Chicago Drive-In
Pavement Entertainment

Cover Story – Best Coast

| April 1, 2020

Best Coast

Best Coast anchor Bethany Cosentino admits that her duo’s chiming new Always Tomorrow set, it’s fourth, just might be the Feel-Good Album of the Year. But in retrospect, she only wishes that she at first didn’t have to feel so incredibly bad just to compose it. And she isn’t waxing poetic when she describes the dire circumstances leading up to its recent triumphant completion. “I was really struggling with being creative, and I didn’t feel like I could write,” she recalls, sighing. “I really, truthfully, thought that I might be done — I was struggling really hard with depression until I hit a really intense bottom where I was just like, ‘I don’t know if I’ll EVER get out of this, so maybe this is just where my life is now and how I feel.’”

How could darkness overtake such a bright, bubbly pop persona as Cosentino, who had been making Beach-Boys-sunny sounds with her guitarist chum Bobb Bruno since 2009? It was easier than she had ever imagined, she says. And — hindsight being a perfect 20/20 —it overtook her in subtle life-altering increments that now would raise instantaneous red flags. Cut back to 2015, and the Los Angeles outfit’s third long-playing ode to its sunny environs, California Nights. Even before that release, Cosentino had begun juggling her emotions, battling against the disparate inner feelings incurred by the surprise overnight success of Best Coast’s 2010 debut, Crazy For You. “I was kind of being thrust into a public spotlight,” she says. “As a musician, I was very young when I started, and my career took off in a way that I just didn’t expect. So at the end of the album cycle for California Nights was really the first time since Crazy For You came out that I really had a moment to be like, ‘Okay — what IS my life?’ And once I was faced with that existential question, I thought, ‘Whoa. What do I do now?’ So when I was trying to make music and I couldn’t, things came to a screeching halt, and I took a big chunk of time off from making music.”

Artistically, the singer had one key advantage. When it comes to her often slacker-lifestyle-celebrating lyrics, she says, she’s always been an open book, a compulsive over-sharer who rarely sat on private information or hush-hush secrets. Unafraid of looking unhip or awkward, she would sing about almost any subject matter, even her huge orange tabby, Snacks, who not only featured on the Crazy album cover but also became an online sensation courtesy of his popular Facebook page and Twitter feed. Yes, life was indeed that simple and down-to-Earth for the SoCal native, who in the past years discovered the wonderfully symbiotic relationship between art and depression, to the point whereby carefully annotating exactly what she went through in almost every sonically-uplifting song. She exorcised all of her debilitating demons in one fell swoop. “So the new record kind of speaks for itself about everything that’s been going on with me; and all the changes I went through, and the anxiety and depression that I was dealing with,” she explains. “I’ve always been honest, but with this album, I’m a lot more open about all my struggles.”

Thus, fans have the unique choice of getting lost in the surf-frothy music — which captures the punky spirit of “Eat to the Beat”-era Blondie — or getting out Roget’s Thesaurus and digging into the torrents of grim catharsis roiling just beneath the surface of Always Tomorrow. And it’s incredibly — sometimes painfully — personal; diary entries so straight-forward and unflinching that they can’t help but endear the author even more to her audience. And the underlying message is clear — often, just by writing down the details of a traumatic event, or singing it out loud; you can find the well-lit path that leads you out of your shadowy forest. No therapy required.

For instance, “Different Light” pops the cork on the proceedings with a pounding guitar riff and Cosentino “asking myself all the time/ What if this just goes away/ I’ve gotten used to looking forward to another day.”

The swaggering “Everything Has Changed” follows, with some suitably strange, off-kilter couplets: “I used to drink nothing but water and whiskey/ And now I think those were the reasons why/ I used to fall deep down in a hole”), then gives way to chirrupy, Far Eastern filigrees of “For the First Time,” and the vocalist’s Horatio Alger pep talk (“I’m trying harder than I ever have before/ Used to think that taking care of myself would just become a real bore/ On Friday nights I don’t spend too much time lying on the bathroom floor/ Like I used to/ The demons deep inside me they might have finally been set free”).

In “Wreckage,” she readily admits that she’s “so sorry for everything/ You know I really wanted it to work out/ I put the blame on everybody/ Wasn’t capable of not being stressed out…Before I wanted to move on/ But I kept writing the same song.” And “Master of My Own Mind” finds her “scared of the future/But it hasn’t happened yet, so why has it got me down?”

With the plush ballad “True,” she’s, at last, found her footing again, to the point where she’s reluctant to jinx a new relationship by immortalizing it in song. Uhh, like she used to. And throughout it all, she somehow manages to make all these neuroses sound navigable. Fun, even.

Naturally, there was more going on with the Best Coast frontwoman than a basic open-and-shut case of clinical depression. But — good news — she’s more than happy to document every last juicy detail that might have been overlooked in song. And she’s got a great, self-deprecating wit that lets her deliver her yarns with an extra zing.

Looking back on it, she says, maybe it wasn’t the wisest move to buy that spooky old house in Burbank, which may or may not have been haunted. Overnight, she went from hanging out with a tight coffeehouse clique to an abode straight out of 1313 Mockingbird Lane. “The place I was living prior to that was within walking distance of a Trader Joe’s and a coffee shop, and a lot of my friends,” she remembers. “And then I went into this house where — just to get to the main road — you had to go down a very curvy, dark, isolated street. So I definitely took myself out of circulation and put myself up there, and I felt like I turned into Howard Hughes up there. It was a weird period in my life, for sure. It was so far away from everything, but things work out the way they’re supposed to, I guess, to get you where you need to be. So I had to go through that. I needed a break and a pause from my career for a second, and that house kind of forced me to [take it].”

What was an average day like for the usually industrious composer? She laughs, even though it wasn’t remotely amusing at the time. With no work or deadlines looming over her head, she simply spent most days in bed, drinking and binge-watching an unhealthy amount of reality TV. “And I think reality television was a way for me to get out of my own head and out of my own thoughts, because I could just watch other people’s lives and how cuckoo they are. So at that point, it was a lot of the Bravo TV series Van Der Pump Rules. She’s delighted to note that she just had the honor of featuring four Van Der cast members in the video for her comeback song, “Everything Has Changed.” “So I came full circle from living in this weird, dark period and watching that show to all these years later, where I actually got them to be in my music video. It definitely was a cool little completion-of-the-circle kind of thing.”

Yes, Cosentino did see a therapist during her down period, she admits. But her clarity took on other forms. She determined to stop wallowing in her misery and extricate herself from that ominous abode for daily nature hikes. She began reading transformative self-help manuals, including one her mother recommended — The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. “But I was still trying to make music, and I couldn’t,” she recalls. “Only slowly did I start to get my inspiration back, and a lot of that had to do with me just really, really coming to terms with the idea that I needed to work on myself. So there was a lot of trial and error of trying different things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, even by just trying to get out of my house more. And slowly, I started to get my inspiration back.”

Help arrived from outside sources, as well. Although the artist couldn’t imagine ever completing another full Best Coast album at the time, she accepted one challenge — composing Best Kids, a children’s recording that took her mind off more significant problems. It was a world she was coming to know quite well, after writing music for an Amazon American Girl franchise Christmas movie, plus various PBS young-audience programs. “It’s very fun to make music for kids because you don’t have to think too much,” she says. “So it allowed me to be creative and craft these really fun, catchy songs with silly lyrics. And it was a way for us to get back into a studio and record music again, and for me to get behind a microphone again and just sing.” Not long after, she adds, she felt that old spark of urgency again. “And I was really excited to make another Best Coast record.”

Now there was just one little problem. Word was out that Best Coast was back and better than ever, and more projects were suddenly on the table. Some made sense; some didn’t. And then some were just so nonsensical, she found them attractive anyway, and she jumped at the opportunity to try something new. “We were in the studio making this album, and I got a call from our manager, and he said, ‘Fred Savage is doing a show on Fox called What Just Happened? she remembers. “‘And, the premise is, it’s a parody of an after-show for a show that doesn’t exist,’ And I was like, ‘What does that even MEAN?’ But they wanted us to make the music for it, and Bobb and I said, ‘Sure — whatever. Just let us know when they want to meet.’ So then we went and met Fred and met the producers and the creators, and we just vibed really well with them and gave them some sample music that they loved. Then we got hired.” Playing the show’s house band would eventually delay the completion of Always Tomorrow. But it was really cool because Fred is just a super-nice, very wonderful guy who really likes Best Coast and really supported and championed us. So it was a really cool thing to get to do.”

Hewing closely to the classic ‘Write what you know’ prime directive, Cosentino soon told it like it was, in track after revealing track. And once the sessions were completed, the surreal offers kept coming in, like the recent invitation from the dreamlike chanteuse Lana Del Rey to join her in concert in Chicago for some special duets. “And again, I was just sitting at home, and we had just released our first song in five years, and our manager calls up and says, ‘Lana has guests coming out on tour with her, and they want to know if you’d be interested,’” she says. “And of course, I was interested!” She jetted out, rehearsed on show day, and hours later was singing alongside Del Ray on Best Coast classics like “When I’m With You.” “And I was really nervous,” she confesses. “It was one of those moments where I was like, ‘What is my life, and how did I even get here? This is so cool!’”

Given that so few people have met the reclusive chanteuse, what was Del Rey like in person? “She’s just really sweet and down to Earth,” Cosentino gushes. With both artists adoring the other’s music it was a real mutual-admiration society in Chicago that night. “And she’s just a very humble person. For as famous as she is, she’s just so kind and filled with gratitude, and she made me feel very welcome and taken-care-of and special. It was just surreal.”

And that might be the ultimate bullet point you can take from this lady’s painstakingly-constructed presentation. “I feel very lucky, lucky that I get to do this job, because I’m constantly meeting new people, famous or not, so I’m always excited about where it takes me — and who it introduces me to — next. And I feel really grateful that I went through everything that I went through. I think a lot of people go through bouts of depression and darkness, and they feel like, ‘WTF? This sucks!’ And don’t get me wrong— at the time, I was feeling very ‘WTF? This sucks! ‘ too.’,” she concludes. “But in hindsight, I’m really happy because I got to write a bunch of songs about the experience, and now I know that if I can make it through that? Hey — I can make it through pretty much anything!”

– Tom Lanham

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Category: Cover Story, Featured, Features

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