Best Coast and Wavves: Feel Good Inc.
Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino and Wavves' Nathan Williams aren't just the co-owners of indie-rock's most allergenic mascot. They've also parlayed their musical evangelization of California's endless summer into a pretty sweet cottage industry.
“We wanted to make a record that nobody was going to call lo-fi,” says Cosentino, as we drive back down the hill to her current house. So Cosentino’s multi-instrumentalist partner, Bobb Bruno, reached out to his former boss, producer/composer Jon Brion, known for his work on Kanye West’s Late Registration.
“When I find [artists] I’m interested in, it means I’m interested in them,” says Brion, who loved Best Coast from the minute he heard Crazy for You in a vintage store in London. “The only thing I noticed is that I wanted the music to wrap around my body a little more. I wanted to make sure I could make out the lyrics and the drums and the guitars. But I think of myself as a recordist on this. There wasn’t anything musical to change.”
To hear Brion tell it, Cosentino and Bruno “have a secret language,” and he merely suggested a few different guitars. Bruno, who is 13 years Cosentino’s senior, sits quietly on his bandmate’s couch. “Bobb has no ego,” she says, tending to a maintenance issue in Snacks’ hindquarters (the normally photogenic pet is having an off day; moments before, he coughed up a hairball). “I write, I don’t even tell Bobb, and I’ll text him and be like, ‘I sent you a new song.'”
“It happens a lot with me and Bethany where we’ll do pretty much the same thing without knowing,” adds Bruno, picking cat hair off of his black pants. “The first day we went to Capitol, we both listened to the Eagles on our drive in.” The two cite that band, plus Fleetwood Mac, as influences on The Only Place. Cosentino gestures to the Making Rumours biography on her coffee table.
“It was very epic for us,” she says of recording. “Except our studio experience was not doing cocaine until five in the morning; it was eating guacamole until five in the morning. And we had parking spaces.”
At a studio in Los Feliz, Williams and Pope play a few songs from the new Wavves album, reluctantly. “Part of the reason I don’t want anyone to hear it is because I just want people to fall on their ass and be totally taken aback,” says Williams. He sits, smoking a joint with Pope, who is more involved in the writing process this time around, and John Hill. Producer-engineer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Beach House) will stop by for a couple of weeks when Wavves return from a short Australian tour. They play three new tracks, all tentatively titled: “Dog” is an intricate slow jam, with cellos, sleigh bells, and a guitar line reminiscent of Nirvana; “Sail to the Sun” builds on the sophistication of 2011’s Life Sux EP, and has the reckless energy of a post-party drive; “Lunge Forward” is as radio-friendly as Green Day. Gone is the punk posturing of King of the Beach — Williams sounds like he’s legitimately having fun now, not just talking about it.
Both Williams and Cosentino describe their new albums as “more personal” than anything they’ve done, but he’s only caught a few tracks from The Only Place — just enough to wonder whether the lyric “You don’t know why I cry” was directed at him. (“No,” she says, “I’m not that sassy.”) Cosentino has heard nothing of the Wavves record. It’s surprising, as neither of them seem worried about keeping their professional distance or shrouding their relationship from the public. They tweet at each other, write songs about each other (she gives him a hard time about calling her hazel eyes “green” on a track from King of the Beach), and they’ve toured together. But, with the exception of one song from Life Sux that Cosentino sang on, they don’t collaborate, and they don’t give each other notes.
“We’ve always tried to keep our music separate, because when you date somebody who does the same thing as you, you instantly let people compare you,” Cosentino said a few days before. “It’ll be like, ‘Best Coast is the female Wavves,’ when we don’t sound anything alike.”
At dinner, she admitted to nervousness about The Only Place: “I had a lot of fear about the sophomore — what do you call it?”
“Slump,” Williams interjected. “But it doesn’t matter. They talked about that with King of the Beach, which was my third record. And they’ll do it for this record, too.”
In a few days, they’ll depart for their own tours and will see each other only sporadically for the rest of the year. Cosentino is actually anxious to leave after having spent a few months idling, waiting for the record to be released. The truth is, this isn’t the only place — for either of them. They promote the ideal of a city that they’re too busy to fully enjoy.
Watching them together reminds me of something a stranger, a Los Angeles native, said to me after I told him I was from New York: “New York has a pulse. L.A. doesn’t.”
I assume he meant that L.A. can be an isolating city, contrary to its promise of nonstop summer fun. Friends can live nearby, but be a continent away in traffic-time. It’s not a place for lonely hearts, and these two aren’t.
“I want to be in California the rest of my life,” Cosentino says at a café by her house, doubling down on her party line, unburdened by the anxiety and homesickness that she sings about on the new album. “It the place that makes me the happiest.”
This story originally appeared in the July/August 2012 Outside Issue of SPIN, which you can order here now.