Guards, Lovely Bad Things
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
California Nights is a brighter, more sparkly, more sophisticated, more psychedelic Best Coast album across the board, embodying the rich lightness and stinging darkness of a California state of mind. The love stories Bethany spins on California Nights all detail the highs and the lows of relationships, similar to the juxtaposition of a the band’s native Los Angeles – a place tinted by candy-colored palm trees and pale blue skies while existing within the loneliness and desperation of waterless place. More than that, there is a literal meaning to the record’s title – Cosentino is a well-documented insomniac whose creativity spirals out in the early hours of the morning, allowing her to write, undisturbed, the finest album Best Coast has made to date.
BETHANY COSENTINO on CALIFORNIA NIGHTS:
If you have ever lived in California, you know what nighttime here feels like. You know what the sky looks like when those epic sunsets begin, and you understand that feeling and the way things change when the sun finally sets. In LA, or maybe just personally to me, when the sun sets – I feel like there is a large sense of calmness in the air, and I feel like everything that happened to me prior in the day, whether crappy experiences or good ones, at night, it all goes away and I sink deep into this different kind of “world.”
When we decided to name the record California Nights, it just felt right because there is not only a song on the album – one of the biggest, most different songs we’ve written – with the same name, but because I do so much of my thinking and creative work at night. It also ties in with the idea that, as natives of LA, Bobb and I know a lot of spots and places within and around the city that a lot of people don’t really know or care to know. There is a grittiness to Los Angeles that isn’t seen via “E! Live At The Red Carpet.” There is a darkness in this city that you don’t see unless you know where to look. I think that to an outsider, California, or more specifically Los Angeles, seems like it’s this amazing place with perfect weather and sunny skies with just the right amount of clouds and tall palm trees. And let’s face it, it kind of is – but there are also a lot of other things here — crime, homelessness, and some of the most spirit-crushing elements of the entertainment industry that outsiders never see. That’s a theme we very consciously decided to explore and play with when making this record. We related to the idea that things may LOOK or SOUND fun and upbeat, but they may not actually always BE that way – much like our songs.
Writing this album, for me, was a way of taking myself though a step by step journey of learning so much about myself and the world around me. By the end of it, I got to a place where I was able to come to terms with just how much I can control, and how much I can’t — with the dichotomy of fun vs. dark; happy vs. sad; crazy vs. sane; anxiety vs. calm; perfect vs. screwed up. I realized that I am, more often than not, the creator of my own anxiety and my own stress, and throughout this album, I talk to myself about that and challenge myself to cut the bullshit and just be okay with being okay.
I have definitely been the cause for a lot of my own problems in life, and this is something that I am 100% able to own up to and admit. I may not have been able to admit that 5 years ago, when I started this band at age 23, but I can see it now and I can address it, so I decided to try and build a record around that idea. I understand that no one and nothing will ever be perfect, but I also realize that THAT is okay and it’s just a part of life.
A lot of the writing for this record consisted of me getting to know myself again and remembering where Bethany ended and Best Coast began. I took a much needed step back and I was able to breathe deep for a moment and really focus on what I was doing. The end result of all of that, is California Nights. It’s about a journey, it’s about self acceptance, it’s about learning to let go, it’s about accepting the things you have no control over, it’s about dealing with life like an adult and at the end of the day reminding yourself that there really is no reason to be sad, and you have every right to feel okay.
After leading the Willowz for eight years, Richie Follin needed a break. Not from playing music, but from everything that goes along with running a band. He had started playing in his sister Madeline’s project Cults, and having less on his plate felt great at first. “Cults wasn’t really my band, I was just the guitar player and there to support my little sister and friends. So that was a great release, just to have time away from having to be focused on running everything.”
But after a while he couldn’t help himself. Follin and Loren Humphrey, who drummed in both Willowz and Cults, demoed some songs for possible inclusion on the next Cults record. He was “gonna wait and see if they want to use them first, but the process of them making an album was a year and a half. It was a long, long thing. So I was sitting on them and ended up singing on them.”
Happy with the results, Follin posted his collaborations with Madeline and Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek. “They both Tweeted about it after I put up the page, so it was all over the internet. It just started building, but I didn’t have a band. It was me who played everything on it, recorded it, produced it, and so we started getting offers to play shows and people were calling and labels and all that stuff just from the internet. So we got asked to play a show at CMJ. That was the first show I put a band together for.”
Direct and punchy but sprinkled with hints of folky British psychedelia and California sunshine, Follin knew the songs he and Humphrey made were different than anything he had done before. Their friend Kaylie Church joined in, and the trio got to work on making their first album as Guards. “I had never stopped recording music the entire time since that EP came out, so we had four albums worth of songs and it really just came down to picking the best songs and it happened to be the most current songs that we ended up with.”
Follin pulled from the shimmer and shine of ‘70’s power pop groups, the big guitar choruses of Grunge, some psych rock, the straight ahead drive of ‘60’s rock and soul, and a little bit of early ‘80’s New Wave while making In Guards We Trust, but he and mixer Shane Stoneback were intent on making certain the album sounded like more than the sum of its influences. “If you treat a song a certain way, no matter how modern the style of song, it could sound like it’s from 1968,” he says. “I want to have that feeling there, but I want it to sound modern and of its time. So if you go back 30 years you’ll know that’s from 2013.”
Making it sound of its time took some time. Follin spent months finding the right approach for In Guards We Trust, a process that saw him rethink all the tricks he had grown to rely on. “The way I was writing stuff kind of changed. I was writing less on the guitar and some of the songs were just built around a drum loop,” he says, “Some were written on the piano and I’m not really a piano player. And some of them were just built around the atmosphere of this guitar pedal effect, which I had never really done that way before.” Recording was then delayed when he accidentally broke his jaw, but things finally snapped in to place when he unintentionally wrote the album’s single “Ready To Go.”
“I was pretty much thinking the album was done. I started playing this song, just started messing around, doing random chord changes, sitting in my room, pretending I was playing this gigantic festival to a sea of people in the summer, and it just slowly kind of developed from that,” he says. “I started rewriting it and it guided the rest of the album, I think.
“The verse is just about when Kaylie and I first met. We were in San Francisco and those hills are super steep and we had my van full of people but everyone was afraid to pull my car out of the parking space, and Kaylie did it, so I kind of drew from that. The chorus was about being ‘up and ready to go’ in more ways than one which is something I think a lot of people can relate to.”
Lovely Bad Things
Brought together by time and fate—they’d all known each other since high school, but finally made a band together in 2009—and named by some kind of esoteric computer filename error too complex to further explain, Orange County’s The Lovely Bad Things are the hyperactive omnitalented and relentlessly hilarious garage-pop band who crowdfunded their way to an encore performance at the world-famous Primavera Sound festival and whose new album The Late Great Whatever was titled during a dream at the suggestion of their spirit guide, who happens to look strangely like Dinosaur Jr drummer Murph. Was that a lot to take in all at once? Then now you can sympathize with the cop who pulled them over on their way to the UFO museum in Roswell, New Mexico: “‘Who here has ADD?’” Brayden Ward remembers him asking. “And we all raised our hands.”
The Lovely Bad Things are Brayden and brother Camron Ward, Tim Hatch and Lauren Curtius, each a multi-instrumentalist and each devoted to a bottomless knowledge of ridiculous pop culture and comprehensive appreciation for the Pixies, though if you dismantled their songs and their record collections both you’d find Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse, the B-52s, the Wipers and of course Redd Kross, whose sense of humor and sense for a hook the Bad Things have inherited. They mostly come from the city of La Mirada, but their true home is the Lovely Bad Pad, a converted suburban garage—converted personally by the band members—that’s hosted truly legendary backyard punk shows, up to and including a surprise set by Peter, Bjorn and John, who know a good thing when they hear it.
It’s this combination of D.I.Y. spirit and off-the-wall luck that carried The Lovely Bad Things from that backyard to a cassette release on trendsetter label Burger Records that would be called one of the best L.A. punk releases of 2011 by the L.A. Weekly. And from there they ricocheted into a surprise slot at Primavera Sound festival, crowdfunding and benefit-showing just barely enough for airfare to get there and winning over their audience forever once they did. Now, after building a fan base show by show and person by frothing-at-the-mouth person—a guy once came all the way from Belgium to see them play one special song—The Lovely Bad Things have finished The Late Great Whatever for Volcom Entertainment.
The Late Great Whatever was started just after the release of the maxi-EP New Ghost/Old Waves, until now the Lovely Bad Things’ signature release. Although they’d released a full-length called Shark Week in 2010, the album that would become …Whatever was going to be something new, they explain: “Our first real full-length,” says Tim. At least half of Shark Week’s songs were written in … oh, about two minutes, calculates Lauren, because back then Lovely Bad Things were just discovering the knockout sugar high that came from just playing music with each other. But this would be different: “How do I say it and not sound like a super-cliché musician?” asks Camron. “More mature, I guess?”
So what’s that mean? Not one but two Star Wars references on the tracklist, Bigfoot on the cover, a shout-out to Macho Man Randy Savage and a relentless collection of the strongest songs The Lovely Bad Things have ever done. What, did you think “mature” meant? They were going to get all mopey and slow? (“Just say it’s ‘globular’ and ‘shapeshifting,’” suggests Camron.) Produced by Jon Gilbert in the studio built and run by Crystal Antlers’ frontman Jonny Bell, this is a record by a band who’ve developed a telepathic language of their own, with songs that stop and start and turn inside out in ways you just can’t play unless you know exactly what everyone else in the studio with you is thinking.
On The Late Great Whatever, Lovely Bad Things roll out just about anything you’d want about 15% faster than you’d expect. Do they do it all? They indeed do it all. They have stormers like “Kessel Run” and the stand-out “Randall the Savage,” which is all jittery post-punky guitar and gradually building insanity. Then they have sweetheart pop-punk like “Maybe I Know,” which is born for the best mixtapes of 2013. They have surf’s-up guitar (“Styx And Branches”) and wah-wah guitar (“Oozin It”) and oh-my-God-I’m-being-attacked-by-furious-bees guitar (“Kessel Run”). They have Frank Black-style spoken-word stammer (“Fried Eyes”) and cooled-out Kim Deal back-ups. And those heartbreaker harmonies that are part of what make The Lovely Bad Things so special? Pretty much everywhere, thanks to Lauren’s gift for melody, but why don’t you go right to “Rope Swing” if you need ‘em right away? And if this still seems like a lot to take in at once, don’t worry—down some (or too much) caffeine, roll down the windows and let The Late Great Whatever take the wheel. Just watch out for the cops on the way to the UFO museum. When they hear music like this, they pay way too much attention.