Bethany Cosentino soaks up the sun on her new album ‘Natural Disaster’

Bethany Cosentino started the band Best Coast in her early twenties in L.A. and they have been a quintessentially L.A. band with a great, lo-fi buzzed out California sound. But a lot has changed in the decades since the band first began and Bethany Cosentino has changed. She said she wanted to make an album that represented that. So she got on a Southwest flight with a gig bag and headed to Nashville, Tennessee. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’m really doing this. I am going to Nashville with a freaking gig bag.’ You know? You would not have caught me doing that in Best Coast, ever.” Here she co-wrote her solo studio album, Natural Disaster with contributions from Jeff Trott and Butch Walker while staying in a cabin in Tennessee. It’s inspired by another Jeff Trott collaborator, Sheryl Crow along with some of Cosentino’s other inspirations Natalie Merchant, Indigo Girls, and female country stars from the 90’s. It’s a true departure from Best Coast and a sound that reflects the life and sound of Bethany Cosentino.

She’s broken out of Best Coast and she made an album that was inspired by being right here in Nashville, Tennessee. The album is called Natural Disaster, and it is out now.  

Justin Barney: I just feel like everyone is going to be like, “Why are you doing a solo thing?” And I’m like, I like I don’t really…  

Bethany Cosentino: Mean, you can ask it.  

JB: Okay, Why are you doing a solo album?  

BC: I have always wanted to make a very different kind of style of music, but I never really felt like I had the confidence to do so.  

I had over identified as this thing. I started Best Coast when I was 22. I’m in my mid-thirties now. I’m a grown woman. I’ve changed so much as a person. And I wanted to do something that’s reflective of that. And I just did not feel like I could stretch my arms and my legs in the way that I wanted to within the box of Best Coast. So I just decided to start writing and trying different stuff. Over time it became very apparent to me that I was making a solo record.  

JB: I think the most apparent thing is that it sounds different. Best Coast has such an identifiable sound. This is not Best Coast. How did you find the sound that is this album?  

BC: I just started immersing myself in listening to music. It was the first time in a really long time that I just got to be a music fan. I would go on these really long walks with my dog. I am a huge fan of Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Merchant, the Indigo Girls, and 90’s country musicians like Jo Dee Messina, Shania Twain, like I have all of these untapped interests and references that never made it into Best Coast because it didn’t make sense. As you said, Best Coast has a very identifiable sound. And so I just started listening to all of this music and I wanted to make something that felt like it could fit into that landscape.  

JB: Okay, let’s play a song. Let’s do “It’s Fine.” You have this bit that I’m wondering about. In the song you say, “I wonder what the blowback would be if I did it.” What were we talking about with the blowback?  

BC: Well, I’ll just say, I saw something that really upset me. Like, a situation that I was, like, real peeved about. And I really wanted to go on a rampage. But then instead of doing what I wanted to do, I sat down and wrote this song. And I think it’s the best song I’ve ever written.   

That’s what happens when you don’t go on the rampage that you would have gone on when you’re 25. You just sit down. You pick up a guitar and you write a song. Then you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to start a whole new chapter of my career.” So thank you to the situation that peeved me. I can’t thank you enough.  

Bethany Cosentino performing “It’s Fine” live in studio at WNXP

JB: Did you record the album in Nashville?  

BC: I did. So I recorded part of the record in Nashville with Butch Walker in Franklin, Tennessee. Like out kind of in the country. When I was out here last summer finishing the record. A friend of mine had a truck and I was like driving out in the country on these dirt roads in a borrowed truck. And like, I’m a born and raised California girl. So to be out looking around and all this like green pastures and cows and horses it was incredible. Best Coast is it’s the California sound, it’s this thing. And this record, I felt like I could just make something that did not have an identifiable location to it sonically. It isn’t a country record, but it’s not not a country record. It’s not an Americana record but it’s not not an Americana record. It just feels like a thing that encapsulates all of the different like interests and all the different references that I had. So getting to come here and sort of just like almost cleanse myself of all of the California energy.  

I also got to have incredible people play on the record. L.A. is a hectic place and it’s busy here, but in a different way. I got to work and then go out in Franklin, to my little cabin in the woods and listen to, like cicadas. And I was like, wow, I haven’t heard a siren in days. I think that comes across in the music. It’s laid back in a different way than West Coast is over here.  

JB: Did you write any songs here?  

BC: I did. So I this is this record was also the first time in which I co-wrote with people. I had always avoided co-writing because I thought that that meant that I wasn’t a good musician. Until I realized that, like most people are co-writing, especially in this town. There is a real magic to collaboration that I didn’t understand because I was blocking myself off from it.  

One of them I wrote with Jeff Trott, who is Sheryl Crow’s main collaborative songwriting partner. That happened in a really magical way where I was just like out to dinner with somebody and mentioned my fandom of Sheryl Crow, and they were like, “Well, I work, with Jeff Trott. Are you in town? Do you want to write with him?” And I was like, “Yeah, absolutely. Wow.”  

That’s something that I noticed about Nashville. Like, people in Nashville are down to connect. They’re down to like, connect you to a person they know. And L.A. is not like that. L.A. is, I think, very closed off and clicky. It’s like, they know the person but they are not going to connect you. To that person. Here it is much easier. That rules.  

I remember on the plane on the way here, I was like, “I’m going to Nashville with an acoustic guitar strapped on my back.” And I’m 36 years old, so it wasn’t like I was like, you know, a 22 year old goes to the town to make it. I’ve already been in this industry for a long time. And here I was like doing something for the first time. I do feel like a new artist in a way. It was hilarious.  

I was on Southwest with a gig bag, and I was like, “Oh, I’m really doing this. Like, I am going to Nashville with a freaking gig bag.” You know? You would not have caught me doing that in Best Coast, ever. 

JB: Can you tell me about the song “Easy?”  

BC: So “Easy” is a song that the opening line is “Sitting on my car in a parking lot.” And hilariously, I actually wrote this song sitting in my car in a parking lot a cappella. I had an idea and I just pulled out my phone and I sang the melody into my phone and I sent it to Butch. A lot of the record is is co-written with outside people, but most of it is just Butch (Walker) and I. Like me bringing ideas to Butch and then Butch and I sort of like working them out together.  

I was sitting in my car. I live near a cemetery and I spent a lot of time. I pulled out my phone and I started singing into it and it was really like this idea of my life not really being where I thought it would be at this age and also but also at the same time being in a relationship, a romantic relationship for the first time in my life that is very healthy and very supportive, which is something I’ve never experienced before. And so it’s a song about like leaning on the support of my partner. And one big thing that I realized by way of the pandemic and making this record is that there is so much good in the world. And when you lean on the good, it sort of can help negate the bad, you know? It doesn’t stop the bad stuff from happening, but it helps you realize that it’s like, yeah, maybe your life isn’t where you thought it was going to be, but maybe there are all these other things in your life that you never thought you’d have that you do have.  

Bethany Cosentino performing “Easy” live in studio at WNXP

JB: Bethany Cosentino, this is my last question. What’s the last song that you couldn’t stop listening to?  

BC: Honestly, the last song that I cannot stop listening to is “Not Strong Enough” by Boygenius. That song is so good. I really don’t listen to a lot of modern music. I just don’t I don’t really pay attention to new stuff and that is like a song that the second I heard it, I was just like, Well, here I go listening to the modern band that everybody likes. You know, normally I’m just listening to Fleetwood Mac over and over and over again and everyone’s like, “Are you sure you’re not like 60 years old?” I’m like, “No, I’m 36.” But yeah, I mean, just incredible. And those harmonies on that bridge are just insane. When I listen to them, I’m like, “Damn, these people are so talented.”