Search The Line of Best Fit
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Bethany Cosentino Easy lead image credit Shervin Lainez
Nine Songs
Bethany Cosentino

As she releases her debut solo album Natural Disaster, the singer/songwriter talks Ed Nash through the songs, voices and artists that defined her.

28 July 2023, 16:00 | Words by Ed Nash

To say that Bethany Cosentino has taken her Nine Songs assignment very seriously indeed is somewhat of an understatement.

“I take these types of interviews probably way more seriously than I do any of the ones that are about myself and my process” she tells me. “I have such visceral memories of things that are connected to music and songs.”

Having been part of Best Coast for over a decade, Cosentino is about to release her first solo album, Natural Disaster, a wonderful collection of her own visceral memories and stories. When I ask her if it’s exciting, scary or thrilling to be embarking on a solo career, she laughs and says, “All the all of the above!”

Cosentino describes Natural Disaster as the most personal record she’s ever made, an opportunity to broaden her own story and songwriting. “It showcases a whole other side of myself, I got to tap into all of the references and music that I love - and have loved - since I was a kid.”

Reflecting on the decision to put Best Coast on hiatus, she says, “It felt time to do something different. The pandemic gave me the opportunity to zoom out and ask myself, ‘What have I not done yet that I'd like to do?’ And part of the realisation I had was that I wanted to make a record under my own name, that doesn’t feel like it belongs to Best Coast. It was quite an uncomfortable process, but it was very worth it.”

Key to Cosentino was the idea of being herself, to find a space for her own voice. “I’ve always been the singer/songwriter in Best Cost, so it’s always been my stories, but I felt I’d hit a wall with a lot of the themes and topics I explored with the band, where I was like, ‘I don't really know what else to talk about here.’ So it felt necessary to remove myself from the landscape and to go off and create something new and tell new stories” she explains.

“That's why I think it was partially very uncomfortable, because I've identified so much as ‘that thing’ for so long, and now I have to separate myself from it, but it feels really good to just be Bethany, doing my own thing for once.”

As we turn to her Nine Songs choices, it’s clear from the second we start talking about them that Cosentino has structured them as deftly as one of her own compositions. Drawing on her skill as a storyteller, she explains she decided to go for a linear narrative, which takes her from Saturday mornings cleaning up with her parents, to roaming the fields of her grandparent’s farm, to skipping school as a teenager.

“I tried to go through different stages of my life and pick songs that defined different chapters, and also songs that left a very lasting impression on me. And I tried to put it in a chronological order, from the beginning to the present.”

Cosentino is a delight to spend an hour with talking to about the pivotal songs in her life and goes into such brilliant detail for each of them that it’s easy to see why she loves talking about music so much.

“It's a really good way to talk about yourself and your experiences. I’ll hear a song and it will take me back to an exact moment in my life” she says. “There are certain songs where I remember every nuance of them. I remember every lyric, I remember every little change in the melody, I remember each note of guitar solos, I remember the beat. It will literally catapult me to a different time. I'm not like the average music listener, where I’m like ‘This a good song’. I develop a spiritual connection to songs. If something moves me, it moves me for a lifetime.”

“My music wouldn't exist without any of the people on this list. All of these artists in one way or another really influenced the record that I'm about to put out, even if it's just energetically. This is all stuff that was so impactful on the fibre of my being, as an artist and as a person.”

“It’s Too Late” by Carole King

This song and the record Tapestry was the first thing I remember leaving a very lasting impression on me. My mum is a massive Carole King fan, and I can't remember my exact age - I was probably six or seven - but this song would be playing when my mum and I would clean the house on Saturdays, it was our thing in the morning.

We had this wooden cabinet in our living room with French style doors that would open and our sound system was in it, it was a cheap CD player where you can add six CD’s and it would switch to the next one. On Saturday mornings, my mum would open that thing, she’d put on music and we’d clean the house together, well I didn't really, she cleaned the house and I just hung out.

“It’s Too Late” was the first one that came on and I've been singing and performing it since I was very, very, young. I remember this song moving me in a way that really made me realise the power of a song - the power in the singing, the delivery of lyrics, the delivery and the emotion of the accompaniment.

We had an old upright piano we got at a thrift store that my mum refurbished. I took piano lessons at a young age, and I never really stuck with it but when this song would come on, I would sit at the piano and imitate Carole King. I had curly hair and as a kid I felt, ‘I love this person, I want to be this person when I grow up.’

I think one of the most amazing things about her is she's written so many songs, people look back and they're like ‘Oh, I didn't know Carole King wrote that’ and it's like, ‘Yes, she did, she's a legend.’

And the cover of the album has always stuck out to me, her on that ledge with the cat. It's everything about this song, when it comes on it takes me back to Saturday mornings with my mum, when she would put on the Nag Champa incense and blast the music as loud as possible.

“Overjoyed” by Stevie Wonder

This is pivoting from my mum to my dad. My dad is a musician and I grew up singing and performing by way of him, he was in top 40 bands that would play bars and clubs. He also toured with War, he toured with Ambrosia, I watched my dad play music my whole life.

He was, and still is, the biggest Stevie Wonder fan, and this was another record that would get played on the Saturday morning cleaning crew days. I remember this song moving me in a similar way to the way “It’s Too Late” did, it’s so soulful and beautiful. It was the way the melody climbs and moves, it takes you on a journey, it feels like you're on a boat and you're going along with the waves.

His voice is one of most beautiful things I've ever heard. I'm a fan of all of his music, but this song in particular just punches you in the gut when you listen to it. I wasn’t a massive hit or anything, but to me, I think it’s his best song.

BEST FIT: That’s a big claim!

I’ll die on that hill! It’s the best Stevie Wonder song. It's so beautiful.

I think about a song like “I Just Called To Say I Love You”, and the emotion behind these very simple statements, and on this song, to say ‘I’m overjoyed’, it is what it is. It's like, ‘I feel full of joy, it's spilling out of me.’ And then you think about “I Just Called To Say I Love You” and I can't think of anything more beautiful than saying that. He’s an artist that’s able to present very intense, deep, complex human feelings, that are as simple as just stating ‘I’m overjoyed.”

You think about the idea of when you really love a person and how it fills you with a variety of different feelings - sometimes annoyance, and all of these things - but when you really settle in with the feeling of loving someone, it’s a beautiful feeling.

Stevie Wonder comes up a lot in Nine Songs features, Susanna Hoffs said listening to him made her feel loved.

I agree with that statement 100%. He's an incredible musician and human being - I smile every time I see him, and I feel overjoyed. He’s a representation of everything that is good in this world.

It's very easy to get distracted, that's a lot of what my record is about, the chaos of the world and how easy it is to get detached from what is good, what can bring you joy and fixating on the darkness, but artists like Stevie Wonder have the ability to pull you out of the swirl of chaos, to remind you of these beautiful, simple sentiments of love and joy.

While it's important to not be naïve, to walk through the world and be like ‘Peace and love all the time, man’, we have to lean on love and joy when we examine the world and see how - for lack of better word - fucked up it is.

“Wide Open Spaces” by The Chicks

I spent a lot of time as a kid going to out to Nebraska in the Midwest, because my parents are both from there. They moved out to LA and I was born and raised in LA, but we would go back to Omaha, Nebraska pretty much every summer during my childhood. My grandparents lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere, there were these dirt roads there and I spent a lot of time out on those roads.

I don't think I really realised how impactful that time of my life was for me, for me as a kid to get out of LA, to get out of a big city with trash, smog, pollution, cars honking, traffic, and spend time in these wide-open spaces and on these dirt roads. I used to roam around my grandparent’s property by myself, because I'm an only child. If my cousins weren't over, it was literally just me and my mum, so I would go on these adventures and wander around.

I was thinking about the time in my life that really sums up my 12-year-old experience, when I was in middle school, starting to get to that place in life where I became very angsty and hardened, like ‘fuck, everything’, and this is the music I was around a lot. I think about the sentiment of this song, what it means and what it's saying.

There’s a longing for the idea of space, for this idea of being in a place where you can see the sky, where you can see nature and be at peace with it. There's no place with literally wide-open, flat spaces like the Midwest, because there's nothing there. Where my grandparents live it’s just cornfields out as far as the eye can see. It's beautiful and I can't think of anything more peaceful and centering.

I was back there a couple of months ago, because my grandmother unfortunately passed away. I was back out of that house, and I hadn't spent much time at that house in a very long time. There's a song on my record called “Real Life”, and it's very much about connecting with my younger self, and my inner child. There's a line in it where I talk about running through the dirt roads, and that’s a direct reference to the area where my grandparents lived that I’d visit when I was growing up.

There are a lot of references to The Chicks on my record, it's not a country record, but I definitely tried to dip my toe into it a little bit, because that kind of music was really important to me. I think about going on these long drives through the country with my mom to get to my grandparents’ house from the main city of Omaha. It's a 40-minute drive, and the majority of it is driving through wide open spaces, it's a really beautiful experience.

“Don't Speak” by No Doubt

If I'm going chronologically, The Chicks “Wide Open Space” represents the side of me where I wasn't fully aware of the way the world worked yet, I was still young enough that I was like, ‘Oh, this is just fun.’

But when I first saw Gwen Stefani, I had never seen a woman as the front woman of a band who wore crop tops and exposed her abs. She was very feminine and girly, but at the same time she was also tough. Out of all the bands I discovered in my formative years, the discovery of No Doubt and the discovery of Gwen Stefani was wildly impactful on the person that I later became.

But this song is not the rambunctious punk of No Doubt. I think a theme through all of these songs is that I'm a very emotional person, I'm a very deep person, I love to analyse people and I think this is one of most beautiful breakup songs. It's one of the best sad songs.

It's the delivery of her vocals, the lines, how she sums it up with the words ‘don’t speak’. You think about going through a breakup, where you experience all the levels of grief, and it's ‘I don't even need for you to speak. I don't need to hear from you. I don't need you to say anything. I know exactly what you're thinking. I know exactly what's happening.’

I’d listen song over and over and over again. I had a twin sized bed with a pink metal frame, and I would lay on my back staring up at the ceiling in my bedroom listening to it. I was 13 or 14 and I had never experienced heartbreak, but the song resonated so much with me, and she resonated so much with me. It's really funny for me to think about being young, listening to the song, and being ‘I know, I feel you’, I had probably had two crushes on boys at that point so I probably thought, ‘Oh my god, life is so hard!’ But that was the first time I’d seen a female frontwoman and I was like, ‘This is what I need, I need more of this’.

Best Coast actually got to open for No Doubt twice. It was incredible, you talk about living out your childhood dreams, and that was the epitome, the pinnacle of living out my childhood dreams. I've been very fortunate to open for the majority of the bands I was obsessed with, Weezer, blink-182 Green Day, all of this stuff that I loved as a teen, but No Doubt in particular was so special for me because Gwen was such an impactful figure in my life.

“Don’t Speak’ is so beautiful, the music video is epic, it’s everything about this song. There’s a flamenco guitar, which is such an anomaly on that album. You put Tragic Kingdom on and there's all these up-tempo songs and then it's just like, ‘Bamm!’ This song comes and takes over the entire room.

“Science Vs. Romance” by Rilo Kiley

As we're going chronologically, I discovered Rilo Kiley when I was a sophomore in high school. I had just gotten my driver's license, and I would ditch school in the morning. I took bowling as my PE class and I didn't ever go. It would be super early in the morning and instead I’d get into my car, an old Jeep Cherokee, that had no air conditioning, and when you have a car in LA with no air conditioning, it's not fun.

I’d drive to a part of town called Pasadena and I would chain smoke Parliament Lights outside Starbucks, reading Charles Bukowski and I thought I was fucking cool. I went straight from “Wide Open Spaces” to ‘Life has no meaning. Fuck it all. I'm going read this misogynist drunk’s books on the sidewalk and ditch school.’

But Rilo Kiley was the band I discovered in that era, and probably the two most impactful female musicians in my lifetime of the younger generation of women were Jenny Lewis and Gwen Stefani. They captivated me in a way that made me want to be a musician and to write songs.

When I was a kid hearing Carole King, I was so moved by it and was ‘I want to do this’, but I was a child, it felt so big, the idea of sitting at a piano and hammering away didn't feel probable to me. But to see Jenny Lewis on a stage playing the guitar, the bass, the keyboards, it felt like this was something that I could do. I essentially became like Deadheads are for Grateful Dead, where they travel all over the country. I went to every Rilo Kiley show in the greater Southern California area. I was at all of them.

“Science Vs. Romance” is the one I love the most. I love all their records, they all mean so much to me, but when I was ditching school and cruising down the freeway in my car, I would put this one on over and over again. I would scream and sing along at the top of my lungs. I felt seen, a young, angsty teenager who felt very seen, and I had found a female singer/songwriter I really identified with.

Hilariously, I was still too young to understand the complex emotions that were being discussed in the song, but I was like ‘Yes! She gets it.’ Jenny has such a beautifully unique voice, it can be so soft at times, but one of my favourite things that she would do is whenever she’d say the word ‘fuck’. She would almost growl it, and it was like, ‘She really means that. She really wants you to hear that she's saying the word ‘fuck’ in there.’

When I put this on now, I go directly back to being 16, cruising down the freeway with my Parliament Lights, a Charles Bukowski book in the seat next to me and my Starbucks cappuccino. I didn't drink or like coffee, but I was like, ‘I have to have a cappuccino, because I'm so cool!’

“Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac

It was very hard for me to pick a Fleetwood Mac song because they've been my favourite band for a very long time. I first discovered Fleetwood Mac through my mum when I was a kid and I really loved it. I was so intrigued by Stevie Nicks, and I was so intrigued by the whole thing.

Once I got older and started to really dig deep into the history of the band, I was so mesmerised by all of the drama, I thought they were the fucking coolest rock band in the world.

When I was trying to choose a song of theirs, it was really hard, and of course, I wanted to be the cool person that shows up with a song no one's ever heard of, I wanted to try and be super cool about it, but then I thought about this song.

I'm a massive Stevie Nicks fan, but Christine was my favourite songwriter out of the bunch of them and this is one of the best pop songs ever written. It's an incredible song, between the arrangement, the vocal harmonies, the backup, To me at least, it doesn't feel like there's a better pop song.

Tango in the Night is one of my favourite Fleetwood Mac records. It’s some people’s underrated record of theirs. I love Mirage as well. I love later Fleetwood Mac, where they were doing weird shit and trying stuff out. Rumours and Tusk are fantastic, but Tango in the Night is the record I put on over and over again.

I'm consistently amazed by in this song in particular. There's nothing better than when you hear this song out in the wild. When it starts, you’re just like ‘Fuck, yeah!’

“Peaceful Easy Feeling” by Eagles

I really started to get into the Eagles when I was in my early 20s, when Best Coast was forming. Even though I was making a very different kind of music - early Best Coast was very inspired by ‘50s and ‘60s pop, early Beatles, The Mamas & The Papas, Phil Spector, girl groups - I was mostly listening to the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, The Byrds, more folk-esque, ‘70s California style of music.

I literally got “Peaceful Easy Feeling” tattooed on my arm, because it’s the way I want to live my life. I want to try to walk through life with a peaceful, easy feeling and this song embodies the idea of a peaceful, easy feeling. I understand the Eagles aren’t for everyone, they really do feel like that band people are so split on - people either really like the Eagles, or they're like, ‘Oh, the fucking Eagles!’

Sometimes I wonder if it's The Big Lebowski that like made people like that, because he hates the Eagles. I often wonder if he brainwashed people into being ‘The fucking eagles! No one cares about the Eagles!’

I got to see Fleetwood Mac play with all the original members when Christine rejoined the band and it was the same thing with the Eagles, and those were two life changing shows for me. I love a song that makes you feel easy, breezy, peaceful and easy.

“Blue Bayou” by Linda Ronstadt

I’ve got tattoo of Linda is right above “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” on my arm. I don't think there's a better voice that exists in the world than Linda Ronstadt. My favourite thing about her is that she didn't write her own songs, she just covered other people's material.

Maybe this is my own inner critic, but I'm very critical of myself if I don't play or write everything myself. I don't play or write everything myself all the time, and I've had to strip away these ideas that I'm not a musician if I don't do it all myself, or if it doesn't come directly from me.

Then I think about how Linda Ronstadt is literally my favourite artist and singer of all time. I worship at the altar of Linda Ronstadt, and I would never say she was any less of an artist because she covered other people's songs, because those songs belonged to her, she turned them into her own versions.

You listen to the Roy Orbison version of this song, and it's fucking beautiful, because his voice is so gorgeous and so incredible, but then you listen to Linda's version and it feels even more like Linda's version than Roy's version, and it’s Roy’s song. It's the way her voice crescendos on this, but also in everything she does, it just builds, and then all of a sudden, she's singing in this full voice. I'm the person that will try to attempt this song to karaoke if I'm trying to show off. I can kind of get there, but on that big moment, I’m not fully there.

Have you watched her documentary? You have to watch it. It's called The Sound of My Voice and it's incredible. Her story is interesting and fascinating, and it's such a shame that Parkinson's has taken her voice from her and that she can no longer sing. It's a really moving story, I've watched it a million times. I've read her memoir a million times. I love Linda enough to put her name permanently on my body in a heart.

She was the queen of cool in that era, if you talk about impactful California songstresses, and Linda wasn't even from California, she's from Arizona, but she represented an entire scene of music. She was the Laurel Canyon Queen. She was the girl of The Troubadour, the IT girl of the Californian canyons. This song is just insane. When I listen to it, I'm like, ‘How could anybody ever sing that beautifully and magically?’

“If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow

I chose this one last because I've always been a massive fan of Sheryl Crow. If you look behind me, I have a Tuesday Night Music Club promo poster on the wall that a friend got me for Christmas a few years ago.

I think this is truly one of the best songs ever written. It's so fucking catchy and the lyrics are incredible, it tells a story that intrigues you. “Bring you comics in bed, scrape the mold off the bread’, I want to know what is the comic book? Why does the bread have mold on it? It’s like, ‘Tell me these things Sheryl!’

It's a timeless song, and it's the kind of song that when you hear it again out in the wild, you’re helpless against it, you’re immediately captivated and you want to sing along.

She’s had such an impact on me over the last few years, particularly when I decided to make my record. I immersed myself in Sheryl. It was almost like I was studying for my PhD in Sheryl Crow. I wanted to really understand her not just as a person, but as a songwriter. Her documentary is also incredible.

I also got to write with Jeff Trott for my record, the co-writer of this song and one of her longtime collaborators, and it was so awesome. I asked him so much about this song, and I was trying not to be too fangirl, but I was like, ‘Can you tell me about “If It Makes You Happy” and about writing with Sheryl?’

I wanted this one to close it off, because of her impact on me, particularly in the making of this record, and this next chapter of my life and career was so inspired by her. Not even trying to make music that sounds like her, she's a master songwriter and the energy that her songs bring forth was something I really wanted to tap into. I really wanted to tap into that carefree, sing along in your car, songs you would want to do at karaoke. That was the vibe I was trying to go for on the record.

And this is my go-to karaoke song, whilst I'm not always able to crush every note in “Blue Bayou”, I can sing the shit out of “If It Makes You Happy.”

Natural Disaster is out now via Concord Records

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