You’ve probably heard by now that Bethany Cosentino, the young, fey thing of categorically Californian origins, is dating/housesitting/BFFs with that dude Nathan from Wavves. If you read his and hers twitters, this becomes immediately apparent (Nathan, ever the gentleman, woos his lady with tweets of “queen of the beach” and mixtapes emblazoned with his upside-down-cross “logo”.) I think this relationship is maybe a few weeks old, but the warning signs were there; the similarities between them are crystal clear.
To name a few: Both are afraid of the ocean and swimming. Both have an affinity for Seinfeld. Both love cats- Bethany’s best bud being hers, Snacks, and Nathan’s, Garfield. And both obviously love laziness, weed, being laid back, melody, hooks, weed, Fleetwood Mac/Beach Boys, California, the California lifestyle, weed. A match made in heaven? Yeah probably whatever.
Their career trajectories are eerily similar as well. Nathan and Bethany blew up seemingly overnight from tape and 7-inch releases to major Indie label courting, Spanish festival playing. Big-time things. The pressure one faces to release something good in the wake of such exposure must be, I dunno, crushing. Both have followed up with complete, intelligent albums. I had a conversation over the phone with Bethany about it.
He’s good, he’s walking through the living room as we speak.
How have the recent tours gone?
Dude we are sort of the most boring people. The most boring band in America.
On tour we seriously play a show and then go back to our hotel and watch TV. Every once in a while one of us will get really drunk and just entertain the other two. We played a show in Gothenburg, Sweden and the three of us all got really drunk and I spilled like 14 drinks on stage and Bobb was having a freakout because he couldn't see what he was playing on guitar and then later I ate mashed potatoes off the top of a hot dog, makes no sense.
You said that you’re changing up the sound a little bit for this album, it’s gonna sound a little cleaner and brighter?
Yeah, the record is definitely a lot cleaner, it’s definitely a lot more produced sounding, but that was a choice that we made because we thought “why the fuck not,” you know? I think people will probably talk shit- oh, it doesn’t sound lo-fi or whatever – but I never claimed that my music was lo-fi, people claimed that for me. So to me, I don’t really care, because I like the way it sounds. We’re in a studio, we’re paying to be in a studio, we’re working our asses off on this record – why would we make it sound like shit, y’know? And it definitely still has effects on my vocals, there’s still heavy, distorted sounding guitars. It’s similar, but I think it’s a lot more grown up sounding, I think it sounds like we made a record.
That’s kind of the way that I explain it, which maybe doesn’t make sense to anybody but myself, but it sounds like we actually worked hard on something. Not to say the singles we didn’t work hard on because we did, but the singles were – well, I would go over to Bobb’s house and we’d record “Sun Was High”, “So Gone” and “Make You Mine” all in one day, and it was like, “Okay, cool!” But the record was two full weeks of twelve hour days, and Bobb and I both are both really, really happy with the way it turned out.
The album was produced by Lewis Pesacov [from Fool’s Gold and Foreign Born]. How was it working with him?
When you record with Lewis, you basically eat a lot of really nice snacks and look at YouTube videos of- you look at Rich Boy music videos, [laughs] that’s honestly like, what we did, it was awesome.
We went in to record “When I’m With You” and “This Is Real”, which is a 7-inch that we did at Black Iris–this is the first time we ever worked with him–and we were a little nervous, just because Bobb and I had only ever worked together and because the band was still so new. We didn’t really know what going into a studio would be like, but it ended up being the chillest vibe and Lewis is the nicest guy and he’s so talented, not only as a musician but as a producer and as an engineer. All over the board he’s super talented. He really gets my vision for my music.
He would throw around ideas that I wouldn’t really like, but the cool thing about working with him is that it wasn’t ever like one person’s the boss, it never felt like that. It kind of just felt like, I would give an idea and he would maybe not like it but I would try and record it and he would hear it and go, “Oh, that actually sounds really good,” and vice versa. He would have an idea and I’d try it. He’s become a very close friend of ours. Black Iris is so amazing to us. We kind of can’t really imagine ever recording anywhere else, though I’m sure we will.
He’s from California too. His music is a little more “Afro-Pop” but he has this quote, he said, “It’s cool that it sounds effortless. I think that’s a good quality. It is effortless in a sense, but it also takes a lot of work. Maybe it’s a California thing.”
[Laughs.] What did he say that about?
It was about a Fool’s Gold album.
I feel like that quote kind of makes sense. It’s weird, in California I feel like there’s two types of people: The really, really chilled out people, and the chilled out, neurotic people. I think I’m in that category. When I moved to New York I thought, “Oh, I’ll do great here, everybody’s neurotic and anxious and it’s crazy” and then it turns out that they’re way more neurotic and crazy than I am. [Laughs.]
So obviously you’re from LA, and LA has a huge influence on what you’re doing. How did returning home from [Eugene Lang in] New York change your perception of LA?
Well, I think when you grow up somewhere it’s easy for it to kind of get boring, when you see the same shit every day when you’re driving… it just became super routine and I got really sick of it. I wanted something completely different and New York is obviously, like, really really really different than LA, and basically when I made the decision that I wanted to leave New York and come back to LA, there were so many things that I appreciated so much more.
Like before I left I was like, “Palm trees are stupid, they’re not even native to Los Angeles or California,” and then obviously I moved back and now, when I was flying over LA yesterday and I saw palm trees for the first time I was super stoked.
You talked about the Vivian Girls just a second ago – were you in Europe with them?
No, we did a West Coast tour with them in February of this year but Aly, the drummer, has been playing drums with us on a few tours.
Oh yeah, I was gonna ask if you guys were touring with a drummer.
Yeah, they have some time off. I don’t know why she doesn’t wanna use her time off but instead she’s just been doing a couple tours with us and it’s awesome because we really love her and having her around.
How do you like the Vivian Girls in terms of their albums? They have a “lo-fi” sort of style but they say they don’t like to adhere to genres, like you’ve said you want to do…
Yeah yeah yeah, well I mean, the thing is that that lo-fi word really annoys me because I think that people just have the tendency to kind of like- a band comes out, they have a sound that’s similar to another band and then, for whatever reason, everybody wants to say it’s lo-fi even though – the last Vivian Girls record, Everything Went Wrong, it’s not very lo-fi sounding. I mean it is, but it’s not as home-recorded sounding as their first record, but that’s because their second they recorded at a studio in California called The Distillery, and they spent a lot more time on this record, and I think that it just has a lot to do with production.
It depends on whether or not you actually want to spend time in a studio working on something or you just want to churn 12 songs out in two days just so you can put a record out really quickly. But I think – the cool thing I think about Vivian Girls is that they have a specific kind of sound and obviously Cassie’s voice is really recognizable, but their record’s not 14 songs that all sound exactly the same. There’s a difference going on in the songs and to me that’s what makes a really good record. I don’t want to hear a record of 14 songs that all sound exactly the same and have the same kind of vibe and I think it’s important to include songs that you hear and you’re like “whoa, this sounds like a completely different band.”
How do you and Bobb write songs together?
I write all the songs and I send them to Bobb and I kind of give Bobb an idea, like, this is kind of what I want the song to sound like, this is the idea of the song, this is the vibe I’m going for, and Bobb fills in those gaps, and writes and records all the drum parts. But it’s like, we’re never in the same room writing or recording really, so the way it’s done for us is really weird, but we’ve got it nailed down so well that we refuse to not do it that way.
So we were a little nervous going into a studio that they would be like, “No, you have to do it our way,” but I think, like, the day after we met them we were like, “This is gonna be the chillest thing ever.”
You said going in you wanted Beach Boys bass lines and Beatles drums.
Yeah, when we went in we said, we want the rhythm guitars to sound like the Ramones, we wanted them to be really sloppy and punk-y sounding and then we want Bobb’s guitars to be really riff-y and surf-y sounding, and the drums to sound like early Beatles stuff. The cool thing about Lewis is that he fully understood that and he made that happen. So that’s really cool.
I do all
the vocals on the recording, so it’s like me harmonizing to myself six
different times in one song, and obviously that’s hard to replicate in
a live setting when I’m the only person singing.
It was inspired by a blend of the different things Bobb and I
listen to, early Beatles stuff and the Ramones and Fleetwood Mac, and I
was even inspired by Patsy Cline and a lot of female vocalists, country
stuff. There’s a couple songs on the record you’ll maybe be able to
hear an old school country kind of influence.
And how do your vocals sound compared to the singles? Cleaner?
Yeah, they’re less distorted sounding, you’ll be able to hear a lot more of what I’m saying.
So you want them to necessarily be clearly discernible?
Well, the thing about my lyrics is that they’re so straightforward it doesn’t really matter if you can hear them or not, because once you figure out what they are you’re just like, “Oh okay.” Because my whole idea about songwriting, for myself at least, is that I think it’s stupid to mask what you’re trying to say in a bunch of metaphor. I’m all about just straight up saying it.
My lyrics are really simple, and I think that a lot of the songs on the record tell a story and you’ll be able to completely understand what that story is. But yeah, on the original stuff, the vocals weren’t that distorted because I didn’t want people to hear the lyrics, it was just an idea of a sound that I was really interested in then, and now I’m a little more interested in something else.
Yeah, it sounds like your songwriting process and the entire genesis of your music is evolving.
Especially when barely a year later, as much as is happening for us… it’s a little overwhelming but also really exciting. But we didn’t feel any pressure to change things. It wasn’t a reactionary thing, it was like, “Cool, we’re doing a record, let’s make this sound more grown up.”