It’s not often that you encounter a song or a lyric that transcends space and distance—that, no matter the time or season, gives you that warm and fuzzy California dream feeling. Best Coast’s new album, California Nights, does just that. I spoke with frontwoman Bethany Cosentino about her latest tour, her views on sexism in the music industry and growing up through songwriting.
Best Coast played at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA, alongside Cherry Glazerr and Wavves.
Paste: Best Coast kind of emerged during the rise of tropical-punk bands, like Abe Vigoda, The Drums, Surfer Blood. And your newest album, California Nights, still captures your always ultra-dreamy aesthetic, but songs like “California Nights” have an almost shoegaze influence while songs like “Heaven Sent” capture a kind-of raw early ‘90s riot girl feel. How did you come about conceptualizing this latest album?
Bethany Cosentino: I mean I think that over the span of five years since making Crazy For You, I think not only have I really grown as a human being, as a woman, but also as an artist and a songwriter. I think that one of the really cool things about my collaborative process with Bobb is that [he] is always kind of on the same page as me so if I write a song and I send it to him and I say, “I want this to kind of have a Go-Go’s feel, or I want this to have a Yo La Tengo kind of guitar part,” I can kind of throw out these references to him. He understands them and he’s usually right on board with them. We pretty much agree on almost everything—which I sometimes feel like I’m going to jinx it by saying that—but we honestly, for being collaborators, don’t have a lot of arguments. We don’t really reach a lot of spots where one of us has to say, “no.”
I think that knowing that I have the support of somebody like Bobb…always encourages me to just follow my intuition and go with things. And I think that with California Nights, we really just said, we’re not going to have any limitations. We’re not going to say, “OK we can only be influenced by A, B, and C.” You can definitely see with each song that there’s different influences sprinkled all throughout the record.
Paste: In an interview with the AV Club in 2012, you mentioned experiencing “a lot of growing up” between your albums Crazy for You and The Only Place. Do you feel as though you have experienced even more personal growth between Fade Away and California Nights?
Cosentino: Yeah, like a million percent. I have definitely grown up a lot. I always refer to touring as adult daycare, because you have to have a tour manager who’s saying, “you have to be awake at this time, you have to be at this place at this time, you’ve got an opening to take a shower at this time in the day.” You really have someone managing your life for you for various periods of time. And then you go home and you’re like, “oh shit, I don’t have anybody that’s telling me to get up and go to the radio and do this promotion, or whatever.” And I think that when you get off the road, you get home and you’re kind of like, OK…I am an adult living in society, I need to take care of myself and take care of things. I think that prior to doing Best Coast, I was just cruising through life and was not really necessarily thinking so much about the outside world—which I know is a very selfish thing to say, but I’m totally fine with admitting that I was young and selfish.
Now I really view things more like, OK…how am I going to make it through this month or this week or this day and be satisfied with what I’m doing, but also at the same time do something meaningful for other people? And I think that creating music has allowed me to have that sort of feeling. Whereas before, I was sort of just kind of like, “I guess I’m in a band now, and I’m just doing this.” I think over the span of four years, or three years, or whatever—however long it’s been—I’ve definitely grown a lot more, even to the point where I can admit that I was young and selfish at one point, because I think back then I would have said, “I’m not selfish, what the hell are you talking about?”
Paste: I know that Best Coast as a touring band has a lot of great rotating musicians. Has there been any time in the band’s career when you have thought about making a larger, more permanent roster?
Cosentino: Our live band has always really reflected sort of upon the vibe of whatever it is we’re kind of doing at the time. I think that the beginning when we were touring Crazy For You, it was very simplistic—we were able to have just three people and get the message and the melodies and the point of the music across. I think that the fact that we have five people on stage, whereas before it was only three, it makes a lot more sense at this point in our career because it allows us to really get that sort of bigger sound out to the audience that is coming to see the music. And it also means that we get to do a new spin on songs from Crazy For You and The Only Place and even some of the singles and B-sides that we released even before we were making records. It’s definitely a really cool feeling to feel like we have this band now, whereas in the very beginning it was just me and Bobb, and that was our band. And so to think that we were that and now we’re five people on stage with multiple guitars and many pedals and keyboard and all sorts of stuff is definitely a cool feeling to know that we’ve grown that much.
Paste: I read your essay on sexism in the music industry on Lenny Letter. It’s such a shame that female artists face such ridicule and criticisms primarily based on gender. But in light of this, what advice would you give to young women who are aspiring to make a career for themselves in this industry?
Cosentino: I think the biggest advice that I can really give is just to stand up for yourself. Be vocal about stuff. If somebody does something that makes you uncomfortable—whether it’s working with a shady publicist, or working with a manager that freaks you out, or even if you’re playing a show and someone yells something ridiculous and rude and foul at you, if it makes you uncomfortable, you have to really speak up about it and stand up for yourself. Because by standing up for yourself, you’re also standing up for other women, and not just yourself but for other people. And I think that, for me, just from knowing that my experiences have been shitty, they’ve also allowed me to have a story to share with the world and to inspire other people, and to also provide a voice for women who don’t necessarily have a voice, or don’t have a platform to share their voice. That makes me feel a bit better about the situation. So, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to be vocal and don’t ever feel like you have to say you’re sorry for something. If somebody is making you uncomfortable and you don’t want to put up with it, you don’t have to put up with it.
I understand that in the music industry, that there is a fear sometimes that if you stand up to somebody, you feel like you might lose your job, or all of the sudden you might lose a story in a magazine or suddenly somebody’s not going to care about your record anymore. That totally exists as a woman in the music industry, but I think it also is important to speak up. And if you experience something like that, or if you say “fuck off” to somebody and then you lose something, you always have that story to tell. I definitely think we’re at a point now where, yes, it does suck that women are still dealing with this—not just in music, but in all industries. But it does feel like the community is becoming a lot more empowering and that women’s stories are really starting to be taken more seriously, which is an important step. And I would encourage any women out there, in any field, to just be themselves and be vocal and don’t be afraid to just stand up for yourself.
Paste: Lastly, are there any places you are looking forward to visiting while on opposite-of-best coast, here?
Cosentino: I’m definitely excited to play in New York. I think that will be really fun. New York is always an insane day, or at least I think we’re there for a day. It’s always crazy because there are so many people that we work with, there are so many people that I am friends with. It’s always a city where we get to catch up with people, but I also feel like we have really good shows there. We actually haven’t played a proper New York show in a really long time, so I think it will really be very cool. Also looking forward to playing in Chicago—I always really like being in Chicago and playing shows there. And Kansas City, because I get to see my mom. She lives in Omaha, so she’s going to come to Kansas City and hang out with me for the day. [laughs]