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Music, Etc: Best Coast – A Fresh Face from L.A.

As we move well into the summer season, sometimes we look for personal ‘soundtracks’ to usher us through the more temperate months and welcome change in season—much like we do with summer reading.

As we move well into the summer season, sometimes we look for personal ‘soundtracks’ to usher us through the more temperate months and welcome change in season—much like we do with summer reading. While Best Coast’s California Nights came out last summer, it is indeed very relevant and fresh. Perhaps most interesting, it carries an undeniable ‘California sound’ that harkens to many generations of artists that have emerged from that region and culture in prior decades. Pro Sound News caught up with multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, half of Best Coast, who spoke about the recording of California Nights, while also revealing his longstanding addiction to guitar pedals.


Compared to our previous records, there were two main differences as to what went into recording California Nights. The first thing is that on previous records, we would usually come in with specific influences for each record. With California Nights, we really didn’t do that. We were much more open and wanted to treat every song as its own entity—each song could be influenced by any type of music, sound or idea that we had for that song. The second thing is that this was the first record on which we did preproduction with our producer. Bethany [Cosentino, vocals and guitar] and I had demoed everything on our own like we always do, but this time, we sat down and played all the songs together for a couple of days. We tightened arrangements, cut out some parts here and there, and shaped the songs a little differently—we had never done that before. On our previous records, we would have our demo version and just go in and record something that was very similar to what had been demoed.


We don’t really do a lot of sound experimentation as far as guitar and amp sounds go. I have used pretty much the same kind of amp on every Best Coast recording ever, which is this old brand from the late ’60s and early ’70s called Oliver Sound. I collect their amps—they are just really clean, good fidelity amplifiers. A lot of the different sounds come from pedals, so we don’t really need to experiment with a lot of different amps—both Bethany and I find a pretty good sound and that will be the base. We will try different guitars, and I will I bring a couple of suitcases of pedals to the studio. We like spending our time fleshing out our ideas, but the primary sounds tend to stay the same more or less once we get them up.


I think when I was around 18 years old, I started to get some disposable income. I was really obsessed with Bootsy Collins’ bass playing. I saw a picture of his pedals in some magazine, and he had all these pedals I had never seen—this was before there was the Internet. He had the Neutron Mutron III Envelope Filter, Electro Harmonix bass synths and all these other things. So a lightbulb went off: So that’s how he gets his sound. So I started to find local shops that had used gear, like Guitar Guitar in the Valley, and Black Market Music. After that, I was addicted. I was like, ‘What is cool that I can afford right now?’ All my life, my money would go into buying gear or buying records—it has been a lifelong obsession and I am always getting new pedals and trying new stuff. Sometimes I feel like I’m going overboard, but I realized after recording California Nights, I actually use all this stuff. All these pedals have specific uses and they really do end up on our records.


Wally totally gets what we are going for and the things that we reference. He has a lot of great insight into things and he has always been very supportive and encouraging on everything from vocals, to guitars and bass parts. He will often identify sections that need another part and then we will just put it down. It is really fun working with him and he is so easygoing.


Watching Beth do vocals is pretty incredible, because she is a really great singer and it takes her very few takes to get a main vocal and the harmonies. Those vocal parts aren’t in the demos, they are just kind of in her mind. She will just say ‘give me another track,’ and just start layering all these vocal parts. While she is recording them, we are all getting to hear them for the first time. Sometimes, Wally will ask her to sing another high part or something, but 99 percent is just Beth, and this is what she does. She has been singing since she was a little kid—she is classically trained, and is a total pro. I think on this album, she was singing into a Neumann microphone.


I know it almost seems like a stereotype, but it really is in our DNA. Beth and I were both born and raised here, and both our parents were really into the Beach Boys, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, whose sound really developed here in California. Those three groups are some of our absolute favorite bands. It is what we know and what we grew up on, even beyond these three bands. The punk bands that I listened to when I was a teenager were X and Black Flag, who are also L.A. bands. Even when I was getting away from pop music, I still tended to gravitate towards bands that were from out here, without even knowing or thinking about it.

Jacques Sonyieux is a devout explorer of recording studios and the artists that occasionally inhabit them. Please send any tips or feedback to Jacques at: [email protected].