With all the first-person pining, repeated references to her cat Snacks, and too-good-to-be-false lines like, “I’m sorry I lost your favorite T-shirt/I’ll buy you a new one/A better one,” it’s easy to mistake the beach-bum malaise of Best Coast’s lyrics for passages right out of frontwoman Bethany Cosentino’s journal.
“People are always asking me, ‘Why are you sad? Who is this person that did all these mean things to you?’” Cosentino says from Los Angeles, just days before Best Coast sets off on its first full U.S. tour. “The stories I’m telling aren’t necessarily true, but the feelings are mine. And that’s how I was feeling when I was writing the songs.”
Cosentino points in particular to pop influences from the ’50s and ’60s that are readily apparent throughout Best Coast’s buzzed-about debut album Crazy for You, which owes as much to girl-group ooh-aahs and surf-rock reverb as it does to punk. Cosentino finds little room for subtext, choosing instead to put unadorned emotional themes front and center.
“I don’t spend too much time thinking about lyrics,” she says. “I just write what comes out. And I deal with the same kind of bullshit and emotions everyone does.”
Being able to make out those lyrics, on the other hand, is a relatively new development for Best Coast. Though the band released a handful 7-inch singles prior to Crazy for You, Cosentino’s accomplished vocals were typically hidden by a wash of lo-fi production, leaving only song titles like “That’s the Way Boys Are” and “Sun Was High (So Was I)” to hint at her developing pet themes.
Though Cosentino asserts her affection for lo-fi peers—she and Best Coast partner Bobb Bruno count recent Cali-fuzz poster boys Wavves among their closest friends, and earlier this year lured drummer Ali Koehler away from New York’s Vivian Girls—Best Coast’s eventual slack shimmer was sealed as soon as she and Bruno set foot in L.A.’s Black Iris studios. Recording the late-2009 single “When I’m With You” as well as the entirety of Crazy for You, the duo found producer Lewis Pesacov dedicated to toning down the noise and cleaning up the arrangements.
“At first I didn’t really want to do it,” Cosentino says of Pesacov’s hi-fi leanings. “But then I heard it and found out I liked it much better.”
Part of the appeal of the expanded sonic palette is the growth it shows for the band, who have only been making music together since the middle of last year. Still, the last six months have brought changes to Best Coast’s profile that they never could have anticipated—beginning, in Cosentino’s estimation, at least, with the band’s back-breaking schedule at March’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.
“South by Southwest feels like it was a billion years ago,” she says. “We’d already recorded the record, and we went from there to the East Coast, and then to Europe, and everything started to seem more and more real.”
It was on the plane back from Europe that Cosentino and Bruno found out that Crazy for You had debuted at #36 on the Billboard album chart, a nearly unheard of feat for a debut album by an underground rock band. (Crazy for You is the first record that label Mexican Summer has ever released on compact disc.) After weeks of avoiding international data fees on her phone, Cosentino checked her e-mail and tried to contain herself on hearing the news.
“The first thing I did was call my parents,” she says. “I freaked out.”
Though the band has toured through Europe and both the best and less-best coasts of the U.S., their current itinerary represents their first full American tour. Sincere or not, Cosentino insists our neck of the woods is one of the tour’s most enticing destinations.
“Honestly, I’m really excited to visit the South, especially Atlanta and Tennessee,” she says. “The only time I’ve ever visited anywhere near there is New Orleans, when I was 15 or 16,” she says. “My dad was a touring musician and he brought me with him down there, and bought me a hurricane. It was the first time I ever puked from drinking.”
As intimidating as the band’s continuing success becomes, Cosentino repeatedly asserts how lucky she feels to be in such a position, even when it comes down to pure pragmatism.
“It’s a lot of stress and tension and anxiety. But it beats working in a soap store, which is what I was doing before.”