How They Want Me To Be: Best Coast

"It’s sort of like my safe place..."

It’s an older, more mature Bethany Cosentino who greets Clash over the telephone line. Putting the stoner-girl routine to bed, the follow-up to 2010’s meteoric ally successful ‘Crazy for You’ sees her ditch the Twitter over-share and instead pour that emotion directly into her lyric book.

Influenced by her beloved California and the pressures of the road, ‘The Only Place’ takes an unflinching, unapologetic look at what’s going on. The trademark fuzz is gone, replaced with a clearer sound – courtesy of maverick producer Jon Brion, famed for his work with Kanye West and Beck. No topic is out of bounds. Self-scrutiny, selfish boyfriends and the pressure of expectation are all examined amidst instantly classic 3 minute pop songs. Put simply, it’s a record about growing-up in the limelight; being misunderstood, missing friends and being homesick.

It’s definitely a new model. Even Best Coast mascot/phantom member Snacks the Cat is in temporary hiding, replaced on the cover with a bear holding a map of California. No distractions this time. Now, it’s all about the music. Well, apart from the Urban Outfitters clothing line….

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So, we’re here to talk about the new album – ‘The Only Place’. How are you feeling about it?
I’m excited and I’m pretty ready for it to come out. It was really fun to record.

Best Coast songs have always been pretty emotional and honest. But on the new album, it seems especially raw. What was influencing you as you wrote these songs?
I was listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, and I think that the way that they tell these very personal stories in their songs inspired me – it kind of gave me the courage to just write my own very personal songs for this record.

What is ‘The Only Place’?
It’s referencing California. Like, ‘the only place’ to me is California. It’s the place where I feel most comfortable and confident and happy. It’s sort of like my safe place. The record was all written in times of feeling very homesick. I’d come home from tour and I’d be home for like, two days, and I’d write a bunch of songs. But it was like, coming home to that place; coming back to that place that gave me real creativity and space to write. So I wanted to make this record about California and L.A.

You sound like you’ve changed. There’s a maturity and introspection to songs like ‘Last Year’ and ‘How They Want Me to Be’. It’s a lot less carefree than ‘Crazy For You’. How does it feel to document your growing-up process so honestly in your lyrics?
Um, I think it’s a good thing. It helps me kind of deal with what I’m feeling, what I’m going through. I view music as a form of therapy and to talk about what I’m going through makes it just….easier to deal with. For me, anyway. I don’t mind that it’s personal and that people will know what I’m experiencing. It makes the music more believable that way.

So you don’t worry about making yourself too vulnerable?
No. I mean, it happens regardless. I just kind of don’t really care. I write the music that I write because that’s the only way I know how to do that.

How did it feel to deal with the success of the previous record? Did you feel the weight of expectation for the next one?
Kind of but I tried to not let it affect me. I tried to like, do what I knew best. And that was to write music.

You recorded at Capitol Studios with Jon Brion – who’s previously worked with Kanye and Fiona Apple. What was the mood in the studio?
It was great. He’s a great guy and a friend of ours. So it was very relaxed and not tense at all. It was a blast, such fun.

Bob was his assistant for a while, right?

It’s less lo-fi – your vocals and lyrics particularly sit a lot closer to the fore. Was that a conscious thing?
Yeah. I worked really hard on my vocals for this record. I studied a lot; different vocal training techniques and listened to a lot of different female vocalists that inspired me. I drank a lot of weird ‘throat’ teas and things that I had heard would be good for my voice, because I did want my voice to be at the forefront of the record. I wanted to kind of ease that talent because I think it’s the strongest tool that I have as a musician.

Lyrics are pretty telling. ‘Better Girl’ speaks of a need to be kept from what is being said about you. Do you feel in a better place with whatever you were going through at that point?
Yeah. I think writing the record helped get through that point and I feel a whole lot better now.

Favourite track?
Um, I think my favourite is ‘Up All Night’ – which is the last song on the record. I just got to sing my hardest and my best. It’s my favourite, and I think that lyrically it’s one of the only songs that I can still remember writing it and thinking ‘I’m really proud of this song and what I’ve achieved with it.’

Looking forward to the tour? How have the new songs been received?
It’s been good. People are still learning the songs and it’s fun to see people sing along to the new songs because the record isn’t even out yet. It’s just really cool to see the way people are reacting and yeah, we’re excited to go out on tour and play new material.

Personally, you’ve designed a range for Urban Outfitters. What were your visual references for the collaboration? Is it an on-going thing?
It’s not on-going, no. It was just a spring collection. Hopefully I’ll be able to do more clothing design though because I’ve found that I really enjoy it. My main references were like, California in the 80s and 90s.Valley Girls. Things like that. Stevie Nicks was a massive influence on the way it turned out too.

And I thought a lot about the girls who come to Best Coast shows and the way that they dress. I’m always kind of noticing that girls at my shows are dressed very cute, all with their own little sense of style. So I took a lot of inspiration from them and what I thought they’d wear.

Words by Marianne Gallagher

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‘The Only Place’ is out now.

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