Bethany Cosentino: “What do I have to lose? I might as well try to do this differently”

After the better part of two decades as half of indie-rock icons Best Coast, BETHANY COSENTINO is breaking out on her own.

Words: Martyn Young

With over 15 years in the game with her band Best Coast, Bethany Cosentino is very much a pro when it comes to the business of indie-rock. There comes a time in every person’s life, though, when you feel you need to shake things up. On her stunning solo debut, ‘Natural Disaster’, Bethany is redefining herself as an artist. “I’m really excited for the world to hear me in a different way. People have never heard me like this before.” 

Life in 2023 for Bethany is good. Well, as good as it can be in a world full of chaos and disaster. She’s obsessing over her love of reality TV – “I’m a big Bravo fan, so I watch all the real housewives, and Vanderpump Rules is a big one. We just had a big Super Bowl in the Vanderpump Rules world,” she laughs – as well as finding her feet as a newly minted solo artist. 

While Best Coast are still very much a thing, this record is an adventure for Bethany as she questioned her place in the music world and sought a new path. “The last Best Coast record came out in February 2020, right before Covid,” she begins. “We were out on tour promoting the record, and two weeks into it, the world shut down, and we had to cancel everything. We had kept trying to rebook things, and then they would fall through. 

“I very much felt like the universe was pointing me in the direction of exploring something different. I had always thought to myself about the idea of making a different type of record. A sound that I knew wasn’t going to be Best Coast, but it was always an afterthought. Covid was this opportunity for everybody to look at their life and say, what do I want to try to do differently? 

“I have a million friends who took pottery classes, I took a pottery class too, or made sourdough bread, so I thought, maybe I’ll write a different style of song. It was that period we all went through where it was like, what am I doing? That was what pushed me to create something new and see what happens here.” 

The product of this period of reflection is ‘Natural Disaster’, an album that is the most diverse and distinctive of her whole career, with Bethany’s voice and force of personality very much front and centre. It’s a moving and inspiring listen which takes in themes of growing older, finding your place in the world and navigating the wild and uncertain times we live in. Featuring some of her best and most sharply defined songwriting, it takes in country pop, stripped-back pure balladry, power pop and a general sense of freewheeling joy. 

“People have never heard me like this before”

Bethany Cosentino

“The way that I approached songwriting for this record was very different both in terms of both the way that I wrote and how I collaborated with people,” she says of the process of making the album. “I co-wrote a lot of songs on this record. I brought songs into rooms with people and said here’s an idea that I have, and I want help to stretch this and see where it can go. 

“With Best Coast, it always worked that I would write a song and send it to Bob. It had a blueprint, and Bob would come in and take some of the references and ideas that I had and Bob-ify it, and it became a Best Coast song. Bob and I always did that. We would always collaborate separately. We were never together in a room until we actually made the record. 

“I would go into these designated writing sessions with people, whether it was Butch Walker, my producer or some of the incredible people I got to write with that I’m a huge fan of, like Ruston Kelly, Matty Diaz, and Jeff Trott, who is Sheryl Crow’s main writing partner. Because I was getting out of my comfort zone in the first place, I was like, what do I have to lose? I might as well try to do this differently.” 

The ability to freely work with other people also enabled a change of mindset that helped centre the record. “The age that I’m at, I’m a lot less stubborn in approaching things with a punk/DIY mindset,” she says. “That’s not to say that’s gone away because I do still very much consider myself to be very DIY, but I was like, I don’t have to be so precious about sitting here and thinking every single drop of this has to be just me. It was very helpful for me to shift my perspective and allow other people in to help me finish these songs. I think the final product is magical.” 

You can hear that magic in the perfect radio rock of songs like the single ‘It’s Fine’ or the ringing bright anthem ‘For A Moment’. These songs all feel distinctly Bethany, powered by the spirit of her younger, more idealistic self and the reflective and perceptive woman that she has become. This is an album she could only have made with all the wiseness accrued over a long career. 

“I think of songwriting and performing and just being a creative person in general as a workout,” she reflects. “It’s like flexing a muscle, and each time you do it, you get stronger and stronger. I’ve been in this industry for over 15 years, which is so crazy when I say it out loud. That’s 15 years of experience and learning the hard way about certain things that don’t work for me. Certain places that I can’t allow my brain to travel to. It has a lot to do with the personal work that I’ve done on myself and my commitment to try to not spiral down the black hole of angst and despair like I used to when I was 25 and just being a grown-ass woman. 

“When I started Best Coast, I was 22 years old, and my worldview was pretty small. My worldview has expanded in a really incredible way. I don’t think I could ever have made a record with this much confidence and perspective because I just didn’t have it yet.” 

It’s an album that isn’t afraid to get into what it’s like to grow older and the different hopes and fears that come with it. “The core message was a record that was like a coming of age story but not a teenage coming of age story but a mid-30-something coming of age story,” she laughs. 

“The way I’ve experienced the world in the last few years, particularly living in America with the political and racial chaos, and waking up every day to a different disastrous headline, it was like, how do I walk through this with hope and faith and also allow myself to have those things and not be like this is so cheesy I can’t believe you’re this person now? 

“That’s the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, though,” she adds. “If I didn’t have hope and faith, I’d probably just stay in bed all day staring at Twitter and saying we’re doomed. I only have one life, and I want to live it the best that I can. I tried hard to make a record that touched on all the chaos of the world. Obviously, the title-track is ‘Natural Disaster’, and there are a lot of nods to climate change on the record. How did I keep the joy that I experience in me while also existing in the world as it’s changing.” 

The starkest highlights of ‘Natural Disaster’ are when Bethany strips almost everything back on the heartfelt piano ballads ‘Easy’ and closing track ‘I’ve Got News For You’. “I’ve always been very vulnerable and honest in my songwriting, but with Best Coast, I felt like I had to mask a softer side of myself,” she admits. “I felt like the Bethany of Best Coast was very angsty. I would let a little bit of the lovey-dovey side of me come out, but it was always shrouded in craziness. This collection is me allowing myself to publicly declare that I am a soft person.” 

“I only have one life, and I want to live it the best that I can”

Bethany Cosentino

She uses her passion for astrology to illustrate where her more gentle side comes from. “I love astrology,” she says. “My sun sign is Scorpio, but my rising sign is Cancer. Scorpios are known for being a little bit intense and reserved, and Cancer is known for being very soft and emotional. They say in astrology that, actually, your rising sign is who you authentically are. This record encapsulates that side of me, the Cancer, soft emotional side that does just want to be loved and held and feel safe in a world that often does not make you feel safe. 

“I don’t think I’d ever have been able to express things like wanting to be a mother in a Best Coast song. I would have covered my eyes and cringed and said no, no one can know this about me. Just being Bethany has allowed me the confidence to say I want that. It’s really interesting the way that I feel I’ve watched myself evolve throughout his process.” 

The album is a record about living in the moment and making the most of life. “The song that conveys the message of the album is ‘For A Moment’, which is really about the understanding that nothing is guaranteed,” she explains. “If nothing is guaranteed, why not lean into love, lean into joy, experience all of life in its hard times, wonderful times and mediocre, boring times? Even if you’re only experiencing those things for 30 seconds, it’s like having a container in yourself where you can store these really big important, beautiful moments that push you through when you look around, and the world is burning down. 

“The record doesn’t feel like it belongs to one genre or category, and that was the thing I was most proud of. Every song feels like it can live on a different playlist. I wanted to make something that gave people hope and joy in a time of real joylessness.” 

The freedom to finally make this album comes from a much-changed musical landscape from when Bethany first emerged making lo-fi bedroom recordings back in 2008. “Because the industry is so different and in a lot of ways collapsing and having to be rebuilt, there are no rules to be beholden to.,” she says. “You can do whatever you want. You look at pop music, and the things that are popular now exist in so many different categories. There doesn’t feel like there’s this one thing that you strive to be. I try to see the silver lining that nothing matters anymore, and you can do whatever the fuck you want.” 

With that newfound freedom of expression, the possibilities are endless for Bethany. “I see this as the start of a new chapter.,” she says excitedly. 15 years in and making the album of her career, Bethany Cosentino is beginning to rewrite her pop story, and we’re very much here for the ride. ■

Bethany Cosentino’s album ‘Natural Disaster’ is out now. Follow Dork’s The Cut Spotify playlist here.