When I ask Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast how she’s doing on a late Friday morning over the phone, she tells me she’s sitting with a heating pad because she slept “in a weird way” a couple nights ago, leaving her with a sore neck. But unlike her discography full of references to drugs and alcohol would lead a listener to believe, it’s not because she spent another night on a bathroom floor. She doesn’t do that anymore.
At first blush, Best Coast’s catalog of recorded music seems to revolve around substance abuse, bad ex-boyfriends, cats and California. But these are just elements that draw an audience to what each album is at its core: a raw look at desire. From “Crazy For You” (2010) to “California Nights” (2015), every song gets to the root of what Cosentino wants without the distraction of metaphor. And what she wants feels universal, with themes of love, acceptance and growth twisting through each verse. The band’s first single “Boyfriend,” a track that still feels refreshingly straight-forward even a decade after its release, is the best example of a woman’s blatant and deep yearning.
“I write very literal lyrics,” Cosentino said. “Almost 90 percent of the things I say are very true.”
So when the indie rock band, composed of Cosentino, 33, and Bobb Bruno, 46, released its first new single in nearly five years back in November of last year, there was no need to wonder where the duo had been. On the track, titled “For the First Time,” Cosentino sings over signature surf-pop tunes, “Trying really hard/I’m trying harder than I’ve ever had before/Used to think that taking care of myself would just become a real bore.”
Her lyrics hint at a new beginning, but in her true transparent nature, Cosentino laid it all out in a statement released ahead of the band’s highly-anticipated album “Always Tomorrow.” In short, she got sober in November 2017.
“We played Lollapalooza in 2011, and I literally started the set by flipping someone off in the crowd and saying, ‘F–k you, we’re Best Coast,’” she recalled in the statement. “I didn’t do that because I was some badass Joan Jett rock star. I did that because I was deeply miserable and deeply insecure about what you thought of me, so I wanted you to see me as someone who didn’t give a f–k.”
It’s almost as if there are two frontwomen of the West Coast-inspired band: the sad and lost Cosentino of yesteryears and the one who speaks of her with aged wisdom over the phone.
“I just learned that taking a pause is literally the most important thing for us as human beings,” she said. “This isn’t to diminish the idea that a lot of people have mental illnesses, and all these issues that are not easily solved by, like, going out and taking a breath. I get that. I’m just saying … it’s like we spend a lot of time in our heads thinking, ‘This is the end of the world,’ when in reality, 90 percent of the time, it’s something that’s out of our control.”
Best Coast, in its youngest form, started when Cosentino was just 22 years old. She had recently dropped out of college, moved into her mom’s house in Burbank, California, and was selling soap at Lush. During this time, she’d write songs and send them to Bruno, who would send them back with his parts added in. It wasn’t long before they signed a record deal.
“Very quickly out the gate, I was, you know, successful,” she explained. “People were looking at me, and they were critiquing me. And they weren’t just critiquing my music. They were critiquing the way that I looked; they were talking about my body, my hair, the way that I dressed. It was this very weird sort of job where I was like, ‘What the f–k is happening?’”
Music had been her way of dealing with her mental health. But Cosentino, who was teased a lot growing up and described herself as an insecure kid, turned to drugs and alcohol once her career took off.
“I didn’t know how to walk through fear or pain or depression or anxiety,” she said. “I just turned to other substances. I was like, ‘Get me out of my head. This is easier.’”
Though she’s still active on Twitter and Instagram, Cosentino used to be very online. She would tweet about her beloved cat named Snacks, literal snacks and Bravo. And in between posts about wine and reality television, she’d also use her platform to support Planned Parenthood and decry regressive policies from politicians. She even entered the #MeToo movement with a powerful Billboard op-ed, where she bravely stated she had been assaulted as a child by a family member.
She utilized social media like any other millennial, and it melded easily with the rest of her image of accessibility and transparency, gaining her hundreds of thousands of fans. But that’s the thing about the internet: access is a two-way street.
“Your issues go with you through life until you tackle them,” she said. “It was like, all of this stuff that I had struggled with my entire life was all of the sudden there … in a public forum.”
She described scrolling through YouTube comments as a form of “emotional cutting.” People would tell her to “get a nose job.” And it didn’t help that she was in an extremely public and, at times, “unhealthy” relationship with Nathan Williams of Wavves, a band that Best Coast toured with not once, but twice before the on-and-off relationship’s final end.
Cosentino put up hollow walls of indifference in hopes the old adage about bullies getting bored would prove true. When it didn’t, she found herself in a cycle she described as Groundhog’s Day. “I was repeating the same self-destructive patterns day in and day out.”
In the end, the straw that broke the indie darling’s back was a creative drought after Best Coast’s last album release in 2015. It was years after “California Nights,” and Cosentino couldn’t write. So she locked herself in her new walk-in closet and out came “Everything Has Changed,” released last month as a single from the upcoming album.
Sobriety and a new-found perspective were not yet in the cards for her, but “Everything Has Changed” is tried-and-true Bethany, singing about her desires yet again. It’s just that now, instead of whiskey and boys, she’s dreaming of prolonged optimism.
“I’m not trying to preach to anybody,” she said. “I’m not trying to tell anybody, like, you know, ‘Here’s how you solve your problems and the world’s problems.’ I think … when people hear [this record], they’ll hear that I’m still struggling with a lot of the things that I’ve been struggling with over the past 10 years, you know?”
It may also help fans to know that not everything has changed. Snacks, her “spiritual adviser” who she adopted at the start of her career, is still around and can be seen in the band’s music video of “For the First Time.” And while there may not be as many references to palm trees and the beach on “Always Tomorrow,” Cosentino said the album is “inherently California,” with the “attitude and vibe” of the sunny state.
“There’s a line in a song on the record called ‘Master of My Own Mind’ where I say, ‘For me, there’s always tomorrow,’” she said, when asked about the new album’s title. “You have a chance tomorrow to do it differently, to do it the same, to do it better, to do it worse. You know, there’s so much [that’s] unknown. And that’s really scary. But it also becomes kind of exciting and cool.”
She knows what she sounds like. On Twitter, she signs off a tweet about accepting signs as they come with “signed, your woo woo mom,” and over the phone, she prefaced an observation about people’s energy with, “to get a little L.A., woo-woo on you for a second.”
the universe is always trying to show you things you just gotta be paying attention to see them 🙂
your woo woo mom
— Best Coast (@BestCoast) February 18, 2020
So for those wondering: for now, she’s enjoying her new coping mechanisms, which include walking her rescue dog, Josie, and listening to podcasts. (Oprah’s “SuperSoul Sunday” is a favorite; “Oprah can do no wrong,” she said.) The added benefit of this new lifestyle of optimism, outside of the steps and Vitamin D, is that Cosentino gets to enjoy the little moments — like hearing Best Coast on the radio for the first time.
Of course the band has been played across the nation’s radio stations before, but Cosentino had never been in the car when one unexpectedly played her song. It was a beautiful moment; the sun was setting behind the palm trees, and she pulled over so that she could text Bruno and her producer in a fit of true delight.
“In the past, I wouldn’t have had that much of a moment with it,” she explained. “I would have just been like, ‘Oh, OK, cool. [My] song. Awesome.’ I’m learning now that it’s OK to experience joy and excitement.”
But like she said, she’s still learning. She mentioned that it’s “scary” to put herself out there “in this way.” She knows that some people might judge her or make fun of her. But the new Bethany knows that’s fine: “Nobody’s for everybody — except for Oprah.”
“And that’s just kind of like what my life looks like,” she said. “And I’m very proud of myself because it was f—ing hard.”
“Always Tomorrow” will be released Feb. 21, 2020. For tour dates and more information, visit the band’s website.