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Bethany Cosentino

Best Coast

“It just feels like a certain level of power comes from playing the guitar.”

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I started playing guitar when I was 12. And I wanted to play guitar because I just wanted to be able to emulate all of the bands that I loved. Blink 182, Green Day, No Effects. I was super into pop punk. And so to me, I feel like guitar playing is still just this like kid-like teenage thing. And honestly, I have not evolve that much as a guitar player since I was 12 years old. So it just feels like a connection to like my younger teenage self.

My dad's a musician. So I grew up around music. Really truly from the inception of like my earliest memories, they all revolve around music. They revolve around going to see my dad play shows. They revolve around my dad playing drums and practicing in the garage at my house growing up. And there were guitars everywhere around the house. I just like wanted to know how to play this thing that had been in my life since I was a kid. The idea of being able to pick up a guitar, sing, and play it and then be like, oh wait, I could also like write a song using this.

And I was classically trained as a singer. I took opera lessons as a kid. So I also really enjoyed the juxtaposition of having this very pretty voice, but then also being able to play this guitar. And it was always electric. I didn't care about acoustic guitar. I didn't want an acoustic guitar. I wanted to be like a plugged in power cord badass. And so I think that just once I received one and I had the ability to learn, it was just from there on, it was all I wanted to do was just mess around on the guitar and write songs.

I didn't start writing my own songs until probably around 15, because like I said, when I learned to play the guitar, it was literally just my guitar teacher was like, "What do you want to play?" And I was like, "I want to learn Black Sabbath. I want to learn Green Day. I want to learn No Effects. I want to learn Blink 182." Anything that was on Epitaph or Fat Records at the time, I was like, "This is what I want." And to this day, I still only know how to play power cords, which is really funny because I'm 12 years into my career as a professional musician. And I've written like four records and so many songs, and I've only ever been able to do them using power chords. In the beginning, I just wanted to learn how to play those songs. I think I borrowed from the style a lot. I just learned the way in which pop punk songs were formulated.

And then when I turned 15, I started listening to like more singer songwriter stuff. I got really into Jonie Mitchell and I knew that I couldn't play the guitar like Jonie Mitchell and I didn't want to be able to. I was just like, okay, let's see what I can do here. And that's when I started writing more like singer songwriter types of songs, but in my own style using the power chords. I mean, every Best Coast song is written with like four power chords and that's pretty much it. So it's served me well.

The very visual memory that I have of Ernie Ball comes from my dad. He played the slinky strings that came in the green package. And I used to see them all over the house as a kid. To me, when I think of guitar strings, I only think of Ernie Ball. Genuinely, because that was like what I was raised around. And when I got my first guitar, like my dad strung it for me, put the Ernie Ball strings on it. I don't remember a life without music. I genuinely don't remember a life without Ernie Ball strings. And that's not even me like saying that because I'm doing this. It's just genuinely, that is my number one memory of strings.

I am a creature of habit. I mean, look at me, it's like I'm writing songs using the same chords I learned when I was 12 years old. I think if something works, if I like the way that something feels, it's like, it sounds good, it feels good. Why change it?

The moment that I think I realized Best Coast was thing and like a career and a job was when I didn't have to have a job. It was just like, oh, this is my job. I'm paying my rent and my bills from this, and I didn't go into Best Coast being like, "This is going to be my career. This is going to be my job. I'm going to buy a house one day." I didn't think any of that. I was just like, okay, I'm going to make music. Bob was my friend. He knew how to play all these instruments. He knew how to record. I hit him up. We did the thing. The early 2010s in my life are just like a blurb.

I literally went from being a soap store employee at Lush Cosmetics, a college dropout, to starting a band. And then like within a year I was playing on David Letterman and getting recognized on the street and my cat was famous. It just happened so fast. And I think because I was so young and I was wrapped up in all sorts of other off, I didn't really ever have the opportunity to sit down and be like, what just happened?

I am my own worst critic as we all are. I have a tendency to compare myself to a lot out of other artists. And so I'll see other artists ripping and writing these really intricate songs. And I'm like, oh, why can't I do that? I don't really have that passion that's brewing in me that's like go pick up the guitar and learn how to play like insert name of shredder. I just don't really have that. And I think that's okay with me. I think that part of why I like to announce it is because it does that thing to me where I'm like, I want to be the first person in the room to just be like, "I'm not that good." So that nobody else can judge me. It's like, I want to judge myself first.

Regardless of how critical I am of myself for it, it's like, yeah, I do think that there are probably people out there that look to me as a guitar player or look to me as a songwriter and think, oh, I could do that. And I have met many people, especially women out on the road and at shows and stuff that have told me, "You're the reason I started playing the guitar. You're the reason that I wrote my first song." And at the end of the day, it's like, if I inspire anybody to do it, whether or not they surpass me as far as like how good or bad they are at the guitar, I don't really care. If I'm the person that inspired them to pick up the guitar and figure it out, then that's awesome.

When we first started playing shows, I played guitar on every single song. I never put the guitar down. And then over the last few years, I've stepped back a little bit and I play guitar on some songs and then I put the guitar down and then I sing, and then I pick it back up. And it's funny, because I feel like the songs in which I'm just singing and then the songs in which I'm playing the guitar, they feel completely different. I feel like a different performer. I don't know if it's maybe that I'm literally holding a piece of machinery that when I hit it, it makes a sound. And then I sing to that sound and my voice and that note come together and make a bigger sound. I guess maybe in a way it makes me feel like superhero status. I'm just like, oh, this is sick. I have this thing on me that I'm just hitting and I could literally throw it if I wanted to and sort of do whatever with it. It just feels like a certain level of power comes from playing the guitar.

When we were making our third record, California Nights, our producer at the time, we were recording something and I was like, "I don't want to play it." It was just one of my like insecure moments. I was like, "I don't want to do it. You do it." And he went to play it. And he said this. And looking back on it, I'm like maybe I could have taken it to be offensive, but I don't. I get what he's saying. He was like, "Oh, I can't play it as sloppy as you. You have to play it." And when he says sloppy, I don't think he necessarily means like bad. He just means that's my sound. That's what it sounds like. And I noticed that in Best Coast stuff, if Bob plays my part, they sound different than when I play them.

And I remember somebody saying to me once in some sort... I think I was doing like a Guitar World interview or something. And my first thing I said to the guy on the phone was like, "I'm not a good guitar player." And he was just like, "Yeah, but you are like you. And you are the player that you are. And there's something to be said about that and nobody else plays the guitar like you." And I was like, huh, if you frame it that way, then yeah. It's allows me to step back and be like, "Nevermind, I'm sick. I do this cool thing that nobody else can do."

Doing something simply is hard. Sure, doing something super classic and flamenco guitar, I'm sure that's really hard. But also like writing a power pop song with four chords and a melody that sticks with people, it's also pretty hard. So this has been like therapy for me. I'm like, oh, I'm actually like not a bad guitar player. I've had such a come to Jesus moment at the end of this, of like I have a thing and I do it well and that's good. Right, Snacks?