LA-based Best Coast's sun-drenched surf pop has won them indie cred and commercial success. Ahead of the duo's Hong Kong debut, singer-song writer Bethany Cosentino tells Paul Kay why she's changing by staying the same
THE ONLY CONSTANT is change, as a wise man once said. And while the Greek philosopher Heraclitus wasn't thinking specifically of Californian surf-pop bands when he committed these words to parchment, that doesn't mean they apply any less to Best Coast.
The LA-based duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno have been steadily evolving since they burst on to the scene in 2010 with their debut album Crazy for You, a sun-drenched collection of catchy lo-fi indie pop cuts lyrically concerned with unrequited love and longing.
Indie adulation duly followed and since then they've taken their sound - and their audience - to new levels with 2012's more polished but equally infectious The Only Place, which was ranked 14th on Rolling Stone's list of 50 best albums of the year. Since then, Cosentino has launched her own music label, Jewel City, and has dabbled in fashion after hipster favourite Urban Outfitters asked her to design her own line.
This month the band return with a seven-track EP called Fade Away, and their first tour of Asia which will take in shows in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. "We are beyond excited," a buoyant Cosentino says in an e-mail interview. "We were asked to be part of the Camp Symmetry festival in Singapore, so we decided we would try to book a few more shows while we were [in Asia]. I can't wait."
The shows will mark the end of a touring schedule that has seen the band crisscross the US, playing The Governor's Ball, Hangout and BottleRock festivals and supporting Green Day on their North American tour. While not perhaps the most obvious of matches, touring with Green Day was an experience Cosentino cherished and one which she says allowed the band to expand its horizons.
"We were able to play venues that we could never play on our own, and we learned a lot from Green Day and their crew. It was really fun, and awesome to get to tour with a band I have looked up to for pretty much my entire life. The fans were really nice to us - I mean sometimes someone would yell 'You suck, where's Green Day?', but for the most part everyone was really nice and made us feel very welcome."
While Green Day share Best Coast's Californian roots, the most obvious influence on the band is another act from an earlier era of the Golden State's musical history.
"The Beach Boys are a huge influence for me and for this band," says Cosentino. "When Bobb and I first started recording together, we literally would just sit in his room and read books about The Beach Boys and talk about how amazing they were. It's kind of like what we bonded over in the first place."
Cosentino also cites Fleetwood Mac as a significant influence (Best Coast have recorded covers of Rhiannon and Storms), and she credits female singers Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Dusty Springfield with having helped shape her distinctive vocals, which has shades of Neko Case, as well as a 1950s and '60s pop aesthetic and a certain X factor that's all her own.
Just 22 when she wrote Crazy for You, Cosentino has grown and matured in tandem with Best Coast. A former child actress, she was used to being in the spotlight, but Best Coast's ascent brought with it a new level of fame - and scrutiny. "My life is under a sort of scope now where people pay attention to the things I do and say, whereas before, no one cared," she says. "I feel like being in this business forces you to grow up. I mean, in a way you're always a kid because you travel the world and pretty much party every night. But, emotionally, I think it changes you, and it teaches you to be more mature - at least it has for me."
Signs of this growing maturity can be found in Cosentino's songwriting. While her lyrical themes have not strayed too far from their original preoccupations with lost love and yearning, her words have begun to acquire a greater depth and shed some of their emotional puppy fat.
Compare the opening lines of opening track Boyfriend from Crazy for You: "I wish he was my boyfriend / I'd love him 'til the very end/ But instead he is just a friend/ I wish he was my boyfriend" with the opening lines of the latest single "I don't know how I don't know how/ To tell you I love you/ To tell you I miss you/ To tell you I care".
The new EP, which Cosentino says was "heavily influenced by Mazzy Star, My Bloody Valentine and Blondie", is pitched as a consolidation of the band's output to date, and judging by I Don't Know How it is imbued with lashings of upbeat energy. "The EP is a bit different than the other two albums: it's kind of a combination of the two," says Cosentino.
"I feel like sonically at least, it's almost like Crazy for You and The Only Place had a baby. It's not too lo-fi and it's not too produced. It feels just right."
A third album is in the works, and Cosentino says the songs she's been writing continue in the energetic, danceable vein of I Don't Know How, although "lyrically, they're still downers". But while Best Coast's evolution continues, and further success beckons, Cosentino is adamant that fame is little more than a distraction.
"I can honestly say that success has not changed me," she says. "I am still the same person today that I was before this band ever existed. I don't think any amount of fame or success will ever change me. I was raised to be very humble."
It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Best Coast, October 30, 8pm, Hangout, Youth Outreach Jockey Club Building, 1/F 2 Holy Cross Path, Sai Wan Ho, HK$360 (advance), HK$399 (door). Inquiries: 9709 2085