If you had asked Bethany Cosentino -- best known for the last decade and a half as the front woman of acclaimed band Best Coast -- a few years ago if she was going to make a solo album, the answer would have been a quick "no." But then -- everything changed. Literally -- everything.
The list is long and we all know it: a global pandemic; climate change ravaging the world; a diseased patriarchy stomping daily on democracy and basic human rights; countless national tragedies; a never-ending, pervasive sense of doom. It's against this backdrop that Cosentino was forced to take stock of it all and jump off the merry-go-round of countless album cycles and tours to say "what the fuck am I doing with my life?"
"I don't think I ever really had the opportunity to look at my life under such a magnifying glass, because I was always preoccupied in some capacity," she explains. "It allowed me an opportunity to really ask myself -- 'what do you want?' What happens if you stop living your life for other people, and you finally subscribe to the idea that you don't owe anyone anything, but you owe yourself everything?"
"In some sense, I grew up in the spotlight, and it can be really hard to figure out who you are when you're surrounded by people telling you who you are," she continues. "Who you are at 22 is not who you're meant to be for the rest of your life -- and I think entering into the world of public consumption at that age left me feeling perpetually 22. I felt like no matter how hard I tried to evolve, everyone kept bringing me back to where I was when I started. Then I looked at myself long and hard in the mirror, and I realized that I too had been bringing myself back to that place. I kept proclaiming to the world 'I've changed, I've evolved!'' but I hadn't gotten to the place I really wanted to be yet. And you can't force yourself to change or be a certain way, but it became really clear to me that I needed to push myself into a completely different direction. Because the road I was on was just ultimately taking me back to square one."
Fairy tales and Jungian psychology loosely call this "the hero's quest" -- and it all begins the moment that the main character realizes they have to set out on a journey or expedition that will challenge them in a number of ways, ultimately pushing them to return as a transformed, evolved, different person. For Cosentino, this moment happened when she finally decided to make a solo album. But, like everything in life, that doesn't mean it was easy.
"Once I had this revelation -- I was terrified," she confesses. "All I've really known for the last decade plus of my life is being 'Bethany from Best Coast,' I was so overly-identified as that that I didn't even realize I could be anything else. It felt like I had to ask permission to walk away from this thing I'd been doing, but the only person I needed permission from was myself. And I kept trying to talk myself out of it, but, deep down, I just knew that if I didn't walk away and start something new, I wasn't going to be able to keep going. I kept ruminating over and over again about what everyone would think about this decision, but something deep inside of me kept telling me, keep going, keep walking."
"Best Coast was born out of me walking away from something too -- I dropped out of college, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that was a scary choice to make, but I did it because I knew it was a risk worth taking. And I had to honor myself in that same way this time around," she continues.
And so: Natural Disaster -- the solo album whose title honored the state of the world, and, at times, Cosentino's internal process -- was born. In a departure from the understated indie-pop she's long delivered as frontwoman for Best Coast, Cosentino matches her lyrical reflections with a radiant form of pop-rock inspired by many of her most essential influences (powerhouse singer/songwriter/guitarists like Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow, '90s country icons, the female-led acts on the lineup to Lilith Fair). Intensely intimate yet rooted in universal truth, Natural Disaster ultimately reveals Cosentino as an artist with a rare capacity to transform the way we navigate the fast-changing world around us.
Produced by pop-rock virtuoso Butch Walker, and mainly recorded during a series of trips to Walker's Nashville studio, Natural Disaster sees Cosentino truly putting her voice front and center -- literally and metaphorically -- for the first time ever. It's an album of gritty luminosity, one that expands Cosentino's relatable point of view and showcases her growth as a songwriter and lyricist. "For so many years I used music as a form of survival -- I wasn't in therapy, so I'd sit on the floor and the songs would just pour out of me," she says. "With this record I put much more thought into the kind of stories I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to tell them."
Natural Disaster takes its title from its opening track, an effervescent piece of folk-pop. "That song came from wanting to talk about what it felt like to experience life in those chaotic, crazy days early in the pandemic," she says. "It's flirting with the idea of, 'If the world is ending, what does anything even matter?' But at the same time it's saying, 'I don't want it to be over. I don't want to give in and walk away from everything I care about.'" Threaded with the colorfully off-kilter character sketches Cosentino dashed off while people-watching at a nearby cemetery during lockdown, "Natural Disaster" also makes for a powerful introduction to her newly emboldened work.
Elsewhere on Natural Disaster, Cosentino imbues that vulnerability into tracks like the gloriously urgent "Outta Time." On "For A Moment" -- a sublimely wistful track graced with lush mandolin tones and lovely pedal-steel work -- was born after she'd learned of the sudden death of an acquaintance's fiancé, a turn of events that led her to reflect on the fragility of life and the utter importance of leaning into love. One of the album's most playful moments, "Calling On Angels" arrives as a '90s-country-inspired bop sparked from a Zoom meditation session on archangels. And on "I've Got News For You," Natural Disaster closes out on a gorgeously raw piano ballad recorded with producer/songwriter Davis Naish. "It's about the risk you take when you fully open yourself up to love, and how it can feel so much safer to leave at least one wall up," says Cosentino. "The second I wrote this song, I knew it needed to be the final track on the album; it's so incredibly personal. When Butch suggested we use the demo and not change a thing, I tried to fight him on it, but quickly realized the whole message of that song is about putting yourself out there in a deeply vulnerable way -- so why not include a raw, intimate version of it to really drive that home?"
As she gets set to share Natural Disaster with the world, Cosentino hopes that the album might help others find their own way toward transformation and renewal. "When I look at all the artists I find most influential, the common thread is that they take risks and continue exploring different versions of themselves," she says. "My goal is to keep growing and challenging myself and living outside any kind of box, to keep on evolving as an artist and a person. And if anyone's feeling stagnant, I hope this record inspires them to see what else life has to offer. It's really scary to take those risks and make big changes in your life, but what you find on the other side can be so magical."