Interview With Bethany Cosentino, Artist Leaves NYC Behind for the ‘Best Coast’
In many respects, 22 year-old Bethany Cosentino leads a pretty normal life. A true California native, she likes to spend her days looking at palm trees, getting stoned and watching Seinfeld on DVD. But in her twenty two years of existence, she’s also managed to do a lot of enviable awesome things: opening up for Sonic Youth, being friends with the crème de la crème of the Los Angeles music scene, getting major label offers at the ripe young age of seventeen. If you haven’t guessed it already, Bethany Cosentino is also a talented singer and musician. With her latest project, Best Coast, Bethany sends a musical love letter to California, singing about sunny days, weed, and lackluster California boys.
PopSense: Tell me how you started out in music.
Bethany Cosentino: I've been surrounded by music my entire life. My dad is a musician so I've pretty much always been around music and musicians. I was kind of a show baby when I was young, meaning I performed in every school talent show, and every city talent show. I've just been really into music since a super young age, and since I was raised in an environment where playing music was totally a normal thing to do, I've just always done it.
PS: How did your first project, Bethany Sharayah, come about?
BC: I started writing those songs when I was sixteen. I was really young, and I just had my heart broken for the first time, and I was super bummed out and used music as this weird outlet to make myself feel better. I had never really written music before, so I was really excited to share it with people, but once people started to pay attention to it, I sort of freaked out. I had interest from major labels, and it was kind of overwhelming and I realized that I wasn't ready to be a "pop princess." My taste in music also totally shifted, and I was embarrassed by the music I had been making for all those years, because it was so different from what I listened to. I was just trying to be a rowdy punk back then, and I couldn't sing sappy love songs while wearing a Misfits shirt--though I did. I also just wasn't prepared at such a young age to put forth so much effort into doing something I wasn't really passionate about.
Playing her first show in Ventura, California. Dated September 2004. Notice the killer "Viva Bush" sticker on the keyboard.
PS: How did your next project, pocahaunted , come about then? Was it a calculated decision to get as far away as you could from your previous sound?
BC: Pocahaunted started when (fellow musician Amanda Brown) and I met. She tossed around the idea of starting a band with me after I mentioned to her that I wanted to start playing music again. Amanda has a studio in her house, and her and her husband Britt run a record label, so it was really easy for us to get the project started because we could do it all independently. Her and I never really even discussed what we wanted the music to sound like, we just sat in a room together and jammed and the sound of Pocahaunted was born. I definitely didn't want to be in a harsh noise band, so I tried to keep things mellow and dreamy with the vocals. Eventually we grew as a band and our sound progressed, but I think we always had that "pretty" backbone. That partially stemmed from my obsession with The Cocteau Twins. I would just always think of Elizabeth Fraser's beautiful melodies when we would record. I mean, people who liked my teenage solo stuff definitely didn't like Pocahaunted, but I think it was appreciated by a wider audience because it definitely had some beauty to it.
Pocahaunted in action.
PS: What has been your most surreal and rewarding experience thus far in music?
BC: In August of 2007 Pocahaunted was asked to open for Sonic Youth in Berkeley, and that was kind of the most mind blowing thing that has ever happened to me. I remember when Amanda called me to tell me Thurston had asked us. I totally thought she was fucking with me, and I kind of brushed it off, until I got to her house later and she showed me the email. It was cool because like, Sonic Youth is a band my parent's have heard of, so I was finally able to be like "Mom, Dad..look I'm doing something really impressive!" I also sang back up vocals for this female singer songwriter on the Ellen DeGeneres show when I was like 17. She was just an unknown girl from London trying to make it in the industry, and Ellen somehow found a promo copy of her album and fell in love with the music, so she invited her on the show. My dad played drums on her record, and she asked him if he knew of any female vocalists who could sing with her on the show, and my dad recommended me. It was seriously the weirdest thing ever. Paris Hilton was taping an episode that day too, and she was just walking around backstage and I was sitting in this weird green room drinking a diet coke thinking, "how the fuck did I get here?"
PS: After Pocahaunted, you moved to New York to attend The New School’s Eugene Lang College. Why did you decide to take a break from music?
BC: The year I spent living in New York was a really crazy time for me. I was just really unhappy, and really unmotivated. I was going to college full time, and I was really unsure about everything in my life. There were times I really wanted to be playing music, but I didn't have the energy to try and make anything happen. Most of my downtime in New York was spent in my room watching Seinfeld or Friends on my laptop in bed. That really felt like the only thing I could do there that didn't cause me any excess anxiety. I just never had the desire to go out, and making music required me to go out, so I just never tried to make it happen. Like during the summer of last year, I had made plans to start a band with two of my friends, and I flaked out on practice one day because I had been up all night freaking out, and sweating my ass off in my room without an air conditioner. Just the most inane things pushed me over the edge in New York and I couldn't handle anything in a normal way.
PS: So you took a leave of absence from New School and returned to California. How did Best Coast come about?
BC: When I decided to move back to LA I also made the decision that I wanted to start playing music again. When I moved to NY, I took a hiatus from Pocahaunted, and as time went on, I basically realized that that part of my life had come to a close and I was ready to move on. It's not because I was sick of the music we played, it was only because I felt like I had really changed, and I wanted to do something that reflected that change. When I got back to LA, I was living at my mom's house for about a month until I found my own place. I basically woke up everyday for a few weeks and recorded a song on my laptop, and then sent the songs to my friend Bobb Bruno, who is now helping me record, and is also playing with me live. Because I missed California so much while living in NY, I listened to a lot of music that made me nostalgic for home. Basically, a shit load of Beach Boys, and surf music as well as 60's girl groups. I would just walk to the train in the morning through the snow listening to Brian Wilson sing about California, and it made me happy. So I decided that I wanted to try and make music that reflected that happiness.
PS: What is it about Los Angeles that fuels your creativity?
BC: I hated California before I moved to New York. I was just sick of everything about it and I wanted something new. Once I got to New York I realized that everything I wanted in a place was in fact in California, Los Angeles specifically. Now that I am back, I appreciate everything much more and I view things in a different light. Now I just want to kind of tell the world how obsessed I am with California. I'm definitely inspired by the most ridiculous things here. Like the shadows the palm trees cast on the sidewalk, and the way people still wear shorts and sandals on cloudy days. I love those things about LA, and they are things that are so specific to my home. I feel really lucky to live here, and even luckier to be able to say I grew up here.
PS: How would you describe the LA music scene?
BC: The music scene in LA has definitely changed a lot in the last few years. I remember when I was a teenager and I went to shows at The Smell, it was still like a shitty part of town, and you could see bands that would now play huge venues play to like 50 people. Now downtown LA is super fancy, and it's really rare to ever go to a show at the smell and have it not be packed with people. I'm really excited about the success of the music scene in LA though, because I've grown up with those people. I've seen everyone go from nothing to something, and that's a really exciting thing to be a part of.
PS: What are your upcoming plans with Best Coast?
BC: I don't really have any plans for Best Coast. I didn't go into this with a real plan. All I knew is that I wanted to be making music that was fun, music that I wanted to listen to and so that's what I'm doing. I have a few shows in LA coming up, which is really exciting, but also really fucking scary. I haven't played music and like stood in front of an audience in years. Pocahaunted was cool because I didn't sing lyrics, and I always got to sit on the floor and kind of stare down at my guitar and I never had to see people's faces. With Best Coast it's going to be totally different, I'm going to like have to engage with the audience, It's going to be crazy. I have a few releases coming up, a 7" on San Diego based label Art Fag, and then a tape in the works with Blackest Rainbow, a label based out of the UK--but I've got an albums worth of songs recorded, so we will see what happens with that. I'm not in a hurry, I'm just having fun.
PS: Is music your ultimate passion? Is this what you're planning as a career?
BC: Maybe this is fucked up of me to say, but I really don't have any idea of what I want my career to be. I'm only twenty-two. I've been through a million different phases and I've "known what I want to do with my life" a million different times. I'm just trying to get to a point in my life where I can do things that make me happy, and also be able to pay my bills. Right now I work at this awesome handmade cosmetics store called Lush, and I just get to hang out with seaweed soap and face masks made of chocolate all day. It's a super hippy (yes i mean hippy not happy) environment and all the people I work with are really rad, so it's nice. Yeah it sucks that I'm working a retail job again, but I mean honestly--I'm happy and I have the flexibility to still be able to enjoy my life and not feel like I'm stuck at some dead end job. Clearly selling soap is not my dream career, and it's not going to become my career. It's just a job, and I'll figure out all that grownup shit some other day.
Lets hope for our sakes that Bethany Cosentino continues on the road of music. If any of you are going to be in Los Angeles this summer, you can see Best Coast on June 30th at the Echo Curio and on August 1st at The Smell. I’ll be there, wearing my California pride!