Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pocahaunted: An Interview with Bethany Cosentino

Bethany Cosentino is one half of Los Angeles duo Pocahaunted (with Amanda Brown), known for their long, spooky, and almost meditative drone compositions. Their music is both calming and foreboding, often simultaneously, and can feel like being lullabyed into a nightmare-filled sleep. Amid war drums, lulling guitar, and howling voices, Pococaunted always seem to be beating, guiding, and gathering towards some sonic place, a place where we'll probably never arrive. But if we can't know where Pocahaunted are going, we can at least find out where they come from.

Alexander Frank: Can you tell me a little bit about your progression from more standard songwriting to the drone and noise of Pocahaunted? I know that before Pocahaunted, not so long ago, you wrote songs with lyrics and bridges and choruses and all that. So how and when did you make the transition something more discordant?

I was really kind of bored with traditional songwriting, and when Amanda approached me and asked me to start a band with her, we had no real concept in mind of what the music would sound like. Coming from a strong musical background, I figured I would go in there and attempt to construct something, but when the two of us came together, the Pocahaunted sound just happened. And we never questioned it or tried to throw a label on it, we just played the music that came to us, and came out of us. It was only later that people started to call us a "drone" band.

AF: Does genre mean anything to Pocahaunted? What would you label yourselves if you had to?

Well, like I said before, I think we play the music we play because it's just what kind of comes out. Amanda and I have completely different tastes in music, and neither one of us really even listens to “drone” bands, so I wouldn't necessarily say it's important to us to be categorized as a drone band. We make the music we make because it is somehow inspired by our varying tastes, and it just so happens that the mash-up of all these cross genres creates this droney, blissed-out music.

AF: Can you talk a little bit about those influences? The drone and noise influences are obvious, but I also hear the 20th century diva. Your voice is Buffy-Saint Marie, Elizabeth Fraser, and Mariah Carey rolled into one! Can you talk about some divas that inspire Pocahaunted? I hear Patsy Cline, too. Am I crazy?

Well obviously, I am all about the Diva. Amanda and I kind of joke around that we are both divas, but honestly, it's not a joke. We are loud, and demanding, and we require a lot of attention. But we are also really, really inspired by a lot of female musicians, and I think it's pretty clear in our music. I think there is a real feminine quality to the songs, and I think even without the layers of female vocals, the music itself portrays a very feminine vibe. I am really inspired by Elizabeth Fraser, which I think is pretty obvious. I also love, love, love Patsy Cline, so the comparison is amazing. I'm inspired by a lot of female soul singers from the 60s and 70s like Irma Thomas, Doris Duke, and, of course, Aretha Franklin. We're both also really into Nina Simone, and other women of jazz.

AF: Just knowing you as a friend, your personality seems so divergent from the sounds on your records. You're so talkative and verbal and present in person, but on record you sound sort of distant, far away, nonverbal, in a sense. Do you become someone different when you're recording and performing?

I don't think I act any different when recording or performing. Amanda has a hard time getting me to act “seriously” on stage. I think she takes it more seriously than I do from a performance standpoint. I mean, don't get me wrong, I am into it—but for me it's harder, because I'm the one playing the guitar, and carrying the song, so I get a little nervous and I try to concentrate a lot. We recently started playing with a more basic band, so it's easier for me now to ease up and put the guitar down at some point. And when I do that, I feel like I have more room to get into the performance.

AF: What's the process of writing and creating a Pocahaunted song or album? How much do you have planned out and how much just happens during the recording process?

Basically what happens is Amanda and I will brainstorm ideas, meaning, we will say “we want this album to sound like...”, and then we throw out some insane jargon like "Talking Heads meets Cocteau Twins thrown into a blender after smoking a lot of weed”. We basically don't write songs. I come up with a pretty simple guitar riff, and then we add on top of that. Most of our albums have concepts behind them though, and we go into them hoping that we will come across a certain way for a particular album. We have really tried to grow and change with each release, and I think our personal influences show through a lot more in the later albums than in any of the earlier stuff we released.

AF: One last question. What's the best time of day to listen to a Pocahaunted album? Morning? Afternoon? Night, after a long day of work? Right before you go to bed?

At night, I guess...Yeah, at night. When it's most spooky out. And kinda foggy. And close to some mountains, or maybe the ocean. Yeah: listen to us at night in nature.

Interview by Alex Geoffrey Frank

Photo: Clare Kelly

Cool Tunes:

Pocahaunted, Island Diamonds, Not Not Fun, 2008
Pocahaunted, Chains, Teardrops, 2008
Pocahaunted/Robedoor, Hunted Gathering, Digitalis Industries, 2007
Pocahaunted, Mirror Mics, Weird Forest, 2008.

Continuing Education:
Pocahaunted on Not Not Fun website

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