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Still Crazy for Best Coast: An Interview with Bethany Cosentino on the Enduring Power of Being Yourself

"The person that I am in interviews, on social media, and on stage is very reflective of the person I am day-to-day."

16 February 2016, 3:50pm

Photo courtesy of Best Coast's Instagram

Crazy for You by Best Coast is an undisputed classic for moody stoners everywhere. Back in 2010, Bethany Cosentino’s shamelessly emotional debut record presented a world of weed, wallowing, and wishful thinking that spoke directly to a generation of young listeners. It’s been six years since Bethany Cosentino hit the scene with those extremely relatable and catchy tunes, so why were teenagers at Best Coast’s recent show in London requesting "Boyfriend" and "Crazy for You" like the record came out yesterday? After all, Best Coast has put out four full-length records since then.

Bethany’s candid songwriting about fickle boyfriends, relating to cats more than people, and feeling simultaneously worthless and used inspired a new wave of first-person confessional indie rock. However, Bethany’s insistence to express herself so candidly—baggage in all—resulted in an unfair pigeonhole for the music of Best Coast: the word “whiny.”

This label has been unfairly thrown at Best Coast for years, despite the band’s many musical evolutions over several albums, both lyrically and instrumentally. Obviously, the problem remains, because just recently, Cosentino penned a righteous essay for Lenny Letter, the online feminist newsletter run by Lena Dunham. Right off the bat, Cosentino stated:

“People need to stop calling me a 'whiny baby' because I write songs about heartache and my feelings. Did anyone call The Beatles “whiny babies” for singing the lyrics 'This boy wants you back again'? Did anyone call them 'desperate' or 'needy' for singing 'Oh please say to me / You’ll let me be your man / And please say to me / You’ll let me hold your hand'?"

Bethany’s road to Best Coast’s success was paved with sexist criticism. Because she came up alongside Wavves, a band fronted by her on-and-off boyfriend Nathan Williams, their relationship became an inescapable part of her image. Why was Wavves was able to stand on its own regardless of the relationship while Best Coast was repeatedly categorized as the “girl version” of Wavves?

Bethany refused to bend her identity just because of her own music’s similarities to a popular male band that just so happened to be fronted by her boyfriend. Instead, Best Coast continued to work closely with Wavves, collaborating on tracks like "Nodding Off" from Wavves' EP Life Sux and then enlisting Bethany's cat Snacks as the iconic mascot of the 2010 Wavves record King of the Beach.

Even still, Bethany continuously shut down conversations about her personal life with Nathan in interviews and never truly verified whether or not he was the center her songs. By doing this, she reinforced an important argument that still holds up as the two bands embarked together on the massive and joint-headlining Summer Is Forever tour that began last week: Who the hell cares whether he is or not? The identity of the boyfriend character in Bethany’s lyrics didn’t make her feelings any less real. Having a boyfriend doesn’t make you any less of a feminist.

In fact, Bethany’s been adamant about her identity as a feminist before critics made the argument that her lyrical content made her anything but. Best Coast's feminism differs by focusing more on the freedom to express yourself rather than making any radical strides of independence. While having feelings isn't a radical feminist concept, it’s basic aspect of humanity that Best Coast has always made a case for, both through her music and vocally over social media. By using her fame to consistently speak out about feminist issues, Cosentino has become an much more than a singer to a lot of her fans.

“It's all about me being who I am and just not being afraid to be myself,” she explains over the phone from LA as we discuss her enduring reliability over the years. “I’m trying to encourage other people to just be like, ‘Be who you are and don't feel like you have to sugar-coat it, and don't feel like you have to change the person that you are to succeed in this life, because you don't have to do that.’”

Noisey: It's hard to believe that it's been six years since "Crazy For You" came out. Also, you're touring with Wavves for the first time in five years. Has this made you reflect on how much has changed since then?
Bethany Consentino: Not really, actually. I feel like I definitely know that a lot has changed for both of us as far as how our careers are going so far. I haven't really thought about the concept of touring again like five years later and thinking about all of the stuff that's different with us and our bands. I just think it seems like the thing to do. I felt like it seems like something we should do, and then I didn't even realize that it was five years ago until we started discussing the touring. Then I was like “Weird, I didn't realize it was five years since it was the first tour.” It kind of just cognitively linked that it was like the five-year anniversary of the tour we had done.

How do you think that both you and Nathan have changed since the last tour and what do you think will be different this time around?
I think one of the biggest differences will obviously just be the fact that Best Coast and Wavves are both more mature and developed bands at this point. Not to say that we weren't back then, but I just think at least that a lot can change in five years. I think that we both put out records last year that really showed the level of growth that we've both gone through, and not only as people who are songwriters or musicians. I think that it would be interesting to see the change in the way that we perform.

I know that our lineups are different than they were back in 2010. We obviously have more material than we did then. I think it will just be really fun, and I think we have both developed wider fan bases as well. I think it would be cool to introduce the kids and the people that weren't really even fans of ours five years ago, who didn’t even know we had toured together, to this experience for the first time.

One of your later songs, "Jealousy," talks about dealing with criticism and how you'd rather take the high road rather than stoop down to their level. You've mentioned in previous interviews how that was difficult to deal with at first and how you're still experiencing it, from sexist critics who focus on your appearance onstage to people who still dismiss your writing as "childish." How do you deal with this now as opposed to then?
I think at the end of the day I always just try to be myself. I have this attitude that's very unapologetic, an I-am-who-I-am kind of attitude. It's not just in music. It's been much of my day-to-day life. I think that the person that I am in interviews and on social media and on stage, and all of that, is very reflective of the person I am day-to-day.

I think when people attack either the depths of my lyrics, or that I post too many selfies, it's just some stupid criticism. I try really hard to not take it incredibly personally, even though it can be difficult because my business really is personal. It's me It's very much like Best Coast, myself as a female frontwoman, and as a person that's in the spotlight.

How does it feel to know that through your lyrics and social media presence, you are actually giving voice to fans that deal with similar anxieties that you share in your music? They see you as a mentor and someone to reach out to.
I think it's been a really cool experience for me to be very vocal about things like exercise and just taking care of yourself and ways to channel your anxiety into other things. It was a very long journey for me, and I still am trying to it figure out. Exercise helps, but it doesn't fix it. It doesn't cure it. There are still days where I am incredibly anxious or incredibly stressed. I'll take a break to exercise and when it's over I'm like, "Okay, I still feel like shit."

That's my approach to life in general. You're never going to feel 100%. You're never going to feel 100% perfect, or that things around you are totally great and amazing. That's what I say to young girls and also young boys, and just people in my own age demographic and younger and older. They'll say, "I deal with anxiety. What do you use to help yours?" To say exercise, and then to have somebody come back a couple months later and write me on the internet or whatever and say, "I met you in San Antonio and you told me to try yoga or pilates for when I get anxious, and it’s really helping"—that's really cool, because as I said, it's been a journey for me as well, trying to figure out something that really helped me as best as it could.

It's nice to know that people trust me and trust my advice, because there are still days where I feel like I'm trying to figure it out. For the most part, most days, I think life can be confusing. I think it's good to be realistic about things and give realistic advice. Sometimes, people come back to me and tell me that it's worked for them or that it's helped them in time. It's a nice thing to know, and it's nice to know that you are not alone in the search of trying to figure out how to center your thoughts and your anxiety and all that. It's kind of like this club for weird anxious people. [Laughs]. I feel like I've created it in a way.

Being a regular person suffering from depression and anxiety is tough enough, but I imagine that being in the public eye make it a lot harder. How has this affected your music and songwriting process?
I think that the fact that I write very personal music, and I write songs that are from the perspective of a person that is still kind of trying figure it out with each record—like the first record was like a very confused 23-year-old girl, or however old I was when I wrote that record; I don’t even know at this point. I think that just being myself and having the opportunity to get those thoughts and feelings off my chest in the form of music and in the form of song, is really cathartic. It's very nice to be able to say things that I'm thinking and things that I've been feeling, and just put them out into the world, and to have all these people come back and say, "I relate to that. I totally feel that same way." It makes me feel less alone in my everyday anxieties and worries.

People will say, "Well, don't you have social anxiety? How do you get up on stage and perform?" I don't know. Sometimes there's days where I think about how impatient I can be and how stressed I can feel. Like, if I'm waiting in line at the grocery store, and there's too many people around me, I can just easily throw all my stuff down and be like, 'No.'

To think that I've allowed myself to grow and my career has allowed me to grow from the kind of person I was, I know now that I can't just throw the groceries down and walk out of the grocery store. When it comes to my job, I have to be like, "You know what, this is what I do." There are going go to be days when I feel really uncomfortable, and there are going to be times when I am talking to somebody and I am feeling anxious or sweaty or like, "Oh my God, I got to get out of here." I've learned to control myself in this way, which has been a very interesting experience for me.

Crazy For You still has such a strong impact on your fans, especially the young ones who are going through their “teenage angst” phase. I'm back home for the holidays, and my 16-year-old brother has been listening to it a lot. Back when you wrote Crazy For You, were you intending for it to become a relatable record for young people, especially young women?
No, not at all. I was just writing from the perspective of being in my early 20s and feeling still very filled with teenage angst and still feeling very confused by myself and my feelings. I was just really writing from that perspective. I have a lot of seminal albums from when I was a teenager. One of them is like Take Offs and Landings by Rilo Kiley. I was listening to that record a couple weeks ago and I still remember every lyric that I felt was related to my life at the age of 15 and how it still relates to my life at the age of 29.

I think that it's really cool for me to know that I created a record and I've created this piece of art that's kind of like a time capsule of my life at that time. It's cool to know that people reflect back on that record and it takes them back to being 15 or 22 or however old they were when the record came out. It’s really cool to me, because I'm a very nostalgic person, and I put on records like that all the time. Records that I listened to in high school, and I can remember driving in my first car listening to it. Sometimes I think I can be almost too nostalgic, but I think that it's very cool for me to know that there are very young people who are just being introduced to the record.

I think that one of the things that grab people's attention about Best Coast and about that record, and about me as a songwriter, was the fact that I was just unapologetically writing about everyday feelings and emotions and doing it in a very simplistic way where I wasn't sugarcoating it. I wasn't using metaphor. I was just saying exactly what I was thinking. I think that a lot of people can look back at that and can still feel the same feelings that they felt when they heard the songs for the first time. That's a really cool thing for me to think about, that I've created this very "teenager" kind of thing. I feel like it doesn't matter how old I get because I think I'll always still feel like a bit like a teenager, which is maybe good or bad. I'm not totally sure yet.

It's a good thing to have that youthful spirit.
Yeah. I think it's good to just always still have that side of yourself and be able to feel in-tuned with it, but to also be adult and not unprofessional enough to know when you have to turn it off. You have to know what people you can really act like a teenager in front of, and what people you need to act like a professional in front of. I think my career allowed me to realize that I can't be a bratty teenager all the time.

Yeah, but your music is very relatable to people of all ages. I think that's part of what makes Best Coast succeed so much as a band.
Yeah. I think that just being myself and being honest, and just being simple, and just talking about things that we have felt before and that we all feel. It's almost in the way people make light of dark situations with comedy. I think that by singing about my existential dread and singing about weird things in life that I just can't really figure out in a very simplistic, almost like diary kind of teenage angst way allows me to be less afraid of my feelings and to just say, "Okay this is just real life, and most people have these feelings." When you put out a record that consists of 12 or 13, or even ten songs that are all about your weird anxieties and worries about the world and the way that you feel, people accept it and to have people say, "Amen sister," I feel exactly the same way.

Tatiana Tenreyro is a writer living in New York City.