Best Coast singer-guitarist Bethany Cosentino might be the only indie rocker who had an epiphany on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In 2005 her father, who drummed with ’70s funk rockers War, landed her a gig on the program as a backup singer for singer-songwriter Ellie Lawson.
This wasn’t Cosentino’s first break — a former child actress who’d appeared in commercials for Little Caesars and Pepsi, she’d been writing pop songs since she was 15 and had been approached by major-label A&R scouts — but the moment was still memorable. “[Paris Hilton] was a guest on the show,” recalls the now 23-year-old Los Angeles native. “I was outside smoking, and she came and asked me for a lighter. I remember thinking, ‘My life is so cool right now!’?”
The feeling didn’t last. “I didn’t want to be in the spotlight every night,” Cosentino says of her days on the tween grind. “I just wanted to be a teenager.” So she moved to New York City and started working on music that blended the vulnerability of Girly Sound-era Liz Phair with a budget version of Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound splendor.
Cowritten with multi-instrumentalist bandmate Bobb Bruno, gorgeously reverbed ballads like “Make You Mine,” “Boyfriend,” and “When I’m With You” were inspired by her memories of growing up in L.A. and are suffused with a classically Californian melancholy. “I listen to a lot of ’60s beach music,” she explains. “It sounds happy and innocent, but it was made during a time that wasn’t happy or innocent at all.”
Turns out other people love bittersweet beach tunes, too. Thurston Moore, who once handpicked an old Cosentino project to open for Sonic Youth, has professed his fandom; “When I’m With You” is featured in commercials for the hit BBC teen drama Skins; and the band is currently on its first national headlining tour, with an as-yet-untitled debut due later this summer. Most exciting of all, when Best Coast played at South by Southwest in March, Bill Murray was spotted in the crowd. “My friend was like, ‘He was totally staring at you!’?” says Cosentino. “I was like, that’s weird — and awesome!” That life that was so cool at 18? It’s even cooler now. LISTEN: Best Coast,”When I’m With You”