to almost all, deriders would suggest, there’s no need for such distortionto be chic.
Whether a response to this criticism or simply a product of more money to work with (Bethany tells The Line of BestFit that she’s long given up reading the reviews), the new record is predominantly ‘fuzz-free’. “I hope it shows that we’re not just some gimmicky band who can only do one thing,” Cosentino says of the sonic shift. Sure, the ice-cool sun-pop feel remains but things are a lot clearer this time round, and varied too. While Crazy For You could probably have been summed up by of the songs featured like the whimsical tune ‘Boyfriend’, this is definitely not the case with this LP. Tracks such as ‘No One Like You’, for example, sees things slowed down and the introspective balladry couldn’t be further from anything off the first release. There seems to be real growth that totally justifies the increase in broadsheet column inches the band have been enjoying.
As talk veers on to the tour that lies ahead, there’s a general sense of malaise in the air and in Bethany’s languid speech. It’s the end of a long press day, one so jam-packed that I bumped into numerous other musos who had just interviewed her on the way there, and Bethany is, by her own admissions, quite exhausted. Too often a sense of tiredness or unhappiness expressed by any modern musician is met with an uproar by fans and die-hard music-lovers in response, as if it implies some sort of ungratefulness – but is this really always the case? The rapid ascent of the band and the nature of them doing so (the band gained their current levels of popularity via the online world more so than they did through initial touring) could not have prepared them for the actualities of what stood ahead. There seems a crucial point where a band realises what the music world is really like beyond the perceived glamouryou dream up in your bedrooms when uploading those first few demos, and this time also appears to be nigh.
Bethany has previously gone on record as saying she wanted to rid herself of any “bad habits” this second time round, which she explains is as much about the personal aspect of being in a band as it is the technical side of thing. “I hated touring before. I was always complaining and stressed out, this is what I’m trying to change about myself when I’m on the road,” she says. “We had to realise that it isn’t always going to be fun, and by the end of the last tour, it wasn’t. We couldn’t wait to get back home. But we’ve found out that if it’s going to be fun, you have to make that fun for yourselves.”
This last sentence should resonate with any acts out there currently coming to the end of their first full length tour, and is probably something you can only truly understand by being the ones experiencing it yourselves. Either way, there’s a telling reason why a band’s fun-loving tour diary-style music video always accompanies their first record but is hardly ever replicated after that. “You just have tokind of treat it like a job at the end of the day, which is technically what it really is.”
New album, The Only Place, exemplifies this feeling in places. While some have called the record’s title-track an “ode to California”, it seems rather to be a manifestation of this homesickness while on the road, when all memories of your hometown suddenly seem tinted in lighter shades. “We got the ocean, got the babes, got the sun, we got the waves,” Bethany sings on the pre-album release first single. “Why would you live anywhere else?” Cosentino goes on to ask and coo. Would a band, for example, ever be able to write a song of such unabashed fondness if they had still been stuck back there, doing the local venue rounds?
“Actually, as a matter of fact, that song was first written quite a while ago; it’s one of the earliest off the new record,” Cosentino corrects my rather rambling proposed thesis. “It was originally written before we even recorded Crazy For You, but it just so happens that it fit in so well to how we’re feeling right now. I guess it’s kind of fate that I had written this song that so naturally ties in to this very point in time. Then everything just clicked and I was like “Wow, this song finally makes sense!” So it was as if I was a psychic and knew back then that this record would exist one day and that this song would epitomise where we’d be at in the future.”
As the band sets to hit the road again, for a bigger and more intense stretch than before, Cosentino does seems to be in the right mindset this time round and does, as she herself affirms, seem to have matured in her outlook. Is there anywhere she’s looking forward to visiting? “Probably Australia,” she says before pausing. “It’s got sun, sea and the people there are just laidback and great. I guess that’s just like California then in a way.” You can’t blame her for being so Cali-centric, this kind of pagan-like paean seems alien to the rest of us who equate “the summer” to be “a single sunny day”. Indeed as she sings in the title track, why would you want to live anywhere else? I guess if it wasn’t for some complex social-economic factors then we all would.
The Only Place is out now on Wichita Recordings.