Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)
Somewhere deep in the catacombs of Capitol Studios in Hollywood, Bethany Cosentino has found a little place of her own. It's squeezed into a tight corner in the control room of Studio B, where she sits behind an ancient synthesizer to relax or think or read her book, "Tusk," about the Fleetwood Mac album of the same name. The keyboard is her desk. She's never played it.
For nearly two months, the singer-guitarist has been here with her friend and musical partner Bobb Bruno, hard at work on their second album as the band Best Coast. The follow-up to their 2010 breakthrough garage-pop debut, "Crazy for You," is already highly anticipated, and the pressure is on.
"We're a lot more relaxed now," says Cosentino as she settles into these final days of recording. "When we first started, we were like, 'What do we do?'"
So she's been reading about Fleetwood Mac for inspiration and guidance, just as she's repeatedly watched Metallica implode and come back again in the documentary "Some Kind of Monster." "There is something to be learned from their examples of high anxiety and survival, and of taking creative leaps of faith."
Best Coast's untitled new album is set for a mid-May release on the Mexican Summer label and will include deeply personal songs by Cosentino, balancing the kind of sunny, fuzzy tunes that dominated the debut with quieter ballads of melancholy and reflection on the whirlwind of the band's last two years as fast-rising indie-rock stars.
"We didn't want to make a record that was like, 'Whoa, what happened to Best Coast? This isn't Best Coast.' We wanted to do something a little bit more mature and grown-up," she says, adding that the album will reveal a musical progression with less distortion to obscure her vocals. "What's the point of making it sound like you recorded it in your bedroom if you can make it sound like it was recorded at Capitol Records' Studio B?"
The debut album's "Boyfriend" and "Crazy for You" were new anthems for young lovers, as Cosentino sang of beach blanket romance and sometimes finding it amid waves of reverb and loving girl-group pop. It earned rave reviews in the U.S. and was declared by Britain's influential NME as the best new band of 2010.
Working this time with producer Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Kanye West), the duo's new songs still have echoes of Brill Building hooks and classic Beach Boys but with more "In My Room" contemplation than giddy "Fun Fun Fun."
Last August, the band posted a demo of a weary, gently defiant new song, "How They Want Me to Be," as a clue to the band's next move. "That was the direction that I wanted to move in, as far as writing more ballads," Cosentino says. "I wanted people to hear that we weren't going to write 'Boyfriend' 14 times again."
Among the new album's dozen songs is "Why I Cry," a bristling, driving rocker with vocal melodies big and heartfelt. "No One Like You" is slower, dreamier, a ballad of heartache and vintage pop.
Brion and the band are making full use of the eight reverb chambers built underneath the Capitol parking lot, designed by Les Paul and used over the years by the likes of Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Not everything is getting "reverbed out," says Bruno, "but it was inspirational getting to hear how those things sound and having it come back to you in your headphones."
A hero to 17-year-olds
Up a spiral staircase is a lounge above the studio, where Cosentino is curled up in a chair, holding a cup with a splash of Jim Beam. Bruno reclines on a couch nearby and seems happy to let his chatty friend and partner do most of the talking. The room is scattered with guitars.
"It is very interesting to me — now there are 17-year-old girls in the front rows of our shows going 'Bethany, you're my hero, you're my idol,' and I'm just like 'Whoa,'" Cosentino says. "It's so amazing to me, and it does make me feel very privileged and happy, but it is also just like, how did this happen? Where did this come from?"
She is grateful and thrilled with the attention and acclaim for Best Coast, but that didn't make her two years of touring any less of a challenge, she says. Nights on the road meant too much fun and not nearly enough sleep.
"I have always wanted to play music as a living. My dad's a musician. I grew up in a very musical family," says Cosentino, who's from Glendale. "But there are a lot of different things that happen when you tour, especially for me, because I'm 25 and I'm a girl. So I go through a lot of identity things that you're just going 'What's going on with me,' and you're doing it in a place where everyone can see what's going on. It's a little bit difficult."
Bruno was there with her. Was his experience the same? "Um, not really," he says with a casual shrug, and they both laugh.