As the name suggests, Best Coast has serious affinity for its home state. “We’ve got the ocean, got the babes, got the sun, we’ve got the waves,” Bethany Cosentino sings on one of their many buoyant songs, “this is the only place for me.” Cosentino had the words “California Dreamin’” tattooed on her right arm during the band’s first tour, after a huge storm marked by tornado warnings threatened to cancel a show in Columbus, Ohio.
“I was so freaked out and missing home; our old drummer and I decided let’s just go get tattoos,” Cosentino recalled by phone recently. “She got a pumpkin to signify the fall; mine signified the fact that I am happy we come from somewhere where we don’t have tornadoes.”
Cosentino started Best Coast after a forlorn attempt at living in New York ended in 2009. Once back in Los Angeles, she dialed up teenage pal Bobb Bruno and pitched her idea for a band that exuded both vintage pop and the grittier aspects of SoCal life. “I thought … who had the knowledge of this music and was someone I really like being around – Bobb was that person,” she said. “I reached out to him and the story unfolded from there.”
The two shared a love for a wide spectrum of music, from Beach Boys to the Cocteau Twins, though Bruno doesn’t fit the popster image. “He looks like a guy that would only listen to metal.” Cosentino said. “But he’s basically an encyclopedia; I can say to him, ‘hey, I want something to sound like if the Ronettes and the Vaselines had a baby,’ and he knows what that means.”
Lesley Gore is a key influence – Cosentino told one writer that the 60s singer was the reason she started the group. The 2015 album California Nights is named for one of her favorite Gore songs. In an eerie twist, Gore passed away just as the album was named. “It was like a weird cosmic thing from the universe,” Cosentino said.
The title track and its namesake are dissimilar, however. Best Coast’s “California Nights” sounds like a hookup between Brian Wilson and Neko Case while Dark Side of the Moon plays on vinyl in the background. It’s also a cautious celebration – “I never want to get so high that I can’t come back down to real life,” Cosentino sings.
“One of the main inspirations of the record was to touch upon the light and dark aspects of LA as a place, because I feel like when you live here you see that it’s not all sunshine, palm trees and beautiful people,” Cosentino explained. Best Coast deftly balances the E! Network version with the LA reflected by Eve Babitz or Tom Waits.
The title cut is a showcase for Bruno, a multi-instrumentalist who collects guitar pedals like Pokemon pocket monsters, as well as an evocation their home’s ambiguity. “I think that song … taps into California and what it means to people that don’t live here,’ she said. “Then it uses some of the darkness that exists here to make this swirling, moody anthem – a lot of people sort of pick up on the vibe.”
Plans to work with Butch Walker on the new album never got off the ground. “Butch is an amazing producer and songwriter, an overall great guy; but the vibe just didn’t really feel right at the time,” Cosentino explained. “One of the really cool things about being in a creative industry is that you can say this doesn’t feel right … and part on good terms. Butch and I still talk, are still friends and we support one another. We just didn’t feel it was a good fit at the time.”
The industry has a harsher side, particularly for women. Cosentino got into the fray earlier this year when she wrote a piece for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter about sexism and misogyny in the music business. In May, she appeared on The Daily Show to discuss the piece. “I’ve always been very outspoken person, and felt like it was my civic duty as a person with a voice to just say, hey this is an issue we should be talking about,” she said. “It’s not fair that women are being treated differently, not just in this industry but in the world in general.”
Cosentino said the response to her stance has been heartening. “It’s nice to know that I’m looked at as this big voice, that’s in turn allowed other women out there to stand up for themselves to be strong and empowered.”
This originally appeared in the July 28, 2016 issue of Seacoast Scene
Best Coast w/ Stargazer Lilies
When: Monday, August 1, 9 p.m.
Where: 3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth
Tickets: $25 at 3sartspace.org