Bethany Cosentino on Best Coast, Pocahaunted and her approach to songwriting

Categories: Profiles

David Black
Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno are Best Coast

In recent years, with bands ransacking the '60s, '70s and '80s for musical ideas and sounds, it's becoming increasingly easy to dismiss many musicians as being little more than throwbacks mimicking their artistic ancestors. But some of those songwriters aren't just inspired by older music; they explore the possibilities inherent in those sounds, whether by infusing the music with modern sensibilities or warping it beyond easy recognition.

Best Coast does more of the former than the latter, and in its best material, you can hear the spirit of what went into the sound: the dark side of California filtered through Phil Spector and the Beach Boys, songs that wax into the melancholy side of yearning.

Singer and guitarist Bethany Cosentino started out in the L.A. DIY scene with the experimental act Pocahaunted. In 2008, she went out on her own and formed Best Coast with Bobb Bruno, and while this project has often been lumped in with the current surge of bands employing a lo-fi aesthetic, the music and Cosentino's vocals depart from the sunny, upbeat feel on the group's latest effort, Crazy for You, as evidenced by songs like "Goodbye," "When the Sun Don't Shine" and "Honey."

In advance of Best Coast's show tonight at the Bluebird, we spoke with the charming and refreshingly frank Cosentino about Pocahaunted, her approach to songwriting, and Best Coast's various drummers.

Westword: When did you first start playing rock music, and what got you into actually pursuing it?

Bethany Cosentino: My dad's a musician, so I grew up around music, and I started performing really early on as a kid. I did talent shows and musicals when I was in high school, and I was always involved in one way or another in performing. My dad bought me my first guitar when I was, I think, thirteen. It was like a Christmas gift from him.

I took guitar lessons, but I've never been one that was good at school or lessons of any sort. I'd show up to my lessons without having practiced my stuff. I don't know -- just because I grew up around it and it's something I did at such a young age, it felt natural to me.

I started writing music when I was fifteen. I started writing songs and experimenting with songwriting, and that's really when I got the idea that this was something I could do without performing Christina Aguilera songs at talent shows for the rest of my life. So yeah, really, when I was a teenager, I was a big music fan, and as someone who had been performing her whole life, I thought, why not do my own thing?

Did your dad get you an electric guitar in the beginning, or an acoustic?

He bought me an electric at first and then an acoustic for maybe the next Christmas or for my birthday. He gave me a Danelectro, which is the guitar I used in the beginning of Best Coast. I buy my own guitars now, thankfully, but my dad was the one who handed it off to me and got me started.

When you were growing up in Los Angeles, did you get to see a lot of shows from underground bands, and was that at all an inspiration to you?

Yeah, I went to tons of shows. When I was in junior high and high school, all I did on the weekend was go to shows. I always had so much fun going to shows with my friends. We went to a lot of local places where you could pay five bucks to see some bands no one had heard about. It was something we did because we could smoke cigarettes and secretly drink beer.

It was just a fun kind of thing for us to do. I don't know that going to shows -- or starting going to shows early -- is really something that inspired me to become a musician or play music, but it was the one thing I did. Other kids would go to the mall on the weekend, and I would go to shows with my friends or go to house parties where there were bands playing.

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