Inside 'California Nights': Best Coast's Biggest, Trippiest Album Yet

Cali crew on positive vibes, Nineties guitars and "audio weed"

The title track on Best Coast's 'California Nights' is a psychedelic epic unlike anything the band has ever done. Credit: Janell Shirtcliff

Not long ago, Best Coast singer-guitarist Bethany Cosentino took a six-mile hike up into the mountains near her native Glendale, California. Along the way, she listened to the latest mix of California Nights, her band's upcoming third album (due out May 5th). "My mom was like, 'Don't go by yourself with headphones in,''" Cosentino recalls with a laugh. "I was like, 'Mom! It's for the sake of my art!'"

Already deep into sequencing decisions for the album, Cosentino set out intending to discard a song or two, but she changed her mind. "It was the first time I've been entirely happy with every song on a record," she says. "I actually feel confident — which is not how I would describe us in the past."

When Cosentino started Best Coast with guitarist Bobb Bruno five years ago, the band connected with young fans in part because of how relatable her lyrics about endless boredom, stress and romantic frustration were. She says California Nights reflects how she's changed since then: "I was a very awkward, confused girl. Now I'm 28, and I'm still awkward and confused — but I think I've pulled it together a little better."

Cosentino, Bruno and drummer Brady Miller recorded the album at a Hollywood studio with producer Wally Gagel, whose credits range from Hannah Montana to Superchunk. "He knows how to make something poppy and quote-unquote 'radio-friendly,'" Cosentino says, "but he also knows how to make it edgy and fuzzy and dirty."

You can hear that blend on Nineties-style alt-rock anthems like "Feeling Okay," where Cosentino sings about fending off anxiety over big, crunchy chords. "The intro is totally Gwen Stefani, then the chorus is REO Speedwagon," says Bruno.

Best of all is the album's title track — a psychedelic epic unlike anything Best Coast have ever done. "I sent a demo to Bobb and Brady and Wally and was like, 'This might be too weird,'" Cosentino says. But they loved it, building a rich swirl of guitars and synths around her voice. "When I recorded the vocals, Wally turned off all the lights and put on this weird light-box that changed colors," she says. "It was like being stoned without actually being stoned. It's like audio weed, that song."

Adds the singer, "This is the record that we've always wanted to make. I'm sure I'll get sick of these songs at some point. But right now it feels like the universe is aligning."