Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

West Coast is the Best Coast: A Conversation With Bethany Cosentino

Written by Brittany Shoot
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Over the past few months, California trio Best Coast has garnered some heady praise. From magazines like Nylon to newspapers like the Guardian, media sources have greeted Best Coast’s first few tracks with enthusiasm and appreciation. At the center of Best Coast is singer and guitar player Bethany Cosentino, a musician in her early twenties who grew up in a musical home and seems as comfortable on stage as she does talking about her favorite “old people” music. I recently had the opportunity to interview Consentino about, among other things, music, pets, and Seinfeld.

Photos by Jonathan Ratcliff

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Over the past few months, California trio Best Coast has garnered some heady praise. From magazines like Nylon to newspapers like the Guardian, media sources have greeted the first few tracks from Best Coast’s Crazy for You with enthusiasm and appreciation. At the center of Best Coast is singer and guitar player Bethany Cosentino, a musician in her early twenties who grew up in a musical home and seems as comfortable on stage as she does talking about her favorite “old people” music. I recently had the opportunity to interview Consentino about, among other things, music, pets, and Seinfeld

Brittany: So, are you completely done with any other crap day job? Is music it for you now?
Bethany: Yeah. I was working at LUSH for a while, but I’m just not . . . Retail is awesome sometimes, but most of the time it’s not so awesome. So yeah, I do this full time and do some little things on the side—like I sell vintage clothes on eBay or do whatever I can to kill some of the down time. I figured we’re going to be touring a lot; it’s easier to just not have a full-time job and always be requesting time off. It doesn’t seem like something I should be doing right now. I would be way too overwhelmed if I had this and another job because this takes up a lot of my time. When I’m not writing and recording, we’re playing shows, preparing for shows, and doing interviews, so I think I’m just going to focus on this for a while.
Brittany: The band is you and Bobb Bruno, plus a third guy now.
Bethany: Yeah, we went and recorded the 7-inch at Black Iris—the studio where we recorded our new record, as well. The Black Iris 7-inch has the songs “Since I’m With You” and “Is This Real” on it. Before we recorded those songs, we had never really experimented with live drums before. On all the previous stuff—because Bobb is a genius with electronic drums—he came up with these drum samples and beats. When we went in to record the 7-inch, there was a drum kit there, and the guy who owns the studio and Lewis [Pesacov, who produced their full-length record] said, “Why don’t you try live drums?” Honestly, the second I heard the live drums and started playing along, I wondered why we hadn’t been doing this all along.
We decided to start playing with a live drummer, and for a while, we were using a friend of mine named Jennifer. She didn’t really have time to do it, so we’ve [been] playing with a guy named Adam Garcia [for a little while now]. He’s a close friend of Bobb’s, and he’s the best. The three of us together is a lot of fun. When it was just me and Bobb, it was a lot of fun, but having another personality in the mix is really cool. We all get along really well. We vibe off of each other really well.
Brittany: You’ve been in larger groups before though.
Bethany: I played in a band called Pocahaunted for a few years, and that was how Bobb and I became close friends. He recorded a lot of our records, and he played live with us. That was the first time I ever worked with him in a music setting.
Before I did Pocahaunted, I did a solo singer-songwriter thing when I was really young, like fifteen or sixteen. That was called Bethany Sharayah, which is my first and middle name—a very creative name I came up with.
I’ve been playing music since I was a little kid. I grew up in a very musical family. My dad is a musician; my mom acted and was an artist, and she owned her own vintage clothing store. I grew up in a very artsy home; you didn’t have to go to college if you didn’t want to, and you didn’t have to work a shitty office job if you didn’t want to. You could just do whatever you wanted. {mosimage width=500}

That was really cool and helped spark my interest in music and is probably the reason I’m a  musician and why I play music. I’ve been around it for basically my entire life. This isn’t my first band, and this isn’t the first time I’ve ever performed or written music, but this is pretty much the first band I’ve ever been in and the first songwriting I’ve ever done that I’ve been really proud of and really excited about. It’s exciting to be doing something I genuinely enjoy. Sometimes in a band you might be unsure of the sound, for instance, but I’m really happy doing this.
Brittany: I wish I had your parents!
Bethany: I’m very lucky. They’re extremely supportive. I love them both to death.
Brittany: Is it a little freaky to be compared to rock icons? I read that someone called you the new Debbie Harry. Does that feel strange or is it a compliment?
Bethany: I have not heard any of those comparisons! I mean, I’ve heard a few, but honestly, it’s so flattering, and I don’t see it at all. Someone said my work was similar to Liz Phair['s] or Neko Case[‘s work], and I don’t see the comparison. But I appreciate it, and I think it’s really amazing that anybody thinks that. I don’t know that it’s necessarily freaky as it’s more confusing. I wrote these songs in my bedroom. When I think of Debbie Harry or Liz Phair, I’m seeing these women who are professionals in studios. I’m sort of this weird twenty-something girl who’s hanging out at home with my cat. It’s so flattering though. If someone said that to me in person, I’d probably just start blushing, and I wouldn’t know what to say. Debbie Harry . . . I’ve never heard that. That’s amazing, because I’m obsessed with Blondie. Debbie Harry is one of the most amazing females, ever. To whoever said that, thank you.
Brittany: As you said, you have a cat. Are you afraid of being called a cat lady?
Bethany: No, I’m kind of into that. I don’t take offense; I’m not afraid of that at all. I’m kind of a weirdo about my cat. This cat is like my child. I take so many photos of my cat. My Facebook Mobile Uploads are probably 90 percent pictures of my cat. My friends are like, “You are so weird.” I say, "No, you just don’t know what it’s like to love an animal so much that you want everyone else to love it as much as you do." That’s probably the cheesiest and weirdest thing in the world, but he’s my sidekick. He’s on the edge of my bed right now; I’m looking at him. He’s really great.
I’m not afraid of being called a cat lady. The only thing that bugs me is the cat hair. I’m always covered in cat hair. I won’t really notice it, and then I’ll be at a show or in the grocery store and I realize I’m completely covered in my cat’s hair. People must think I’m insane.
Brittany: Is the cat’s name Snacks? Is that a pot reference? {mosimage width=400}

Bethany: Yeah, his name is Snacks, but his name isn’t really about pot. The joke about the cat comes from being obsessed with Garfield. I really love Garfield and have been into Garfield comics for a while, and I wanted a cat that looked like Garfield and kind of acted the same way, maybe sort of lazy. Snacks is totally like that, so when I named him I just thought about how Garfield is fat, likes food, and is lazy. That’s 100 percent how my cat is. The name is extremely fitting. Any time I’m eating or someone else is here eating, he runs right over to the table. He’s like a dog; he’ll beg for food, and he greets you when you walk in the door. I could talk about him all day. He’s the best.
Brittany: How old is he? How long have you had him?
Bethany: He’s three, but I’ve only had him for six or seven months. He was my neighbor’s cat, and she was getting rid of him because he didn’t get along with her other cat. I would see him around the neighborhood and always thought, Oh my god, that cat is so beautiful. One day, my mom came over to my house and said, “Do you want this cat? Mary’s getting rid of him.” I said, "Of course I want that cat!" And I took him in, and he adapted perfectly. Now no other cat could be better than him in my eyes.
Brittany: You’re obsessed with Garfield, but you’re also a little bit obsessed with Seinfeld. What is your favorite Elaine moment? Since I don’t know if I could pick just one, you can choose a couple.
Bethany: There’s an episode [“The Busboy”] where a guy comes to stay with her from Seattle. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in the world. She’s trying to get him out of the house because she knows they’re going to miss the flight. I think it’s so hilarious because it’s so relatable in a way. I’ve never had that happen to me, but I’ve definitely been in situations where you’re hanging out with someone, wondering, When is this going to be over?
That’s why I love Elaine’s character so much. I feel like she acts so much like the average, everyday woman. I think she’s so cool. She hangs out with all of these guys and doesn’t take any shit from them. She’s super sassy and has this awesome attitude. Even though she’s not a real person, she’s a definite hero of mine.
The other funniest Elaine moment is [in “The Pen”] when her back hurts from sleeping on the pullout couch and she takes the muscle relaxers.
Brittany: I could watch that scene on repeat . . . maybe indefinitely. It always makes me have a laughing fit.
Bethany: Seriously! Even though I’ve seen it a million times, every time I see it again, I just keep laughing.
Brittany: One last music question. If you could tour with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? You don’t have to pick just one, though.
Bethany: I’m obsessed with Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks is my number one idol. I would love to go on tour with Fleetwood Mac, but the original group, all of them—not [like] the reunion [without] Christine McVie . . . I want Christine, I want Stevie, I want all of them. That would be amazing.
This is an obvious one, but I’d love to play with the Beatles. Bobb and I are both obsessed with the Beatles. When we made the record, we’d both been listening to a lot of early Beatles like Beatles For Sale and Meet the Beatles. We tried to bring some of that influence into stuff for the record.
I also love Steely Dan. I think it would be fun to go on tour with Steely Dan. My mom and dad were huge Steely Dan fans when I was growing up so their music is reminiscent of my childhood.
I think it would be awesome to do a girl group tour with the Ronettes and the Shirelles and the Supremes. It would be cool if we could do a tour with all the Phil Spector bands. That’s probably the ultimate dream tour: the Phil Spector stuff mixed in with the Beach Boys. And maybe the Ramones [laughing]. There’s a lot! And the Righteous Brothers too. I’m obsessed with all of that stuff. It’s just so good.
I actually got to see Ronnie Spector play in Brooklyn last summer. She played a free show at McCarren [Park] Pool, which [is] a vacant pool and they would have shows there [they don’t anymore]. My best friend Alex and I went to see her. We were right in the front row surrounded by older people from New Jersey that drove out to see her, and they were wearing “I Love Ronnie” shirts. We yelled at Ronnie to play a song, and she was like, “What? What did you say?” So we yelled, “Play ‘I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine!’” because that’s my favorite Ronettes song. She yelled back something like, “Oh, I can’t play that one,” and we were like, “Oh my god, she talked to us!” It was amazing to see her because the Ronettes are one of my favorite bands, and it was amazing to see her perform the songs she performed twenty years ago. It was really special, and since it was with my best friend, it was even more special.
We also got to see Ray Davies play together too. We interned at Fader magazine together, so we’d get to go to shows for free. We would always go to the old people shows because that’s the kind of music we’re really into—stuff from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Any time there was a show like that, we’d ask to go and everyone in the Fader office was like, “Okaaaaay, yeah sure.”
Brittany: This has been one of the best phone interviews I’ve ever done.

Bethany: I’m still getting used to it. Sometimes I worry that I'm talking too much and get self-conscious, but talking to you has been very laid-back. And I'm glad that we got to talk about the cat too.

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