Bethany Cosentino: Coastal Erosion

Interview Bethany Cosentino: Coastal Erosion

After more than a decade fronting Best Coast, ‘Natural Disaster’ is Bethany Cosentino’s first venture out under her own name: an honest, vulnerable window into an artist renewed.

The idea of Bethany Cosentino reinventing herself is a familiar one for those who’ve followed her from the start. As the voice and principal songwriter in Best Coast, she’s already been through a number of transformations in terms of both music and persona; having announced herself to the world as the quintessential California girl on debut album ‘Crazy for You’, penning paeans to the sun, surf, weed and her cat Snacks, she did away with the hazy, reverb-heavy aesthetic for Album Two - 2012’s polished ‘The Only Place’ - before turning her attention to clear-eyed self-empowerment on 2015’s ‘California Nights’.

Her first record under her own name, though, involves changes of a deeper and more wholesale kind. They were inspired, in part, by the frustration surrounding the last Best Coast album - the endearingly poppy ‘Always Tomorrow’ - released in February 2020 and, accordingly, soon swallowed up by the pandemic.

“It got swept under the rug,” Bethany sighs on a Zoom call from her Los Angeles home. “Not that it was anybody’s fault. But I did start asking myself, ‘What more do I want out of my life? What do I want to do differently?’ And I didn’t feel like I could reinvent myself again as Best Coast; I felt as if I’d always be in a certain box under that name. So I thought I’d see what would happen without it, and the result of that experiment and that faith in myself is ‘Natural Disaster’.”

The title suggests that her knack for witty self-deprecation remains intact, but nearly everything else is new. First, there’s the sound. Through all their reimaginings, Best Coast stayed true to scuzzy guitars of some description, whereas now there’s a country-folk feel, encompassing acoustic and slide playing; it all revolves around a new sonic nucleus of Bethany’s vocals, which have never sounded as rich, confident and unadorned by effects as they are here.

Having always cited the likes of Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie and Linda Ronstadt as influences, never before have these musicians informed Bethany’s own songwriting as keenly as they do on ‘Natural Disaster’, where the songs have a classic feel pitched somewhere between Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow. “As corny as it sounds, I think stripping away the persona or identity that your stage name gives you means that you can bear your soul more,” she reflects. “I was giving myself permission to be Bethany Cosentino, and that involves channelling some of those influences more honestly than I had before, and it also meant being able to talk about all these things I was reckoning with and digging through.”

Bethany Cosentino: Coastal Erosion

“I was a people-pleaser, but over the last couple of years I’ve done a lot of work on being a Bethany-pleaser.”

Now 36, Cosentino is no longer the fresh-faced stoner girl singing wistfully of doomed summer romances. With the plaintive pining of early hit ‘Boyfriend’ a thing of the past, she’s instead tackling bigger issues these days. On ‘Easy’, the kind of swooning piano ballad that would have been way out of bounds for Best Coast, she taps into the approach of another of her key California touchpoints, Gwen Stefani, ruminating on the future and potential motherhood in a manner reminiscent of No Doubt’s ‘Simple Kind of Life’.

“I knew that I wanted to challenge myself, and get super fucking uncomfortable,” she explains. “And that probably meant that there were many different times in the process where I threw my hands up in the air and said, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ That definitely happened, but I wanted to be really specific about the stuff that I wanted to talk about, which is why a lot of the album is just wildly vulnerable in ways I’ve never been before.

“I’ve been open before,” she goes on, “but as a 25-year-old, those feelings were really centred around angst and chaos. I was never ready to let myself be soft, and I still don’t know why that is. I think I was afraid that it would be seen as uncool or something. But as a woman in her mid-thirties, I don’t really care about what other people think any more. At the end of the day, I use music as a tool to express really deep and intense feelings and thoughts that I have, because it can be really hard to make sense of those things with conversational words.”

Bethany knows better than most that change is always an ongoing process; shedding the skin she wore in the early days of Best Coast is something that has taken some time. “Ten years ago, for example, I was still very committed to being the version of myself that the public saw me as. I never put my own desires first. I was presenting myself the way that other people kind of wanted me to; as this girl who was writing about guys driving me crazy, or whatever,” she admits. “I was so much a people-pleaser, and over the last couple of years, I’ve done a lot of work on being much more of a Bethany-pleaser. Not in a selfish way, but more in the sense of realising that I don’t owe anybody else anything, but I owe myself everything.”

That, she says, is why she kept the record’s gestation secret from all but her nearest and dearest; it afforded her the privacy and freedom of expectation that she’d been denied ever since Best Coast took off when she was 22. “Something I’m working through in therapy is that I have horrible impostor syndrome,” she says. “And I always have. I’ve been performing since I was a kid, and I was always praised really heavily by my parents, my school teachers, whoever the audience was, but I always felt like they praised me for my talent rather than who I am, if that makes sense. There was never a separation between Bethany’s singing and songwriting abilities, and Bethany as a person.

“So making the album the way I did, it let me separate myself from those things, and just be Bethany for a while. I’m not sitting here telling you I’ve got it all figured out, obviously. I’m still figuring it out every day.”

As if to underline her constant evolution, Bethany gets engaged just days after we speak, and jokes on Instagram that it’s great free marketing for the record. She’s not the finished article, but a whole new chapter for the musician is definitively underway.

‘Natural Disaster’ is out 28th July via Concord.

Tags: Bethany Cosentino, Features, Interviews

As featured in the July 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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