Bethany Cosentino Got Sober. Then She Wrote A New Best Coast Album. Now What?

Photo: Courtesy of Eddie Chacon.
It's been five years since the last Best Coast album, the longest stretch in the band's history. That's because its primary songwriter and frontwoman, Bethany Cosentino, had a lot of things to figure out. Since their 2015 release, California Nights, Cosentino has gotten sober, gotten into Jungian therapy, and gotten over the election of President Donald Trump. But it wasn't easy.
Cosentino hit a rough patch while trying to write Always Tomorrow. Between the writer's block and her creative blockage, she says making this album was the longest process of her life. She had to work on her issues around depression and anxiety, as well as drinking, before the ideas started to really flow. For her next trick, Cosentino has to figure out who she is on stage when she's sober as the band prepares to tour behind this album.
Advertisement
Ahead, Cosentino talks to Refinery29 about the badass women in music who inspired her to be someone who does whatever she wants, sitting in closets to write songs, and why voting is the most important thing you can do in 2020.
Refinery29: From listening to the lyrics on your new album, Always Tomorrow, it seems like your worldview has shifted. What changes have you been going through that inspired it?
Bethany Cosentino: "I went through a deep depression and I was struggling with — God, what wasn't I struggling with? Especially after the [2016] election, I felt so hopeless. It was confusing. I went through a lot of existential shit, where I was asking myself, 'What is the point of this, what am I doing?' I was also dealing with heavy writer's block and feeling creatively blocked. I couldn't get music out of me. I had so much to say but I couldn't — I felt so helpless. Then I got sober in 2017. I was doing intense therapy and reconnecting with parts of myself that I had lost through the whirlwind of my career starting in 2010 and leading up to where I am now. It was an intense decade for me. I needed to do a lot of self-reflecting. My life now looks like — I am excited. I feel good and I've learned to live in the moment. Well, I didn't learn, I'm still struggling with that. I've learned to be closer to the moment [laughs]."
Finding that calmness of mind is extremely difficult.
Advertisement
"Yes, it is. This record, to me, is a reminder that growth, healing, and grief — none of it is linear. You can have a period where you feel like you're on top of the world and the next day, everything collapses and you feel fucking awful again and like you have to start all over. That's just life. I have learned to accept that life is hard. I used to feel a permanence to everything. If a day was bad, the rest of my life was going to be bad. I've learned that a day is just a day and that's why I called the record Always Tomorrow. There literally is always tomorrow to do it all over again. For me, it's been a journey and it still continues. The journey is not over, it never ends."

I was doing intense therapy and reconnecting with parts of myself that I had lost through the whirlwind of my career starting in 2010 and leading up to where I am now. It was an intense decade for me.

Bethany Cosentino
A lot of women are talking about their struggle since the 2016 election and discussing how the news cycle has an outsized effect on them. Did you find that doing this work and learning to ease anxiety and depression helped you deal with those feelings?
"Yes and no. I do Jungian therapy and there's a lot of symbolism. Symbolically, fire is this idea that everything has to be burned down to start again. For me, I see the 2016 election and all the horrible things happening in the world as awful things I don't want to happen, but sometimes I wonder if these things need to happen so that there can be rebirth and regrowth to put new things into place? That's where I struggle because I want to that to be true but I see things continuing to pull backward and it makes me wonder when the new growth comes? The world is crazy, it really is. This new headspace I'm in has made it easier for me to change my perspective but I also have to learn that I can't change the perspective of every person on Earth. I wish I could get into Donald Trump's head and tell him, 'Hey, this would help you to let go of some of your bullshit because that's clearly why you're a miserable, horrible person.' But I can't do that, nor am I responsible for that.
Advertisement
"I have learned to see things in a way where I think of my own journey and use it in terms of how I see the world, where everything had to get bad before it got better. But I still struggle with seeing news reports and wondering if it's going to get better. I don't know. The biggest thing we can do in that problem area of our lives is to get engaged and vote. I know that some people say it doesn't matter but it fucking matters. Go do it."
Does thinking of the world in that way make it easier for you to write songs about these intensely personal changes in your life?
"I've always used music and art as a way to talk about my feelings and my issues. I've been writing and performing music since I was a little kid and when I first started, it was always about whatever pain I was going through. I'm a very private person, which you wouldn't know by hearing my music because I let it all out. For me, music has become this place where I figure out how to talk about it and sort through it. It has become the place for me that is a giant therapy session to the world. It has allowed me to get things out that I didn't even know were there. Sometimes I listen back to songs I've written and think, Woah, I didn't even know I felt that way. But I guess I did."
Advertisement
Tell me about "Everything Has Changed," which is the track that got you started writing this album.
"What's interesting about that song is that I wrote it about three years ago, pre-sobriety. I had just moved into a new house, which made me think life was so different, even though it wasn't. My location was just different. I wrote that song about a life that I wasn't living that is very much the life I'm living now. It's a weird, prophetic song that I willed the life I have today into existence. I was going through a long bout of writer's block and felt so backed up creatively. My house had this big walk-in closet and, for whatever reason, that was the place I was trying to write in. I went in that day and sat there and wrote — and that song came out. At the end of the day, I was like, wait a minute, I like this song and I think I have something here. All of the sudden something in me clicked. I still struggled after that with writing and having that song as the first one out of the gate made me feel like nothing was going to be as good or catchy or poppy. It got me excited about writing music again, but I don't think I wrote another song after that one for another six months. The writing of this record took forever. I used to sit down and write a record in a week. With this go around, it took longer and I think that happened because I had a lot of shit that I needed to sort through before I could write songs. And all of it is on the album."
Advertisement
Since so much has changed and you're sober, do you have a new way that you deal with those feelings of anxiety or panic, especially on stage or around people?
"That is still something I'm trying to learn to navigate. Performing sober is so different. I used to get drunk before we would play as a way to numb my stage freight, which I never thought I had. Of course I wasn't nervous, I had the power of alcohol flowing through me and helping me let go of inhibitions. Now when I get up there, I use performing in that way to get the dopamine I was searching for through drugs and alcohol. It's scary because now I'm just up there with no filter, nothing to hide behind. I feel like it has turned me into a different type of performer who is more powerful and I don't care as much about what my weird dance moves look like, what my hand movements are, what people think. I turn off and use it to channel the different part of myself. I've never done a tour sober — I've done shows but not a tour. I'm interested to see what my stage presence looks like, I can't tell you. I might get nervous and scared, but I'll push through it and be okay. Also, I'm very honest with audiences. I once had a panic attack on stage and I just told everyone and they applauded. When you're honest and vulnerable, people respect that.
Advertisement
"I remember there was one live review several years back when we were touring California Nights. I had taken on a different persona on that record where I didn't talk a lot between songs, I just wanted to play the music and go offstage. There was a review where a guy, of course it was a guy, who said the outfit I was wearing was sexy, I looked good, the show was good, but that I looked so bored. It was all about me and how I wasn't engaging but when he talked about Bobb [Bruno, guitarist], he talked about him being a shredder and doing his thing. It's crazy to me that if I go on a stage and I don't act like, 'Oh my God, thank you for being here!' that gets turned into me being a bitch. But the men in my band, and no offense to them, nobody even talks about them. I'm this frontwoman, this person everyone is looking to see: is she going to fuck it up? Is she going to do good? What is she wearing? What products do you think she uses in her hair? It's weird. People think that male rockstars are wasted and on drugs, but they don't talk about it as much with women. It's very much a problem for women too, don't get it twisted. There are women who use that shit to cope, just as men do."
How has looking up to other women in rock brought you confidence and inspiration?
Advertisement
"I will when I was a kid and I was first getting into music outside of what my parents listened to. I remember seeing No Doubt and Gwen Stefani. I was like, what wait? This girl can do a guy's job? I didn't even understand it was possible for a woman to do that and her at that time — she was so brazen and crazy and cool. She was wearing half a shirt! It was so cool to me. I have always gravitated towards these women in music who have an attitude that you don't expect to see from a woman performer. This is an issue with sexism and misogyny, but you see women performers as people who are supposed to get on stage and be proper, beautiful, pretty, and sing with pretty voices. I remember the first time I saw Brody Dalle and thinking it was so cool, she was scream-singing. It taught me that I don't have to act like this prim and proper little girl. I took opera, I was training to be a prim and proper performer.
"Being exposed to that at a young age made me feel like this is the cool shit, these women who take on roles like Joan Jett. The Runaways and the Go-Go's were acting the way we saw men act in music. They had so many groupies and they were like, fuck it we're going to act the way the guys do, what's the big deal? I've always been interested in women like Courtney Love who act however the fuck they want to and make you deal with it. Isn't that what men have been doing for the entirety of the world? [laughs] Seeing those women from such a young age was important to me. It helped me understand that I can act however the fuck I want and people have to decide if it's for them or it's not. That's the inspiration I've found in female artists. Listen, there's nothing wrong with a woman like Adele who sings in a classical, strong way. It's really cool that there are so many women doing whatever they want."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Advertisement

More from Music

R29 Original Series