Youth can be quite a sad affair. Not only in terms of that a simple heartbreak feels like your world’s falling apart or that the struggle to somehow make sense of this strange thing called ‘self’ is quite a harsh road to travel. But also because its fun parts – the laziness, the fun, the booze, the carelessenes, love, kisses, sunsets; you name it – are simply not meant to last. And sometimes it’s really hard to come to terms with that. What’s that all got to do with BEST COAST? Well, in many aspects the Californian surf pop duo’s career can be read as a reflection about the afore mentioned thoughts.
Their youthful charm, the sunny vibe of their Californian background and most important, their sixth sense for the exact right catchy guitar tune and cheesy vocal line to heat the listener’s nostalgia are what led them into quite an impressive career so far. These days, BEST COAST tour their recently released third full-length California Nights. And for the first time you start to doubt if maybe even an ever-young musical relationship like the one of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno has to face the danger of repetition.
We sat down with the charming duo prior to their most recent Berlin gig and tried to dig a little deeper into the question: Is substantial change an option for a band like BEST COAST?
Impress me – What are California Nights like?
Bethany Cosentino: Chilled? Relaxed?
Bobb Bruno: The temperature is really nice. It’s not too hot or cold. Sunsets, especially in L.A. can be breathtaking. It’s kind of energizing at least for me.
BC: We’re night people, although we both don’t really go out – neither night or day (laughs). But we kind of feed of the energy of the night.
I’d say that there’s a lot of 90s pop drive in these new songs, am I right?
BC: Certainly. We had specific influences and ideas in mind while we were making this record but still tried to just allow the process itself guide us. A lot of the 90s stuff happened that way, it wasn’t premeditated. But we’re both really big fans of a lot of 90s music. I grew up in the 90s, you were like…older.
BB: I became adult (laughs).
BC: So, yeah, it’s in there. But to us, this record feels more all-over-the-place than our previous ones.
Right, you teased the album with the title-track which has kind of a new sound for BEST COAST – how did you come up with that?
BC: That’s right. We talked about the record in advance and that we wanted it to feel different with every song. So with California Nights I tried to write something longer, more psychedelic, in the style of music that Bobb and I bonded over when we first met but that has not really been a part of writing BEST COAST songs before. To be honest, I was scared if it’s maybe a little too weird but everyone loved it, so we went for it. It was kind of funny, because when we put it out people were like ‘Oh, Best Coast are a Shoegaze band now’ and we knew that the rest of the record wasn’t all like that. For us it just felt like the right song to be put out first, because we felt it was probably the strongest one.
Would you feel comfortable making a whole record in the style of Wasted Time or California Nights – songs that are calmer and more reflective?
BC: We’re both big fans of these mellow, drawn-out, psychedelic music. but like I said: Usually our writing process is not that premeditated. We trust our instincts. Plus, I’m not even thinking about our next record at this point. Personally, I just want to express myself with music, be creative. If an album of that style would come out of that, I wouldn’t question it.
It’s not that BEST COAST wouldn’t be aware of their current state of career. One could say that they began to free themselves from a one-dimensional image a few years ago when Cosentino started her own label (Jewel City) for the release of the Fade Away EP in 2013. Now change has been implemented once again as the band joined forces with the major labels Harvest and Capitol. The logical conclusion to a process of liberation? Maybe, but definitely a decision that’s been offering them a lot more artistic possibilities than one might think, as Cosentino points out.
BC: The change to a major label didn’t have any influence on the writing process because we already had it finished before we consulted them. We wanted to go with it at our own pace and not having too many people involved. So, it was not until the record was finished that I started to meet people and the guys from Harvest and Capitol seemed to be right ones. They liked the record for what it was and didn’t wanna change anything. That was important for us. We just wanted to do it this way around this time. Not that our previous label would have intervened that much but we wanted to make a really clean slate: New label, we also hired a new management and we changed our team a bit internally.
‘We decided to let people in and give us their opinions’
At least production-wise it’s probably the most refined BEST COAST-record yet. How big is the influence of the producer Wally Gagel there?
BB: He had a big influence because he was the first producer with whom we did something like a preproduction. We thightened up the songs and worked on arrangements a little bit before we actually started recording it. In the past we used to just go in and do the songs. He also encouraged me a lot in my guitar and bass parts, telling me that the way I look at things is kind of unique and that I should just go with that. Once he told me that I felt kind of freed to do a lot more layering parts and sound experiments.
BC: Off all the producers we’ve worked with he was definitely the most, well ‘producery’? And not only because of him but also because Bobb and I decided to allow him in a lot more. Because in the past we often were more closed off, like, ‘Here’s 12 songs, we know what we’re doing’. We would listen to advice but basically we were pretty certain about what we were doing. This time we decided to let people in and give us their opinions.
It’s one thing to open up the production process a little and a completely other to really risk a huge step away from what’s been distinctive for BEST COAST‘s music. They have a talent for songs that, on the surface, might seem like rather simple, passionate and yearning guitar pop but underneath it, Cosentino and Bruno slowly start to implement their love for more psychedelic tunes, such as California Nights. Lyrically though, the duo defies to represent something they’re not, persisting on that love, heartbreak, uncertainty are ageless issues.
BC: Those are problems that people experience throughout their lives. I don’t see why it should be specific for younger age. My parents are in their mid fifties and they would relate to the songs. I feel like that song Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number is kind of true! Your problems don’t get any easier the older you get. What changes is the way you approach things – wether that is a relationship issue or any other thing. I try really hard to just write about stuff that’s going on in my life because I know that I’m not the only person who experiences them – regardless of how old I am. So yeah, it’s true that a lot of younger people relate to it but I guess that’s just because maybe those things are more prominent in your life at that age. I mean, Bobb’s way older than me…
BB: Love and feelings of self-doubt or where your life is headed – those are general human emotions. Who doesn’t go through that? I’m so going through all of it and I’m 42 now.
‘I’m at a point in my life now where I don’t give a fuck anymore’
Still, there is one issue of a more general importance I would like to ask you about. As an attractive woman playing in a rock band – do you fear the internet at this point? I personally admire how Lauren Mayberry from CHVRCHES deals with sexist assholes publicly. Did you make similar experiences and how do you deal with it?
BC: Yeah, that’s something that I experience on a daily basis and in the beginning of BEST COAST it really affected me. I didn’t know how to deal with it because it’s a weird thing if you’re going from a person with a regular job that no one pays attention to, to someone who is publicly commented on in terms of your looks, the way you dress, your weight or whatever. But I guess I’m at a point in my life now where I don’t give a fuck anymore. I usually just laugh at it. Once in a while I would respond if it’s super idiotic, or even scary.
It’s not just women by the way! People say mean shit about Bobb too. There are just people out there who are fucking bored and they’ll say mean stuff as soon as they can hide behind a phone or computer. My experience is, if you respond to them, they would apologize and tell you how big a fan they are. People just want attention. I respect what Lauren Mayberry said in the past and it’s important to speak up and adress it, especially because you’re representing for younger women and girls who are learning how to come in to themselves. Which is a difficult thing to figure out. But at the end of the day I think you just gotta grow a thick skin in this industry because if you don’t have one, shit’s not gonna be easy.