Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino On Beating Taylor Swift, The Led Zeppelin Influence, And That Elusive Drake Collab

Best Coast was the surprise winner of our first ever Song of the Summer bracket with their single, “California Nights,” directly beating out Tame Impala, Passion Pit, Taylor Swift, and Major Lazer, as well as 11 other candidates.

We recently spoke at length with Best Coast’s lead singer, Bethany Cosentino, about toppling Swift and the process behind the winning song, “California Nights,” as well as launching Best Coast’s latest music video, “Feeling Okay,” on Apple Music, touring with Bully, being a “hook girl on a huge rap song,” and her friendship with Paramore’s Hayley Williams — not to mention the band’s first Comic-Con.

I saw you were at Comic-Con. Seems like you and Bobb [Bruno, Cosentino’s bandmate] had a pretty busy day. How was that?

It was cool. We played a Fandango private party. We’ve never been to Comic-Con before. We got asked to do this party a while ago, and it just seemed like it would be fun to go there. I knew we had other stuff that we had to do while we were there, so it was kind of cool to just walk around and see everything, and then play the party, which was semi-awkward because things like that are always a little weird, but the people attending were really nice, and were gracious to us. It’s cool to get asked to do stuff like that, and it was definitely fun to watch people in bizarre costumes just walk around.

The main reason I wanted to do this interview is because your band won our first ever Song of the Summer bracket. We saw you were retweeting the link to vote every day. Were you paying close attention to it?

I think when I initially saw it, I saw it was us vs. Taylor Swift, and I thought that was funny. I thought there was no way we’ll win something over Taylor Swift in any capacity. I just retweeted it, and I don’t sit and stare at Twitter constantly, but I think I was on tour at that time, so I was doing it a lot more than I do when I’m not on tour. When you’re on tour, you just have a lot of downtime, and that usually equates to staring at your phone for a long time. Anyway, I think every time I would see something new about it from your site, I would be like, “Cool, whoa we beat Taylor Swift, now we’re like in this second [final round],” when it was us against Major Lazer. I didn’t even know we ended up winning. My mom actually sent me a link — is it you who wrote the thing about how we won?

No, that was Chris [Morgan].

My mom sent me that, and was like, “This is so funny.” Then, we played a show in San Diego, actually, and I think I said right after we played it [“California Nights”], “Oh, that song just beat Taylor Swift in some contest for the Song of the Summer.” People, I think, thought it was a diss to Taylor Swift, but it wasn’t — I actually love Taylor Swift. I’m excited to have beaten her at something.

What was the response to that? Did people know what you were talking about?

I think a couple people cheered. I don’t think there was anybody that specifically yelled anything out about what exactly I was talking about. But I think there were a couple of people that cheered, so I felt like they were cheering us on, which was great.

Let’s touch on the actual song itself, “California Nights.” What inspired it, and why did you and Bobb choose it to be the lead single for the album?

When I wrote the track, I had been up the night prior probably until 4 or 5 in the morning. I have insomnia, but I was in the middle of a crazy kind of insomnia week. I had been listening to Led Zeppelin over and over. I was never really a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, and I think it was because I had never actually really listened to their millions of records. I just never really got into it. This night I was listening to it — really the only Led Zeppelin song I really liked was “Going to California” — and so I was like, “Okay, I’ll just start with the record that song’s on.” I started listening, and I was like, ”Whoa, this band is so good. Where have I been?”

The next day when I woke up, I was inspired to go downstairs and write — I have a room in my house where I write my music. I thought, “I want to try to write something that is my own kind of take on a Led Zeppelin kind of vibe.” I wanted to do something that was also like the Stone Roses. I kind of wanted to have a song that felt different. Lyrically, everyone thinks the song is actually about a California night, but I think it’s more sort of a metaphorical thing. I am referencing California nights, and the way they make me feel, and the way that the energy, specifically Los Angeles, very much shifts when it turns into night. But for me, I just wanted to write a song that was visually sort of transcendent — I know I’ve written songs that are quote, unquote stoner-y because I said the word “weed” or whatever — but I wanted this song to sort of have more of a stoner-y vibe without saying “weed.” And, obviously, I talk about getting high in it, but I feel like talking about getting high in that song could be in reference to, not actually taking drugs or doing drugs, but actually the feeling of being high life or high off a love that you have. That, to me, was more of a song that I actually thought about a little bit more. Usually when I write, I just write based off the feelings that are happening at the moment when I’m writing.

Anyway, I sent it to Bobb, and I sent it to Brady, who is our drummer, and he played on the record, and I sent it to Wally, who produced the record. This was two or three days before we went in to start pre-production. I wrote this email with the demo attached, and I said, “I wrote this song, it was influenced by staying up listening to Led Zeppelin or the Stone Roses. I don’t know if you guys will even think it’s cool, or that it even makes sense for the record, but I figured I would take a stab at doing something different.” It ended up being everybody’s favorite song. When it was time to pick the first song to put out, I was torn between having “California Nights” be the first song or putting something out and then having “California Nights” be the second song, but I wanted to put something out that was really like, “Hey, we can do things differently.” Because everybody always says, “Every single [Best Coast] song sounds exactly the same, and Bethany only writes about the same two things over and over again.” So, to me, it was sort of like, I wanted to put something out that was sort of going to make people stop and be like, “Whoa, this is different.” And there’s a lot of different elements to this song. Then, people were like, “Best Coast is making a shoegaze record.” And it’s like, the song isn’t even shoegaze. You should probably listen to more shoegaze if you think that’s what it sounds like.

I kind of wanted to put something out there that was totally different. Then, the second song we put out was, “Heaven Sent,” which has much more sort of a Best Coast vibe — I think an enhanced Best Coast vibe. It was really for me. I realized,  “Okay, let’s put this one out there, and let’s the way people react.” People were really into it, and for us, it made us feel excited that thing — especially for me as a writer, it made me excited that the thing I had worked the hardest on doing differently, that people had responded to it as well as they did in the beginning.

Speaking of the summer, what music do you think of, or do you listen to, in the summer?

For me, I feel like I don’t really listen to a ton of stuff based on season or you know, what’s going on — especially this year, I’m on the go so much, I’ve just been traveling non-stop. Honestly, just a couple days ago I was like, “Holy sh*t, it’s summer. It’s July. It’s full-blown summer.” On Fourth of July, I had two of my friends over and we were swimming in my pool and hanging out. I put on The Pinkprint by Nicki Minaj, and I think then I put on — I guess I listened to more rap than usual, or more urban radio music. I would say lately I have really been obsessed with — meaning this summer — I’ve been listening to Tame Impala a lot. I actually had never — I’m very late to the Tame Impala game. I had never heard them, I knew who they were, but I had never heard them. We played a festival in Atlanta called Shaky Knees Festival — this was a couple months ago — and they were headlining the night that we played. Everyone in my band and crew was talking about going to see them, and I was like, “Okay cool, I’ll go, too.” The second it started, I was like, “Dude, this is so cool.” Everything about it was amazing, and then I bought their records. I’m super excited for their new record. I feel very late, because I know everyone’s been raving about them forever, and I’m just now like, “This Tame Impala band.” I’m just glad I experienced them the way that I did, and that I’m now a huge fan. I’ve also been listening to a lot of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the band I was really into growing up, when I was a teenager. I’m sort of having a revival. We stuck in insane traffic last night driving home from San Diego.

Yeah, I saw that on Twitter.

I was listening to Darklands over and over on my phone, just sitting in the car forever. It was really inspiring to me, and I feel like that might be something that is probably going to be influential in whatever I write next. Not to say it’s going to sound like that specifically, but I just feel like they’re kind of a band that I’m gravitating toward in an intense way again — sort of the way that I did when I was a teenager. So, that’s kind of all the stuff that I’ve been listening to this summer.

So, the video for your latest single, “Feeling Okay,” debuted on Apple Music instead of YouTube, like [most] music videos usually do. Was there a specific reason for that decision?

I was approached to be involved in this launch of Apple Music. I didn’t really know a whole lot about it, but when it was explained more of what it was about — I went to the studio here in L.A. and met the people that are programming Beats 1 — everybody is really, really nice and they’re all old-school music people, either old-school music industry people or people that were actually in bands. Apple has always been incredibly kind to us. When California Nights came out, they debuted it on the front of the New Music [section on iTunes]. They had us up to their office in Cupertino, and gave this spread of amazing cheese and fruit and crackers. They’ve always been very supportive of us, and very, very nice to us. And so when I was asked to do this interview with Zane Lowe, who is obviously this huge, important figure in music, I was like, “Absolutely.” They had talked about debuting the video on Apple Music, and putting it up on our Connect page, which I actually think is a really cool idea. This whole Connect page of artists on Apple Music is a different way to connect with your fans. Obviously, I use social media a lot, so I just thought it would be — it was a different way to approach it. We live in a generation now and an era now where you kind of have to be doing things differently to keep grabbing people’s attention because if you’re like, “Here’s my music video on YouTube,” how many other things are on YouTube today? A billion. I felt like it was a good way to grab the attention of people for the music video, and like I said, Apple has always been incredibly kind to us as a band and as individuals, so it felt like a good kind of pairing.

I just wanted to ask a little bit about Bully. We love their debut album [Feels Like]. How did they end up opening for your band on the recent mini-tour? Did you know them before you went on tour together?

The first time we played with Bully was in Nashville, probably almost two years ago. We were on tour, and we played at a venue called Exit/In in Nashville. We were on tour with this band called Lovely Bad Things, who [we are] actually taking back on tour this summer. They’re [Lovely Bad Things] actually good friends of ours from here. They’re young and they’re great, and we love to support our friends’ music. Anyway, we were playing, and Bully was the first of three at that show. I didn’t actually see them, because I think I was doing press on the bus up until the end of Lovely Bad Things’ set. But Bobb had gone in and watched them, and he had said, “Dude, this band Bully that played first was so good. The girl’s voice was so [good]. You would love it.” And I was like, “Okay, cool.”

I think they played a show in L.A., and Bobb went, and he told me, “I went to the Bully show. They were amazing.” I still hadn’t checked it out. Then, when we were trying to figure out who to take out on tour — usually what we do is we’ll both compile a list of bands we’re into, and then usually management and booking agents will be like, “Here’s bands that are buzzy right now that would be good to take.” We usually stray far from that, because to us, we don’t want to take a band on tour that we don’t like and that we don’t want to listen to every single night for three weeks, you know? Bully was on Bobb’s list, and I was like, “Okay, this is actually when I should finally listen to Bully.” So I did, and I was instantly like, “This is amazing. This is awesome.” And then Alicia [lead singer of Bully] and I started tweeting back and forth at each other, and we started kind of talking about how we were excited to tour together. And then the first day of tour when I met them — they’re literally just the sweetest people, and they’re very young, and they’re just so excited to be doing what they’re doing — and what they’re doing is really great. I think our audience responded really well to them, and I know that they’re going to be huge. I think they’re already getting there. Their record I know is getting incredible reviews. But for us, it’s nice to take a band out that we like [and] want to expose more people to. And so we were very happy to take them and to listen to them every night and hang out with them. It was a really fun tour, and I feel like it was a really great match for us.

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Yeah, the two musical styles [of the bands] do kind of mesh well. I guess they’re a little more punk rock than you guys, but that’s kind of where a lot of your influence comes from. You can kind of hear it in some of your songs a bit.

Yeah, Alicia and I talked a lot about stuff that we were into — common music influences, or common records that we liked. I just think that she’s super young. I can’t remember how old she is, but I know she’s young. And she’s so smart. I also love taking bands on tour with other girls in them because I’m the only girl in my touring party and in my band, and it’s always nice to have another female out on the road. There were a lot of common denominators in between our music, but at the same time, I think that the way we approach the common influences that we have is completely different. I don’t want to take a band out on tour that’s like, “Here’s mini Best Coast opening for Best Coast.”

Right, exactly.

I want to take someone that’s like, “You pair well with us, but you kind of do it in a way totally different than we do.” I felt like they were — they just felt like the perfect band. I made a joke like — it wasn’t even really a joke. I made a comment like, “I wish we could just tour with you guys always. Like, we could just be like a duo forever.”

Well, maybe you guys will get to go on tour again. You’re going on tour with Lovely Bad Things again, so it seems like you have pretty good relationships with people you’ve gone on tour with.

Yeah, like I said, we always try to take friends and people we really like. I support them 100 percent. I back them. I’m stoked that they’re getting all these great reviews, and they’re touring consistently and just killing it. I’m really happy for all of them.

You worked with Weezer on their most recent album [2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End]. That was probably a huge thrill for you having grown up listening to Weezer. What other bands would you want to work with?

I get really excited when bands ask me to either sing on something or if I get asked to, in the Weezer scenario, I got to actually write the song with Rivers. For me, my thing has always been singing. I’ve been singing since I was a little kid. When someone’s like, “Will you come in and lend your voice to this track,” I will usually say yes because I really enjoy doing things outside of Best Coast. I would say right now that it would really be cool to do something with Tame Impala, I think. I know Beach House has a new record coming out, and I have been a huge fan of Beach House. Victoria [lead vocalist of Beach House] and I were really drunk one time in Tokyo and we were talking about how we needed to sing a song together. It obviously never happened, but it would be something that would be cool if it did happen. She has one of my favorite female voices in current music. My ultimate dream is to be a hook girl on a huge rap song. I love the Meek Mill record…

…[How about] Drake?

Yeah, obviously Drake. I just watched the [new] music video before we did this interview, actually. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it yet. It’s kind of cool, but I think I’m going to have to watch it a couple more times. But I was excited that he also debuted his video on Apple Music. I feel like we have that in common now.

Also, he’s getting into shape, and exercise has been a big thing for you recently.

[Maybe] he’s secretly inspired by me. I also think it would be really cool to do something with The Jesus and Mary Chain. I know they’re doing all these reunion shows. Unfortunately, I won’t be in L.A. when they’re playing here, but I know they always have girls come up and sing “Just Like Honey” with them and do the female part. Something like that would be really cool. I feel like at this point, it’s sort of like, if I don’t you hate your band — and I don’t hate very many bands — I would probably say yes to singing on your song.

How about Paramore? You and [lead singer] Hayley seem to be pretty good friends [on Twitter]. Have you ever been able to hang out in person, or is it kind of like, you’re friendly on Twitter because you’re two women in music with similar interests?

No, Hayley and I are actually real life friends. We don’t really see each other a lot, because she is one of the busiest people that I know. She had one of the busiest [years] last year. When we first met, we just connected almost immediately. She’s younger than me, but she’s someone that I go to for life advice, especially in music, because she’s been doing this since she was super young. She just has the best advice always. I actually told her that the last song on our record, “Wasted Time” — when I wrote that song, I kind of wrote in mind of having it being a duet with another female singer, but it didn’t really end up working out in terms of being in the studio. Hayley was actually the person that I wanted to sing on it, but I didn’t even ask her because she was so busy. And then I told her after the fact, and she was like, “What the hell? You should’ve asked me, I would’ve done it.” We’ve said that if and when she’s at a Best Coast show — we haven’t even performed that song live yet — maybe it’s something we would do together. I love her, and I genuinely love Paramore. They’re so great, and they’ve overcome so much in terms of what happened with two of the members — one of them being one of the core members of the band — leaving. And then making this record that took them basically beyond any of what their other records have done. I really just admire that in her. That she just has this strength about her. For being this little, tiny woman, she’s so, so, so strong, and just gives the best advice. Her fiance, Chad [Gilbert, of New Found Glory], is also the nicest guy. I sang on a New Found Glory song [“Caught In the Act,” on 2011’s Radiosurgery] a couple of years ago. So yeah, good people. It’s nice when you get to be friends with somebody that you look up to, and she’s definitely one of those people for me.