Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino still writes all of her songs in her bedroom in Los Angeles, describing the setting as her "safe place." As the indie-pop duo continues developing a national identity and prepares for another U.S. tour, Cosentino feels most relaxed in her native state. It's the reason why the cover art for Best Coast's sophomore album, "The Only Place" (May 15), is an illustration of a black bear embracing a map silhouette of California, taken from artwork of the official state song, "I Love You, California."
"I wrote these songs in a place of feeling homesick and confused about myself and my personal growth," says Cosentino, 25, who forms Best Coast with multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, 39. "This album helped me grow, though, and I feel much more confident than I did before."
After forming in 2009, Best Coast's appeal started registering outside of California when the duo issued a string of winning garage-pop singles. The first, "Make You Mine," arrived on New York indie Group Tightener, co-run by Fader magazine editor Sam Hockley-Smith and Jamie Granato (Cosentino was a Fader intern at the time). In 2010, Cosentino and Bruno signed to indie label Mexican Summer, home to indie rock acts like Kurt Vile and the Alps. The duo's debut, "Crazy for You," bowed at No. 36 on the Billboard 200 in August 2010 and sold 10,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan, a number that manager Adam Shore says "took everyone by surprise." Late-night TV appearances, a fall tour supporting Weezer and a collaboration with Kid Cudi and Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij for Converse's "Three Artists. One Song" campaign followed.
The unexpected success of "Crazy for You" -- it's the only Mexican Summer title to appear on the Billboard 200 -- was as much a result of Cosentino's enigmatic persona as her sun-stroked pop songs. The singer/songwriter controls and constantly updates Best Coast's Twitter account ( @bestycoastyy), talks freely about her relationship with Wavves frontman Nathan Williams and has made her cat, Snacks, an Internet star, all of which have earned her 78,000 followers and the adoration of music blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum.
"You want to be her friend," Mexican Summer GM/co-director Tom Clapp says. "She's funny and nice, and has, through social media, put that out there."
Cosentino's personality is even easier to embrace on "The Only Place," which will be released through Mexican Summer and distributed in the United States through the Alternative Distribution Alliance. Gone is the lo-fi fuzz of "Crazy for You," which has since sold 85,000 units, according to SoundScan. Instead, the sophomore effort is defined by an unfussy guitar sound, clearer lead vocals and crisp production courtesy of Jon Brion, who helmed Fiona Apple's "Extraordinary Machine" and co-produced Kanye West's "Late Registration." Brion had previously worked with Bruno and been a fan of the duo's first album, and helped Best Coast maximize its sound last September at Los Angeles' Capitol Studios.
"There was a definite plan to make the music sound bigger and brighter, and to put a great big spotlight on Bethany's voice," Shore says. Cosentino adds, "There is no sense in going into a studio like that and then layering everything with a bunch of effects so that people can't hear it."
"The Only Place's" release was announced in March, and Clapp describes Mexican Summer's subsequent rollout of the album as "the biggest thing to date for the label." After previewing new material at four South by Southwest showcases, Best Coast issued the title track as the album's lead single, and the song, which recently appeared in an episode of Fox sitcom "New Girl," has since sold 2,000 downloads, according to SoundScan. Performances on "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" have been booked for May and July, respectively, and the group begins a 34-date tour of North America and Europe on May 18 in Los Angeles.
However, Shore says the biggest difference between the promotion of the band's two albums is the rollout of Cosentino's first clothing line, a collaboration with Urban Outfitters. The singer, a former fashion student, helped design vintage dresses, skirts and tops for the brand, and starred in photo shoots while finishing "The Only Place." The line will also debut May 15 so that customers can hear the new album played in stores while browsing Cosentino's designs.
"It was [Urban Outfitters] seeing her as the perfect match for their demographics," Clapp says, "and her being [associated with] a place where she shops and with clothes she identifies with." But Best Coast hasn't gone fully corporate just yet. A vinyl 7-inch that includes the band's cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Storms" will be released exclusively at independent retailers alongside "The Only Place." Clapp says, "We've done everything to keep that awareness out there, and work through every possible standard retail thing to make sure . . . there's a focus around the actual release."