Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast on Her Debut Solo Album “Natural Disaster” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, March 2nd, 2024  

Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast on Her Debut Solo Album “Natural Disaster”

Grown Up and Full of Hope

Aug 18, 2023 Photography by Shervin Lainez Web Exclusive
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After almost 15 years as one half of Best Coast, Bethany Cosentino has put the band that defined much of her adult life on indefinite hiatus to strike out on her own, exploring this new landscape that was now her personal and creative life. No longer bound to an unhealthy co-dependency with drugs and alcohol—a process she wrote about candidly on the last Best Coast album, 2020’s Always Tomorrow—and in a stable relationship where she’s entertaining thoughts of motherhood, Cosentino wanted the writing on her solo debut, Natural Disaster (out now on Concord Records), to be intentional. She wanted to reflect on the hardships and reckonings of recent years without the nonchalance she might have previously projected, and instead approach it with a sense of thoughtful, grown-up optimism.

On “Easy,” one of the album’s standout tracks, Cosentino sings plaintively over a quiet piano—“I always thought I’d be a mother with a purpose to discover/But the clouds cover me.” It wasn’t that long ago that we never saw pregnant women in pop, or music in general, much less in songs where women contemplate motherhood—which with today’s inequities in healthcare and childcare can fester into a full blown existential crisis for women in their thirties and forties.

“I had just been thinking about my life and where it was at 35 when I wrote it—and how it looked a lot different than I had imagined it,” explains an upbeat Cosentino, over Zoom from her home in Los Angeles. “Even though I’ve been very blessed with a really incredible career…I’ve traveled the world and got to open for like, every band that was my favorite band when I was a kid and I’ve done these incredible things. I was thinking a lot about outside of my career, my personal life and, yes, as a woman, I was thinking about how I don’t feel like I’m where I thought I would be or where society tells me I should be by this age.”

“Easy” is earnest and tender. It’s hard to not feel moved as Cosentino taps into our deep desire for motherhood beyond a reductive punch line. “I do think biologically we start to feel like, ‘Is this something that I should have done? Or is this something I wanna do?’ I think every woman starts to approach this place of like, ‘Am I gonna do this?’”

In Best Coast, she would have been mortified to say these things out loud, “I would’ve felt like this is not the landscape in which I can even remotely consider these feelings.” But as Bethany Cosentino, “I’m very proud of that line because I do know that a lot of women will hear it and connect with it.”

The song also takes in the passage of time—“Growing up is easy when you’re 17/ Now I’m 35 and I don’t quite know what it means”—plainly but effectively she articulates the essence of our journey from innocence to experience into a pop couplet. Sweetly, she also proposes “building a garden in the city” with her partner. The song is also about loving someone enough to discuss dreams of having a family together. Too often, love songs are penned about young love, the chase or copulation, “Easy” has a different edge to it.

“It’s a real grown up love song, and the thing is,” Cosentino says, “I am a grown up now. I don’t wanna talk about life in these ways where I try to mask very real, raw feelings…. I think that this record for me was very much pulling down a lot of layers.”

Cosentino’s indie-rock persona in the early noughts conveyed an apathy or cool detachment. Part of it was a music industry that taught women to be hardened versions of themselves, in order to play in the same room as men—as just one of the guys. On the other end of that continuum was the pop-vixen that was all about harnessing the male gaze. There weren’t a lot of other aspirational models of young womenhood in indie rock. On Natural Disaster Cosentino had to unlearn old behaviors and allow herself “to be soft and vulnerable.”

Still, when her producer Butch Walker (Pink, Green Day, Weezer) proposed using the a cappella demo she’d made just riffing on her thoughts into her phone while in a parking lot, she balked. “There were moments when I was like ‘Am I really gonna say this?’,” she says still looking horrified. “You know the fear of like not having a child and maybe I missed the window?”

But having gone back to her love for Americana and country music for this album, plus immersing herself in the catalogue of Lilith Fair—the successful women-led music festival of the ’90s—the role models she was seeking came into sharp focus and she felt more emboldened to speak her truth.

She explains: “I think of all of the artists that really inspired this record for me, which are Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt…a lot of those women had babies and took them out on the fucking road. Sheryl Crow raised her two kids in a bus! That’s something else that musicians particularly at that level that I’m at, it feels very tricky, like you have to choose one or the other.” She is unsure what the future holds for her where children are concerned but adds, “I wanted to lean into the idea that it’s okay to be confused.”

Though she had kept it quiet for three years, it was during the pandemic’s early days that Cosentino decided she had to press pause on Best Coast to explore her identity beyond the band she had formed with multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno after she dropped out of college. The duo had released their anticipated fourth album, Always Tomorrow, five years since their last, and after Cosentino’s bout with writer’s block. For the first time, Bruno would have to send along his music to help her write. Always Tomorrow felt like a triumph, except it never quite got off the ground thanks to COVID.

“I had made the decision to put Best Coast in a box in the closet and just prioritize something else, and then I started writing,” she says, sat at the desk where much of the album was written. Not having a previous album to compare it against meant she could write from a fresh perspective, with a freedom she didn’t have before.

In Best Coast, songs were written as a way to get things off her chest. “I’m not even gonna think about what I’m saying,” she explains. “It’s just a form of storytelling that honestly, felt imperative to survival because it was my therapy for a long time.” For her solo debut she wanted to reflect on the first summer of the pandemic—the political unrest, social upheaval and climate disaster that was the Californian fires—but put her hopeful spin on it.

“I wrote the song ‘Natural Disaster’ in 2021. There was this real intense feeling of a summer that I had never felt like I’ve ever lived through before, like something in the world was shifting,” she says. “But I think that if you stare at darkness for too long, you just embody it. And I just don’t believe that life is meant to be lived under the lens of so much nihilism… if you go too far down that road, it takes the spark out of life. And so that was sort of my commentary, ‘the world is fucked, but how am I going to exist through it and try to trudge forward.’”

This optimistic version of herself feels new to her. Set apart from the 23-year-old of Best Coast’s much-loved debut Crazy For You, who beyond the endless summer-vibe and shimmery throwback melodies was locked in a loop of longing and despair. She adds: “I do feel like I am talking to people from a very different perspective than I ever have before.”

In “Calling On Angels” she even indulges her more woo woo side after an online spiritual session. She explains: “A woman that I absolutely adore and love, who I would say is not really a psychic, she’s more a spiritual teacher…during the pandemic she started leading these Zoom ritual meetings where we would do group meditations and journaling…it would be centered around intense astrological events like full moons or the summer solstice.”

Cosentino who had felt a little stuck with the album at the time, had retreated to a friend’s cabin in the mountains and while there, attended one of these sessions. “In the meditation, I saw myself road tripping with Archangel Michael, an Archangel Gabriel. Michael is the angel of fire and Gabriel, of water. So when I was writing this song, I wanted to find a way to bring these characters in. And so I thought…just call them Gabe and Mike, like they’re my friends who are just in the car with me on this drive to save the world,” she laughs.

And the song with its crunchy, vintage rock vibe works all the better because the line “Mike is on the highway with the gasoline, and Gabe is bringing water in a blue canteen,” paints such a vivid, specific picture—you can almost see them in their faded jeans with their hats and canteen, heroes by the side of the road. However, Cosentino’s harsh inner critic would rear its head. “There was a side of me that was like, ‘Should I not sing about angels? Like, is this weird because I’m not a Christian?’ I consider myself to be spiritual and to have a connection with God but I wouldn’t say it’s like, you know, the Catholic or Christian God.”

Trying not to overthink it, she finally relented. I tell her it fits the vintage rock vibe perfectly. She concurs: “That song was very much my take on, as you had said, kind of a ’70s vibe, like it feels very Rolling Stones. But it also feels very ’90s country—and I was like, ‘I feel like these people would’ve sung about fucking angels. I’m gonna sing about angels!’”

Much of the album was recorded outside of California, a first for Cosentino, who took multiple trips to Nashville over the three years to work on it with Walker. In hindsight, she realizes how important it was for her to get out of the state that’s been so tied up with her identity. She has made a more expansive record that doesn’t feel bound to any one geographical location with influences from rock, country, and Lilith Fair. She’s learnt to trust her intuition more and hence, allowed herself to bring these different colors to the album. She also attributes this to the solitude and resilience that comes from a recording process where she didn’t have a band mate to lean on anymore.

“When I make Best Coast Records,” she explains, “Bob is always with me, and we collaborate with whoever else is in the studio with us. But this was like literally every day, just me in a car driving to the studio, me getting on a plane and flying back and forth from Nashville, staying in whatever little Airbnb I was in at the time, by myself.” They say you can’t have growth without discomfort and Cosentino admits it was often a very, very uncomfortable experience. But she’s undeterred.

When Walker again chose to use what Cosentino thought was a demo for “I’ve Got News For You”—the album’s closing track—she was again uncomfortable with the idea. She had felt safe baring her heart out as she worked with producer David Nash, thinking Walker would later re-record it and add his production bells and whistles so she’d feel less exposed. “When I was younger and in these sort of more chaotic back and forth, very co-dependent relationships, I was like, ‘This is so hard,’” she explains, “Now that I’m in a healthy relationship, I’m like, ‘Fuck this hard!’”

She adds: “Getting really close to someone is so scary because there’s so much more to lose.” And she’s not quite at peace with the idea. Yet, through the course of making her solo debut she’s learnt to take that leap of faith and lean into the difficult things. And she can’t deny how good she feels about what she’s achieved. “I think that the necessity of being uncomfortable and you know, getting out of my comfort zone—that was the entire point of making the record.”

www.bethanycosentino.com

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