February 23rd, 2011 | Interviews

Photo by Aaron Giesel

I was sipping a Scotch and cooling my heels in a corner with Bethany and Bobb when suddenly the records stopped spinning, the music went silent, and everything went dark. Now the only lights in the Black Boar were from flickering candles, and—aside from the giggles of a few drinkers at the bar—all we could hear was the maniacal mechanized laughter from a few battery-powered skulls bouncing up and down on strings hung above the tables. This was bad news—not only was Best Coast’s pre-Halloween DJ set going to be ruined, but the bartenders wouldn’t be able to keep the cash registers going, which meant we couldn’t even drown our silent sorrows in more top-shelf booze. Still, opportunities like this come but once: Best Coast was between tours and between albums, L.A. RECORD was between issues, and I’d be damned if I was going to let a little thing like a power outage or a lightning storm prevent me from leaving without asking a few questions of singer/songwriter Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno, Eagle Rock’s most famous long-haired musical recluse. This interview by Dan Collins.

People always say Bobb was your babysitter.
Bobb Bruno (lead guitar): It’s a lie!
Bethany Cosentino (lead singer, rhythm guitar): It’s creepy that people still think it’s true. His mom thought it was true. We were just joking in front of a camera, doing an interview, and they made it seem serious in the edit. So suddenly Bobb was my babysitter.
How did you guys really meet?
BC: Just through Mika Miko, and the L.A. music scene.
Bobb, you’ve done so many projects and bands, and produced so many albums. How did Best Coast wind up being your biggest project?
BB: I don’t know.
BC: Me! I did it all—ha ha!
What do you bring to the table that Bobb’s other bands didn’t bring?
BC: I’ve seen a bunch of Bobb’s other bands, and I knew he liked pop music, but I’d never really seen him play straightforward pop music. And I write very simple songs, and I think Bobb really understands me and really understands the vibe I’m going for and does it very well, even though it wouldn’t appear that he would do it very well. But he does.
What is your vibe?
BC: Just very simple, straightforward, fun, catchy pop. California inspired music! The Beach Boys, the Beatles, Phil Spector, girl groups, Joe Meek projects, Fleetwood Mac— stuff I listened to growing up.
What’s your favorite Joe Meek project?
BC: This band the Charades. They were this girl group that covered a really good song by this woman named Ginny Arnell called ‘Dumb Head’ and made it really dark and weird. There are so many bands on those comps that did, like, one song. I think Joe Meek was a really good producer. And I found out recently that he killed someone!
On the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death!
BC: Both my favorite producers are just murdering crazy people!
Bobb, I assume you’re a Jack Nitzsche fan. B
B: With him, I think it’s just something I aspire to be like one day. His music and instrumentation choices are super interesting to me. It’s amazing how many people he’s done arrangements for. I really like his solo stuff. He has a song called ‘Lower California’ that goes through all these genre changes in like three minutes.
You aspire to be pop, yet there’s something about the production—especially the way that you treat the vocals—that sounds rough. Is it your intention to mix against the grain?
BC: I just have a voice that’s not that pop. I don’t sing as innocent as Lesley Gore or Connie Francis. But I would prefer for things to not sound against the grain—ha ha! I want them to be, ‘Here’s the grain! Here’s the pop!’
BB: We’re trying to get in the grain.
Do you have a song that’s like your ‘You Don’t Own Me’-type song?
BC: No, but I’ve been writing a lot of stuff that’s different sounding from the record. As a songwriter, I’m growing, and as this band has been around longer, I’m trying to expand the topics that I’m writing about—change a little bit.
Our reviewer Drew Denny described Crazy for You as sounding like ‘boys and heartbreak and cats and drugs.’ Will you continue to write songs about boys? Cats? Weed?
BC: I think love is something I’ll always unintentionally write about, but it won’t be so much the ‘Oh, I want you so bad’ kind of stuff. Weed is something I don’t really feel like I even write songs about. And cats are something that I’ll always like, but I’m kind of sick of talking about them. In fact, I want to move on to something new.
Bobb, are you going to be disappointed to stop talking about cats?
BB: No. We talk about cats to each other all the time.
BC: I’ll still talk about cats! Other people won’t hear it. He’ll still hear it.
What’s the best breed of cat?
BC: Maine Coon. Anything fat and fluffy!
BB: I like fat short-haired cats. Anything fat!
The guitar tone on Crazy for You has kind of a fat sound: I almost hear the tone Robert Fripp achieved on those old Brian Eno albums. Are you conscious of that?
BB: No—I’m trying to play the most normal guitar I’ve ever played in my life, actually! For this record, I exclusively just ripped off Lindsey Buckingham, George Harrison and, like, surf guitar: Terry & the Bunnys, my favorite surf band.
I used to be a surf DJ, and I have no idea who Terry & the Bunnys are.
BB: I gave you some of their stuff! The Japanese surf band.
What was the inspiration for ‘Honey’?
BC: I was thinking that I wanted to write a song that was more of a dark love song. I was even thinking of bands like Bauhaus—goth bands. Like, even Joy Division, how they do a really good job of dark love songs. Bobb’s guitar is really what makes that song darkish, but as far as the content goes, it’s about finally being with the person that you wanted, and finally being able to tell them, ‘This is how I feel.’
Why is that so dark?
BC: That’s not dark! But the sound is a little bit darker than most of the songs. We think it could be on a Twilight soundtrack, because it’s got a weird vampire vibe.
What’s your favorite vampire movie?
BC: The Lost Boys.
BB: Let the Right One In. Daughters of Darkness is good too.
BC: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
BB: Ha ha—the movie?
BC: The movie.
Bethany, you’ve been recording with Rivers Cuomo! How did that happen?
BC: Rivers tweeted at me, and we had like a friendship on Twitter. And then I found out that he is really into co-writing now, so he asked me to come co-write with him. It was really fun working with him, and it really sparked my desire to start writing songs for other people, and not just for Best Coast.
‘Bethany Cuomo’ has a good ring to it.
BC: It was really surreal. He’s kind of like Bobb! He seems kind of shy, but he’s a genius. Honestly, walking in the door and shaking his hand, I was like, ‘Holy shit, you’re Rivers Cuomo,’ but like five minutes after that, he was just some guy I was writing a song with.
Bobb, are you going to one-up her and do a song with somebody even more famous?
BB: I don’t know. Probably not. I don’t know if I could top that.
Would you ever do a recording with Roky Erickson?
BB: No. He’s nuts. I’d be afraid of him yelling at me.
Or he’d come out with a song called ‘Bobb, the Demon With the Head Butted In!’
BB: That’d be cool. It would be worth doing if he wrote a song about me.
If there was a dream project—like you guys were KISS and you each released a co-writing album at the same time—who would you collaborate with to come out at the same time as Bethany and Rivers?
BB: Fiona Apple.
You already DID do that! You’ve been on stage with her!
BB: We haven’t done music together. We’ve talked about it, but it just never has happened.
I’m sure she’s an avid reader of L.A. RECORD. Fiona, let’s make this happen!
BB: We’re both super busy.
It’s funny—you worked at Largo years ago, and you’re kind of buddies with lots of people like Jon Brion and Fiona Apple. But some of the old Largo crowd don’t know about your current career. At FYF, I interviewed the comedian David Koechner and he wasn’t aware that you were in a band at the festival! He remembered you as the busboy from Largo.
BB: I wasn’t the busboy! I worked in the office!
He said busboy! Did you ever fetch him a drink?
BB: Uh—I may have given him a drink.
Is there a comedian you guys would like to work with?
BC: Katt Williams!
BB: Louis C.K. Or Martin Lawrence.
Would you ever write a comedy song, like the Dead Milkmen?
BC: I write comedy songs all the time, on tour, every day!
Would you make a comedy record for L.A. RECORD? Maybe as a split 7” B-side?
BC: Sure! ‘Blow Me.’ And it’ll just be about blow jobs and Blow Pops.