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Interview Fri Jun 19 2015

Sun-Infused Vibes for California Nights: An Interview with Best Coast

Best Coast is revered for their sunny vibes, penchant for honest lyrics, and infusing that California energy within their music time after time. I got the chance to speak with the group's songstress, Bethany Costentino, regarding the group's musical identity, her thoughts on criticism, and what influenced the latest album, California Nights, in advance of their appearance at Taste of Randolph this weekend.

I love your new album, California Nights, it's in my opinion more diverse and gritty than earlier material. I know you intended to showcase the darker side of LA and California life, alongside the more sunny aspects of it. In more detail, what was your hope behind creating this new record and going in this new direction, and how did you continue to weave in California's identity in with this new album?

I think that it just happened very organically: We didn't really have to try super hard to evolve the sound and go in the direction that we did. I think it sort of happened at a very natural time. I think that it's the way we've always operated as a band, to very much trust our instincts. Bobb [Bruno] and I both have grown up a lot since the band first started and I think that we've also realized the things that we had done in the past and how maybe they didn't necessarily work 100% in our benefit.

So we were like, okay, what are those things that we've done in the past that we should not do again this time? One of those things was to really just not rush a record. I feel like given the fact that with this record we were able to take our time with it and we weren't signed to a record label at the time when we were making it, we were able to just do whatever it was that we wanted. We didn't really have a timeline or have anybody saying "Hey, we need a record done by this day" and "We need to hear a single by this day", we could just focus on making the record we wanted to make, and then I knew when it was done that I would figure out where to go with it and what to do with it. In terms of California being an inspiration, I don't think that will ever really go away. I don't really have to try to write about California, or have the vibe of California be an audible influence throughout the music, I think it's sort of inherently in me and Bobb as people, because we both are born and raised in Los Angeles. It's very much a part of our DNA, so I think it just kind of comes across.

Another thing I love about your music is the fact that it's so honest. From this album, I love "When Will I Change," due to its total raw quality. Since all of these songs are so personal, walk me through the songwriting process in creating these personal moments for the listeners?

Well, I write all of the lyrics and all of the songs and Bobb essentially will finish. I'll write a core of a song, the melody, and all the vocal parts and the lyrics, and I'll send it to Bobb and give him a blueprint idea of what I want the completed song to sound like. If there are any specific song inspirations, any specific artists or genres that influence the song, I'll list them out and tell him. He takes it and puts the Bobb finishing touches on everything.

The way that I write is I just sit down with a guitar and I just come up with stuff and I continuously tell people that I'm not really trying, I'm not thinking a ton, I'm just unleashing all of my feelings and emotions onto a song. And I think that's why it comes across as personal as it does, it's essentially just like journaling, but it's doing it to music. I really love doing it because A, it allows me to get feelings off my chest and B, I know that other people can relate to it. A lot of times people will ask me, "Do you ever feel like you exposed too much or that you share too much?" I don't really feel that way at all. There are certain things that I don't specifically talk about, but I feel to just be honest about the feelings and the stuff that I have experienced, I know that it helps a lot of people deal with stuff that they've experienced and in a way, that helps me. It's this weird song therapy session.

Stemming off of that, any music that's super personal and raw gets hit with criticism too. How do you deal with any commentary, good and bad? One thing I appreciate is that you're so confident in yourself and in your music as well.

It definitely took me a while to get to a point where I felt that my confidence level was high enough that backlash and criticisms didn't really affect me. In the beginning, because what I write is so personal, when the lyrics would be criticized as trite or repetitive I was like, is that a reflection of me? Am I trite, am I repetitive? I would sort of question myself. Now I'm almost six years into this band and I'm six years older than I was when I started the band, and I feel like it's a lot easier for me now to read criticism if I even do, because a lot of times I don't even read reviews, and I don't read press about myself. Occasionally I will, if it's something I'm excited about, I'll kind of just look through it. I don't Google myself, and I don't want to know what the world is saying about me.

I just feel like I'm trying to connect with people that are directly either tweeting at me or coming up to me at shows and saying "Your music got me through this", or "Your music got me through this", or "I also deal with insomnia and I listen to your music when I can't sleep", you know, whatever. I feel like that's the sort of stuff that I try to focus on remind myself that there are people out there who are really connecting to this. The people that listen to it and don't connect to it, and just want to criticize it for being simple, like duh, that's the whole point. Now I just laugh if I see anything because I feel bad for the person writing it because I'm just like, you're totally missing the point and you're trying to go beyond what the point is. The point is to create something that's super simple, super straightforward, super relatable to 90% of the population of planet Earth, so sometimes I'll look back on that and I'll roll my eyes and chuckle. It's not for everybody, and that's fine. But I've definitely grown to a point now where I'm okay with that.

I know you spent many years within the mainly pop musical sphere, then branching out into your own niche. Tell me about the path you took from pop music into your very authentic sound now?

I've been singing and performing music since I was a little girl. My dad is a musician and so I grew up around musicians and I grew up in all of the school talent shows and I did citywide talent shows and I always wanted to be a performer. I wasn't entirely sure at the time what it was I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to do music in some way. I think my knowledge in pop music because of my past as what could have been a teenage pop star, it kind of in a way taught me a bit about the craftsmanship of pop music and how to write a good pop song by sort of listening to a ton of pop music. But then I think that Bobb and I when we met really bonded over the fact that we both really liked pop music and that neither one of us believed in guilty pleasures. So I can say to him like, "Oh the new Selena Gomez song is so good." And he'll be like, "Yeah I heard it, it is good." We're not afraid to just say, hey, we like this thing that some people might not think is cool.

But I think that having that knowledge of pop through my childhood and through my past and also just through my appreciation of poppy, catchy music, and my knowledge and experimentation with different sorts of genres of music throughout my years, and Bobb as well, bringing those two things together, is where we come up with the music that we make. It's sort of the combination of really simple pop stuff that we both grew up listening to, like The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Especially on this record, there is a lot more influence from stuff like Oasis or My Bloody Valentine, some stuff that is a little bit sonically noisier than things we may have gravitated to in the past for influence. It's a cool hybrid of all of our different musical tastes. It's fun to be in a band that's not like, okay we have to make it sound like this, or we have to only draw from this one genre of music as influence. It's nice to be at a place in our band where we can move all over the place. It definitely feels good to have ended up in this place.

We are really excited to welcome you back to Chicago, and so I must ask, what's your favorite Chicago memory or what are you excited to do once you're back in the city?

My favorite Chicago memory is probably the year we played Lollapalooza. It was pouring rain during our set. It just started downpouring the moment we started playing. Everyone in the crowd was so excited, they were just so into it, and I remember being like, oh my God, I would be so pissed if I was trying to watch a band and it was pouring rain, but everyone was embracing it and having fun. I think on our last song, the sun came out and it stopped raining, and it was this super epic moment. To be playing a festival like that at whatever age, I think I was 24 or 25, getting to do that was really cool for me. I felt like it was one of those moments where I was like, oh, okay cool, I'm actually a professional musician now, I'm actually in a band that people care enough about to stand in the rain at Lollapalooza to watch, so that was really cool.

One thing I always try to do when I'm in Chicago is go to Chicago Diner, one of my favorite Chicago restaurants. I'm not even vegan anymore, I used to be, but I still love eating delicious vegan food so I always try to go there if I have time and Bobb tries to eat as much deep dish pizza as he can.

~*~

Best Coast will be performing at the Taste of Randolph festival on Sunday, June 21, from 9-10pm. Admission to the festival is granted with a $10 suggested donation to the West Loop Community Organization, and the festival entrance is located at 900 W. Randolph.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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