Guards, Lovely Bad Things
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
The Only Place is Best Coast’s follow-up to their 2010’s acclaimed album Crazy For You, and it finds the proudly Southern Californian duo of Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno maturing in both their sound and perspective. While Crazy For You was a nostalgic tribute to teenage feelings, The Only Place finds front woman Cosentino starting a transition into adulthood. “I’m trying really hard to grow up,” she says. “I’m trying to let go of my bad habits and the immature things I still drag around with me.”
Of course this adjusting comes with uncertainty and self-doubt, two feelings at the emotional center of the album. The Only Place also celebrates Los Angeles, the one place where Cosentino believes she can be the woman she wants to be. Taken all together, it evocatively captures a turbulent era in one person’s life. “This record was therapeutic for me to write,” Cosentino says. “But a lot of the issues I was facing will be relatable to anybody.”
As with all of Best Coast’s previous recordings, on The Only Place Cosentino handles all songwriting, lyrics, vocals and rhythm guitar, while multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno plays lead guitar, bass and drums. What’s new this time is their decision to work with producer and composer Jon Brion. A revered figure in the music world, Brion has collaborated with artists including Fiona Apple and Kanye West and created the scores for such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Punch-Drunk Love. Recorded at Capitol Records’ famed Studio B, The Only Place features a cleaner and richer sound than other Best Coast releases. Many of the songs’ arrangements are detailed with subtle percussion and unexpected instrumentation. Intricate but never overworked, the biggest change from previous releases is how it showcases Cosentino’s voice, this time letting it ring clear, unhidden by distortion and reverb.
The Only Place is full of heartbreakers and kiss-offs. But the true heart of The Only Place, and everything that Best Coast does, is the collaboration between Cosentino and Bruno. For this album the pair continued to work with the system they developed during the band’s unassuming beginnings: Cosentino creates a rough demo of each song on her own with vocals and a basic guitar part, then sends it to Bruno who fleshes out the instrumentation and structure. The only time they work on the song together is when they are in the studio. Bruno is a music veteran and has recorded, producer and engineered with a wide variety of artists. “Best Coast is the easiest thing I’ve ever done musically,” he says. “We don’t really argue. I told Beth from day one, ‘If you ever don’t like something I’m doing or you want to change something, just tell me. I know it’s not personal. My feeling aren’t going to get hurt.’ Having established that before we even played a single note together, we’ve always had clear communication.” Cosentino adds, “This record would not have been anywhere near what it is without Bobb Bruno. I owe so much to him. I am so thankful have him in my life and having him turn these things I write in my bedroom into epic songs.”
Since the album’s release, Best Coast has toured concert halls and festival stages around the world, appeared on David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien and the cover of Spin Magazine, featured in a Microsoft television commercial and in campaigns for Bushmills, Clarks and Rdio, created a fashion line for Urban Outfitters, dueted with Iggy Pop and Kendrick Lamar, had music featured on Girls and The New Girl, and will be opening the entire Green Day arena tour in 2013.
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.
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