It’s no secret that Bethany Cosentino is a hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool, rusted-on Californian. Representing for the scruffier side of Los Angeles, rather than the glazed blonde cliché, Cosentino cemented her rep with the release of the first Best Coast album Crazy For You – all palm trees, weed, cats and crushes, breezy lo-fi production and guitar fuzz cut with girl-group harmonies, and other such words you saw everywhere at the time.
The album hit a nerve, and Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist band mate Bobb Bruno found themselves touring worldwide at a relentless pace, and popping up in Best Of 2010 lists everywhere. But though their fresh take on a far-from-new sound was largely a product of Cosentino’s unfussy songwriting and relaxed attitude, that didn’t mean she missed out on the second record anxiety. “With this one it was like, OK, the first one did really well, and hopefully this one does equally as well, or better, or a little bit less well, or whatever,” Cosentino says with a laugh, speaking from her LA home. “But this one has probably created a bit more, like, anxiety and stress, as you can probably tell from the lyrics on the record… But as soon as we started recording it I started losing that fear and anxiety, and started getting really into the zone and making a record that I was proud of.”
Working with composer and producer Jon Brion made all the difference. The Only Place is a clear progression from Crazy: out with the layers of fuzz, and in with an emphasis on Cosentino’s blithe, strong voice, high in the mix with a countrified edge, and crisp arrangements that recall Brion’s work with Spoon. “We keep saying that the first record is in black and white and this one is in colour. And that’s like, our metaphor, our bullshit poetic example that we keep giving!” she laughs. “The goal was to make, sonically, a more mature and grown-up record and to stray away from the lo-fi sound, to still use distortion and reverb, but to tone it down and do it in a more adult, grown-up sort of way. I don’t think the record is really that different [to Crazy]. I think the elements of true Best Coast songwriting style are definitely still there.”
This means that the much-cited themes of love, leisure time and sunshine pepper The Only Place – but if Crazy was all about pining for a person, this is the soundtrack to pining for home. “That’s why I called it The Only Place, because it starts out with this love note to California, being like, ‘Hey guess what, you’re the only place that makes me feel myself and makes me happy and makes me comfortable and confident’ – and then the rest of the record is all of these feelings of self-doubt and insecurities and sort of homesickness,” Cosentino explains. “I think a lot of those things were brought on by leaving California and by travelling so much and not being home and living my life based on the rules of the road.”
But Cosentino insists she’s not over travelling yet, and promises that Best Coast will return to our shores late this year or early 2013 – with enthusiasm. “Sydney and Perth and places that are close to the ocean, they remind me a lot of California. So I think that when we go to Australia, it’s one of those places… I don’t feel so homesick when I’m there. Even though it’s the furthest place I could ever be away from California, I do feel very much at home there.”
BY CAITLIN WELSH
The Only Place is out now through Popfrenzy.