When Bethany Cosentino fled New York in 2009 after mere months of battling the cold and gray and came home to Southern California, she wasn't just making a personal odyssey. Her embrace of the low-fi L.A. songwriting scene was symbolic of the migration of the center of gravity of alternative nation, from Williamsburg to Silver Lake. As she and bandmate Bobb Bruno aptly put it when they decided to name their noise-pop band, they repped the Best Coast. Within a year their fuzzed-out melodies were being swooned over by the British press and racing up the American charts.
I've always been just kind of fascinated by Los Angeles and California," Cosentino recently told KCET, as Best Coast prepared to perform a live set for the show Studio A. "I feel like it's such a magical place, it has such a special vibe...So when I write music, even if I'm writing a song about a boyfriend or a friend that I'm no longer friends with or whatever I'm writing about,...there's a vibe...behind the songs that carry this Los Angeles energy. And people are constantly saying that to me. They'll be like 'Oh, I listen to your music in the dead of winter because it makes me feel like I'm on a beach in Southern California.' And I'm like, 'Well that's exactly what I wanted to do.'"
The L.A. vibe comes through in Best Coast's Phil Spector-style saturated production and Runaways-esque hard bubblegum. It always feels like a sunny day in a Best Coast song -- even though, often, it's not. Lyrically, the seven tracks on Fade Away, their recent EP, are as drenched in melancholia as a homesick college girl with seasonal affective disorder. "I don't know who I am this year/ My feelings are nothing but fear," Cosentino sings in "Baby I'm Crying," sounding a lot like Patsy Cline. The country influence has grown on every Best Coast record. Compared to some of her pop-diva peers, Consentino is a practical, approachable gal -- her 127,000 Twitter followers can also dress like her, assembling pieces from her Valley Girl/rock-star influenced Urban Outfitters line.
Best Coast released Fade Away on Cosentino's own label, Jewel City. She says that working without the oversight of a record company, they made the music they wanted, combining the best of the first and second albums.
"We were like 'Ok, we don't want to make it too produced but we don't want to make it too lo fi,' and at this point in time my confidence has shot up. I'm still an awkward weirdo and I still am very humble, but my confidence as far as being a performer and singing...It came out of nowhere...This EP has a lot of that same kind of idea as the first record where it's very simple, very poppy, very upbeat. And then the second record was kind of a bit more of a downer and there were a lot more slow songs. And the EP is kind of like a combination of that."
Cosentino and Bruno met in the DIY scene centered around Downtown LA venue The Smell. Their music is pop in its simplicity and optimism, but it also has a homespun quality. She writes the words and sings them in her strong, warm alto, and he creates the snare snaps, plangent guitar, and keyboard overlays. Even when she's nursing a hangover and heartache, as on "Lonely Morning," the music soars and pops.
"The process between Bobb and I is honestly one of the most seamless and delightful processes that I've ever been involved in. We always joke that we have this secret language where it's like, I'll write a song, I'll record it in my room on GarageBand, I'll put it in an E-Mail, I'll send it to him, and I'll say "Here's the last song I wrote. It was inspired by the Go-Go's, or it was inspired by The Beach Boys, or it was inspired by my cat." Or something. Just whatever I feel like inspired the song. And then I'll say, 'I think it should have an upbeat vibe, I think the drums should maybe sound like this, I think there should be a high guitar part that kind of has this vibe.' And I'll just kind of give him these nonsensical instructions where it's like if anybody else read them they would be like "What does this mean? I don't understand what this girl is talking about." And Bobb has this way of reading these crazy things that I write and just taking them and developing them into exactly what I heard in my head."
Best Coast don't create big stage spectacles or hire Hollywood stars to enact their music on film. Instead, their videos feature quotidian California moments: a quinceanera in a park, skateboarders in an empty pool. They star Cosentino and Bruno, a husky brunette and her slightly schleppy best friend. They're the musicians next door, icons of accessibility.
"I feel like the one thing that regardless of what the production quality of a Best Coast song sounds like, I feel like the one thing that makes it a Best Coast song is just how simple and straightforward it is. I don't write very detailed, extremely metaphorical songs. I just write what I'm feeling and what I know."