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So much for the Southern California sun. The rain has been pouring for days, clogging the freeways and prompting tornado warnings, delivered awkwardly by local meteorologists. But here at Bethany Cosentino’s home in LA’s Eagle Rock neighborhood, it’s warm. She sits on the couch and pets her Garfield doppelganger, Snacks, while a space heater and two candles keep things toasty. Warmth is important to Cosentino: It’s the reason she left New York City, and it’s the way she describes the sound of her band Best Coast.
“There’s something warm about the lo-fi sound,” she says, clutching Snacks, her wool socks resting on the coffee table near a pair of broken sunglasses (not that she needs them on this gloomy day). Best Coast is the 23-year-old’s sun-kissed fuzz-pop band, her vehicle for resurrecting the 1960s Spector sound, infused with some Sonic Youth. Imagine a Ronnettes record blasted through a blown-out speaker or Kim Gordon if she had the voice of a girl-group chanteuse.
“This is Real” features Cosentino’s oohs and ahhs over jangly chords, in a song fit for Marty McFly and his mom to dance to at the Enchantment Under the Sea Ball. It has fuzzy guitar, soaring vocals, and, yes, analog warmth. But Cosentino’s songwriting process begins digitally. “I usually will bring a guitar out here,” she motions to an empty chair with a blanket adorned with a lion’s face, “and will lay down a few guitar tracks into GarageBand, then I’ll send them to Bobb.”
That’s Bobb Bruno, a musician, producer and longtime friend of Cosentino’s (not her former babysitter contrary to popular belief), with whom she crafted Best Coast’s sound. Bruno is a staple of LA’s music underground, performing with psychedelic sage Imaad Wasif and as a solo act opening for Wilco and Fiona Apple—sometimes dressed in a Takashi Murakami-styled bunny suit. Cosentino and Bruno were ensconced in the music scene surrounding LA’s all-ages venue the Smell, where Cosentino played with the drone-y experimentalists Pocahaunted.
“When I was about 16, I started working—at the Hot Topic at the Burbank mall, actually—and I started thinking more about music,” Cosentino says. “My first project sounded like Jenny Lewis meets Tori Amos—y’know, the kind of music a 16-year-old girl makes. Then I got into punk.”
The La Crescenta native’s father was a musician, who, she says, also works at the church Miley Cyrus frequents. He encouraged her to train classically as a vocalist, so Cosentino took opera classes and did session work during her teen years. Then came Pocahaunted, followed by an extended stay in New York.
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then Cosentino’s year in the chill of Gotham helped her fall in love with California again. “It was too intense there,” she says. “Within two days of coming back to California, I started writing Best Coast songs.” On her MySpace page, written shortly after her return, she sums up her vision: “So, I am back in California, and I thought what could be more fitting than to record a bunch of songs about summer and the sun and the ocean and being a lazy creep? So, this is what I’m doing.”
“When I’m With You,” from her 7-inch on Black Iris, encapsulates the carefree spirit of Best Coast. It feels like summer sunsets in Topanga Canyon, faded ’70s photographs, and slow swaying to Melanie or Janis Joplin. Produced and recorded by Lewis Pesacov, of LA’s polyglot party bands Fool’s Gold and Foreign Born, the song captures a firefly in a Mason jar, creating a single that should glow brighter with time. Pesacov is recording Best Coast’s debut full-length due out later this year.
Music mags and blogs have raved about “When I’m With You,” but Cosentino is wary of the hype. The pigeonholing of Best Coast as purveyors of the “California Sound” has created too many expectations, she says, “Sometimes I’m not in the mood to write something sunny. Sometimes I feel more minor-key.”
As for Best Coast’s subject matter, Cosentino likes to keep it simple: boys. “When I was first writing songs, I would try to find the perfect metaphor for telling a boy I liked him without really saying it,” she explains, “but now I just say it.”
This story ran in the print edition under the headline, "Coast to Coast."