"It's crazy. It is. It's bizarre to me. It's something that, ever since things started to take off with Best Coast, I've been baffled by on a daily basis," says Bethany Cosentino.
The previous week, NME, the U.K.'s arbiter of musical culture, had published its "Cool List" and Cosentino had come in at No. 4, right behind Kanye West and well ahead of her idol Rivers Cuomo from Weezer (75), Jack White (58), Lady Gaga (50) and even her boyfriend, Wavves' Nathan Williams (68).
A couple of months before, Cosentino's debut album with her band/project/collaboration/alter ego Best Coast, Crazy for You, had debuted at No. 43 on the Billboard 200 Chart and at No. 10 on the Digital Albums Chart. NME had declared Best Coast the Best New Band of 2010, and the blogosphere was suddenly abuzz with talk about her album, her tweets, her personal life, her daily habits and even one of her cats.
What makes all of this sudden attention so strange is that Crazy for You is really a little L.A. album with an uncomplicated, slightly retro sound and very simple lyrics, and Cosentino herself is just a girl who lives in a normal Eagle Rock 20-something pad, who until not that long ago was selling soap at Lush and figuring out if dropping out of college and moving back home had been such a good idea.
Fast-forward a few months and now her cat, appearance and relationship are scrutinized by strangers on the Internet, and some pop-culture savants across the Atlantic are calling her the fourth coolest person in the world.
"I like myself," Cosentino says, relaxing on her couch between legs of her ongoing tour and right after fielding a phone call from the Japanese press (Q: "What food inspires your music?" A: "I don't know — salad?"). "I think I'm pretty cool. I think I'm a good friend. I think I'm a good girlfriend. I think I'm a good daughter. I'm confident, I am. But I don't know why in the world NME would say I'm the fourth coolest person in the world and put me next to a person like Kanye West, who to me is like ... Jesus ... on some Jesus kind of level, and I'm just this 24-year-old girl that, you know, sits around my house and goes on tour and talks about Jersey Shore and does all those kinds of stuff.
"But it is immensely flattering," she adds, "when your peers are recognizing that you're doing something cool and that people think it's cool. If I would have been number, you know, 46 on that list [FYI: No. 46 was Dave Sitek, from TV on the Radio], I still would have been, 'Oh, it's awesome to be on that list,' but the fact that it's No. 4 ... the fact that I'm even doing this thing for L.A. Weekly is still weird. It's still something that it's sinking in. Why would people want to do an interview with me, you know? I went from being a college dropout to being NME's top-four cool list [laughs]. It's just bizarre the way life kind of turns and changes sometimes."
Once upon a time there was this mythical DIY venue in downtown L.A. called the Smell. OK, it wasn't "once upon a time" — it was about four years ago, halfway through the second Bush presidency.
Back in 2006, the sounds coming up from the Smell were messy, loud, with a vibrancy that reminded old-timers of the good old days of L.A. punk. Punk and noise were relevant points of reference, or post-punk or post-noise, or post-hardcore. Loud. Occasionally experimental.
Some of the bands were gaining renown beyond the small circle of habitual patrons — bands like the Mae Shi, HEALTH (just starting) and also Wives, who at the time were disbanding, allowing the core duo of Randy Randall and Dean Spunt to reform as the scene's soon-to-be standard-bearers, No Age.
There was also a girl group called Mika Miko: good, loud, stylish, reminiscent of the riot grrrls of the '90s. And hanging around Mika Miko there was a girl, 18 or 19 years old, who was dating Roy, the interim drummer for Randall and Spunt in the transition between Wives and No Age.
The girl hanging around the noisemakers at the Smell was cute, and was noticed right away by Amanda and Britt Brown, a married couple of Eagle Rock psychedelic explorers in their mid-20s, who were in the process of starting one of the scene's main record labels, Not Not Fun. Amanda Brown had seen the girl with Mika Miko. "I was 24 and she was 19, I think. She was just a baby. Kind of punky and way cool-looking," she remembers. "Crazy hair, crazy tights, short skirts. I thought she was cute. I didn't know her name, but I think she knew mine."