Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino: “I questioned whether I would ever be able to make music again”
“It is very funny that I’m forever etched with this old side of myself, and then this new side of myself,” Bethany Cosentino points out, referring to the bittersweet duality of her hand tattoos: one side reads “trust no one”, the other “let it go”. The Best Coast singer is seeing a lot more of the humour in life’s dualities lately, particularly since getting sober and writing one of the best albums of her career. “Also Lana Del Rey has that tattoo, and I love Lana Del Rey, so I was like, ‘That’s sick, maybe I’ll do that too…’”
Alongside multi-instrumentalist bandmate Bobb Bruno, Bethany is extremely – and rightfully – proud of Best Coast’s fourth LP ‘Always Tomorrow’, a record released in February this year but born in a moment of wish fulfilment years ago. Lead single ‘Everything Has Changed’ was an elbow to the ribcage of critics who presumed naivety in her songwriting, but it was also prophecy to a life she hadn’t yet started: one that didn’t revolve around waking up in tears after another messy blowout.
Not that she’s about to disown everything that came before it. “You don’t need to push out all of your darkness and past mistakes,” she explains. “I’m learning to let those two things co-exist.” Since the coronavirus pandemic put an abrupt stop to the band’s tour, which would have been due to land in the UK next month, finding peace with life’s inconsistencies has taken on a fresh value. She’s also been keeping busy with Bethline too: her new weekly radio call-in show going out on YouTube. Recent editions have featured Sleigh Bells‘ Alexis Krauss talking TikTok and, memorably, Paramore‘s Hayley Williams unloading her dishwasher.
NME caught up with Bethany for a phone chat from her LA home to find out how she’s navigating the lockdown blues.
Hi Bethany. How is self-isolation treating you?
“I’ve been okay. I’m really lucky that I have the platform that I have to engage with people when I want to, I’m lucky that I have resources like therapy, and I have really good friends. I have a beautiful house and a yard. I try to just find the things to be grateful for, because if you skim over that stuff, the situation can turn into a very ‘woe is me’ kind of thing. I feel grateful to be in the position that I’m in.”
And of course you’re doing Bethline. How important is it for you at a time like this?
“It’s just been a really fun way for me to stay connected, while doing it on my own terms. I have the utmost respect for all the artists who’ve been doing Instagram Live and YouTube Live and all that, but that doesn’t feel right for me – at least not right now. I got requests for that, but I just thought, ‘Whoa, I don’t really feel ready to do that. But I do wanna do something’. Bethline feels like a way for me to be of service to people, but it’s good for me and my mental health just to have something to plan for the week!”
It feels like there’s pressure on people, especially artists, to be ‘productive’ during this period.
“Absolutely. And that’s partly why I wanted to do this – to let people know that there’s no right way to do this, other than to stay home and do the things that we’re being asked to do. But there is a lot of pressure. I feel like I’ve always been an advocate for people who feel like they’re on the outside, or feel uncomfortable in their skin; that’s always been my platform. So I want to be the voice for those people, reminding them: ‘Take it easy on yourself. Your productivity isn’t your worth.’”
You’ve rescheduled your ‘Always Tomorrow’ UK shows for December. Are you hoping to celebrate a return to normality by then?
“I hope so. It’s so difficult to reschedule something when there’s so much uncertainty, so I’ve just been struggling with thinking, ‘Will these shows even happen?’ I think when things go back to normal there will be a much deeper appreciation of live music, and the way in which we engage as a community of music listeners and players. Whenever they do happen, I know it will be a really joyful, awesome experience.”
Did you have a clear idea of the type of record you wanted to make with ‘Always Tomorrow’ from the beginning?
“I started attempting to write for this record about three and a half years ago, and I was struggling a lot. I honestly questioned the possibility of whether I would ever be able to make music again. The first song I wrote for the record was ‘Everything Has Changed’, and I think when that song was written, I felt like, ‘Okay cool I’ve done something, now it’s all going to flood back!’ But it took a lot longer. When we finally got to a place where we were able to go in and make the album, we just wanted to do something that showed the growth we’d experienced after ten years together as a band – an evolved, older version of ourselves that didn’t strip away the core of who we are. I think we accomplished that.”
There’s some tongue-in-cheek lines on ‘Everything Has Changed’ about your critics. Is that something you’ve learned to deal with now?
“I started Best Coast when I was 22, and it got pretty successful not that long after. My whole life turned upside down, and I never understood that art criticism didn’t need to be reflected on me as a person. I would take critics’ opinions and I would apply them to myself. Because you have to keep in mind that I write such personal music, and I share so much of myself, that when it’s not received well, or if someone has something negative to say about it, I internalised that as being about me.
“But I learned through all this work I’ve done, gaining this relationship with myself, I know now that there’s a separation between art and artist, and there’s a separation between what I think of my art and what others think of it. And what others think of me is truly none of my fucking business.”
Other than Bethline and your new album, do you have any recommendations for NME readers to pass the time during lockdown?
“Honestly, for me the biggest thing I do is cooking. I’ve also been listening to a lot of The Replacements, Fleetwood Mac, older country music. Anything that gets you out of your head, because sometimes when I’m sitting with the TV on it’s hard for me to focus. Which is funny because TV used to be my best friend – I used to just get high and watch TV all day, that was my life. But now I don’t even have cable. My friends that know me really well are like, ‘I can’t believe you don’t have cable anymore!’ And I say, ‘I know. I’ve really changed’.”
Bethline continues on Wednesday 6 May when Bethany will be speaking to Vanessa Carlton about self-esteem.