Best Coast's 'silent partner' speaks up

Bob Bruno, who writes the music behind singer Bethany Cosentino's lyrics, is just fine playing second banana

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If you go

What: Best Coast, in concert.

When: 7 p.m. Aug. 13.

Where: Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 S.E. 39th Ave., Portland.

Cost: $20 to $23 through Cascade Tickets, 800-514-3849.

Information: 503-233-7100.

Bobb Bruno is the other half of Best Coast. He may seem like a silent partner compared to singer Bethany Cosentino, who gets most of the attention.

Bruno's just fine with playing second banana in the public eye. But he's a not-so-secret weapon in Best Coast for those that know the inner workings of the band, which has become an indie rock sensation over the last two years.

That run started with the July 2010 release of the album "Crazy for You," a low-fi affair that placed Cosentino's personal lyrics and girl-group vocals over Bruno's music, which draws on surf rock, garage rock and soul.

Last year, Best Coast released the CD "The Only Place," and the band is back on tour this summer, doing a string of headlining shows.

"The Only Place" has a fuller sound than "Crazy for You" (which was produced by Lewis Pesacov). The step up in sound was by design, and a product of working with Jon Brion (whose production credits include CDs by Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple and Dido), Bruno said.

"Once we signed with Jon to do the record, we knew already what it was going to sound like," Bruno said. "I was a big fan of his and what he'd done. We knew we would get a bigger sound with everything. We didn't want to make the same record again. Bethany wanted to showcase her voice. We wanted it to sound as good as possible."

While the production changed, the way Best Coast writes and records remained the same.

Former child actress Cosentino had written songs from the time she was 17. Some of her early songs, made available on her MySpace page under the name Bethany Sharayah, gained considerable attention online and she even was courted by major labels. Feeling she wasn't ready for the major label world, Cosentino instead teamed up with Los Angeles guitarist and solo artist Bruno in 2009 and they began writing together.

Bruno described how that process works:

"Bethany will write in her bedroom and record kind of a demo," he said. "She'll email me something, usually her guitar and vocal. At my house, I'll figure out the rest of the parts. We don't play them together until we go into the studio. I play drums, bass and guitar in the studio.

"Once in awhile, I'll tweak something, but I try to have ideas pretty fully fleshed out before I start recording," Bruno said. "Bethany will give me some ideas, or Jon would suggest a tempo change. But mostly, it stayed the way I worked it up at home."

So it should come as no surprise that Bruno's influences dominate the Best Coast sound. What are they?

"The biggest influences are the Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac," he said. "But there's a lot of other '60s stuff: Motown, New Orleans R&B, like Allen Toussaint, and surf rock, the Ventures. All of that stuff influences what I do. But technically, I'm kind of limited in my abilities. That makes it what it is. I can't play like the Funk Brothers (the Motown studio band). But it's what I aim for."

Transferring the Best Coast sound from the studio to live performances changes things a bit for Bruno.

But he says a new touring lineup has made the live shows sound far different than when the band toured as a trio behind "Crazy for You."

"We have an extra person playing bass and some guitar," Bruno said, noting that Best Coast has been touring as a four-piece behind "The Only Place." "Last time, half the time I was playing the bass notes on guitar, then doing the lead. It's just better now. I can concentrate on the guitar completely. We have newer, better equipment than we had last time. So things sound really different. Hopefully it's noticeable to everybody."

Best Coast has become a popular festival band and played many of the big outdoor, multi-act events last summer. But Bruno said he'd rather be playing inside, at night in a club.

"Clubs are way better," he said. "At festivals, you're kind of rushed on stage and the audience is so far away. Sometimes, they're good, but clubs are the best. Everybody's right up front and it sounds so much better and the shows are longer. It's just way better."

Best Coast took some time off of the road last fall, and will have some breaks in touring this year. Bruno said that's to his liking as well.

When he's home, he's a gearhead, looking for amplifiers and guitars while working on songs with his home setup, which he enjoys as much as he likes touring and playing shows.

"I like doing both," he said. "If I do too much of one, then I miss the other thing. Right now, we have a good balance of spending time at home when we can do what we want and then getting to tour a lot, which we enjoy. Things are great that way right now."