“Ice Cream Mountain” and “Favorite Colors” may not sound like song titles you’d see on a Best Coast record. But they’re exactly what fans will find on the California indie-rock band’s surprising new project: the children’s album Best Kids, out today (June 22) on Amazon.
“I know it probably confused people. It confused us in the beginning, too,” says frontwoman Bethany Cosentino. “But it really turned into something that was perfect for us.”
The 11-track record — the band’s first in three years — includes original songs like “Cats & Dogs,” as well as classics (think “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) and covers of time-worn favorites by Lesley Gore and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. But don’t worry: the kid-friendly version retains all of the band’s signature grit and grunge, and it’s not about just school buses and ice cream, either.
As Consentino and her bandmate, multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, explain, the album is full of topical messages about love and unity, embracing differences, and even mental health and self-care. In a time of intense political clashes — where children are currently at the center of controversy over immigration policy — the album brings love to families. “I wanted to actually put lyrics in it that are thought-provoking,” Cosentino says. “The ultimate goal of the record was to bring joy to people in a time where it’s very much needed.”
Days before the album’s release, Billboard caught up with Cosentino and Bruno to find out how they adapted to G-rated songwriting, the songs that defined their own childhoods, and how Best Kids inspired them to start work on the next Best Coast album proper.
You previously created children’s music for Amazon, first on the company’s An American Girl Story — Maryellen 1955 in 2016 and again for its holiday playlist last Christmas. How did Best Kids come about?
Bethany Cosentino: That’s where the relationship was established with Amazon, and then this idea came our way. Bobb and I both were like, “A kids’ record? Huh?” I know it probably confused people — it confused us in the beginning, too! But it really turned into something that was perfect for us. It was always something that I was interested in doing, but not being The Wiggles, we were not totally sure how to approach it. It’s not every day that an indie rock band is like, “Do you want to make a kids’ record?”
So how’d you do it?
BC: It’s actually not my first rodeo writing songs for kids, because we wrote for PBS a couple of years ago. Granted, my songwriting is incredibly simple to begin with, so it was actually pretty easy for me to construct songs for kids. But I think we wanted to make a record that was very kid-friendly and very much a children’s album, while also keeping it within the vein of Best Coast. I remember sending Bobb the original list of ideas of covers, and Bobb was like, “They know this is going to sound like Best Coast, right?” I was like, “yeah, that’s what [Amazon] want[s].” We were nervous that we might have to make it very lullaby-y, or tiny-tot sounding, but they let us do a rock record for kids.
Did you have parents in mind as well?
BC: Bobb and I don’t have kids, but I think we know enough people with kids to know that it’s a struggle for parents when it comes to music, because your kid hears the [Frozen] “Let It Go” song and they’re like, “I want to hear it for the next five years!” We [wanted to] give them something that not just a kid will like, but the parents will like, and maybe people that just like Best Coast that don’t even have kids will put it on. The ultimate goal of the record was to bring joy to people in a time where it’s very much needed.
Songs like “Cats & Dogs” — which is at its core about connecting with others despite your differences — feel especially of-the-times.
BC: I wanted songs that evoked a message. For “Cats & Dogs,” I wanted to actually put in lyrics that are thought-provoking. It’s important to teach our kids, who are the future of this world, the concept of universal love. Or the concept that people might say two things don’t belong together, but if they care about each other, they should be together. “Ice Cream Mountain” is about this idea of daydreaming, and how if you’re ever stuck in a place of sadness, you can invent a creative, fun world in your daydreams. I feel like that’s even a topic that kids struggle with: feeling sad or lonely. We all feel that sometimes.
Did either of you have a favorite song to work on?
Bobb Bruno: “Rock A Bye Baby” was pretty fun. Lewis [Pesacov], the producer, did some really ridiculous synthesizers. We were laughing the whole time, because they sounded fun and goofy. I was trying to make it something off the first Weezer record, like “Buddy Holly” or “My Name Is Jonas.”
BC: I think my favorite one was “Rainbow Connection” [a cover of the song from the 1979 film The Muppet Movie]. It was fun to put a pop-punk spin on it. I listened to the record this morning in my kitchen while I was cooking breakfast, and when that one came on, I was like, “Dude, this is so good!” [Laughs.] And Bobb will tell you, I don’t ever listen to Best Coast music and say “This is so good.”
Speaking of your music as Best Coast proper, how did you rework your 2010 song “When I’m With You” for Best Kids?
BC: Our friend was putting this band of kids together for an event in L.A. through the nonprofit GIRLSCHOOL. She was just like, “I was going to teach them a Best Coast song, and I wanted to see if you and Bobb will come.” It was the purest, sweetest, most joyful thing. I know that kids already like Best Coast. The day that I posted the kids’ record [announcement], there were so many comments like, “You’re my kid’s favorite band!” And Bobb and I are, like, crying. At that point it was like, “:et’s see if we can do [‘When I’m With You’], and let’s see if we can get some of those kids to record it with us.” They even changed the lyrics themselves to make it more kid-friendly: “I hate watching TV alone” and “I hate playing alone.”
In what ways did you find writing for kids different from writing for adults? Were there similarities?
BC: I don’t know that it was really that different. As much as we knew we were making a record for kids, we were doing really cool things [where] we were like, “We should do that when we make our record.” There’s a part on “Cats & Dogs” where I’m doing this crazy four-part harmony. I feel like if I did that in a Best Coast song proper, people might be like, “Huh?” I think it gave us this large space to do whatever we wanted and not have to worry so much about, “What are critics going to say?”
Artists from Johnny Cash to Barenaked Ladies and Dolly Parton have done children’s albums in the past. Did you look to anyone for inspiration?
BC: I listened to all the Lisa Loeb kids’ records. I listened to the Jack Johnson Curious George record, in my car. People were probably like, “Why is this full-grown woman listening to ‘Wheels On The Bus?'” [Laughs.] It really allowed me to see that there are no rules when it comes to writing music for kids. I even went back and listened to really goofy stuff, like The Wiggles and even Sesame Street, music that I remember from my childhood.
What are your own memories of music from your childhoods?
BB: As a little kid, I was really into Elton John. My mom used to dress me like Elton John. [Both laugh.] And then the Grease soundtrack and Saturday Night Fever. I was born in the ’70s, and those were two of the biggest records from that era. And Shaun Cassidy.
BC: For me, it was Disney movies. I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid. Being raised in a family with musicians, it was always around. Then I got really into Paula Abdul — I would do horrible dances that my parents would film. [Laughs.] As a kid, I remember music being such an exciting thing. I wanted to make a record that would have that same sort of sentiment that music had for Bobb and I [as kids].
Do you have young family members or friends with kids who you’ve been able to play this album for?
BB: Lewis has a two-year-old daughter. It was nice to have a parent’s perspective while we were making the record.
BC: There were a few moments where we would do certain things, and [Lewis] would be like, “Hmm, maybe this is too aggressive for children,” and we’d scale it back. [Laughs.]
As a music fan, it’s special when you find a band you can grow up with. What do you make of the fact that there are likely fans who fell in love with Best Coast as teenagers, and now have kids of their own?
BC: We have met fans that have come to our shows where the woman is pregnant, and then a few years later, we’ll see them again and the kid is with them. We were like, “Oh my god, we met you before you were even born!” We have seen a lot of our fans grow with us. We’ve met 8-year-old girls in Texas that are now in high school, and they’re like, “You’re still my favorite band.” It’s crazy the connection that you can make with people through music.
Is there anything else in the works for Best Coast this year?
BC: We’re going to definitely be making our own non-children adult record soon. We’re hoping to start working on it this summer. We’ve been working on some demos. But making this record gave us that ability to flex those creative muscles again without having to take it so intensely seriously. You’ll definitely be hearing a record from us soon. In the meantime, you can rock out to Best Kids.