Tuesday, December 14, 2010
An Interview with Matt Costa on “The Paul Leslie Hour”
Recorded November 12, 2010 at the Loft at Center Stage in Atlanta, Georgia.
Like a troubadour in the days of old, Matt Costa wandered through the back of the Atlanta music venue called the Loft. He strummed his guitar and wailed on his harmonica while the musicians in his band played. They formed a straight line like a small marching band. Costa told me he wanted his listeners to feel a “sense of relation.” The crowd was already there and primed; ready to hear these “Songs We Sing,” the title Costa gave his first album. As the band pushed through the excited crowd, some sang along while most clapped. In keeping true to his goal, Matt Costa’s concert was as relatable as his music and the man himself. He started the concert from the audience as a reminder that they were as much a part of the show as he was.
I invite you to read the conversation we had backstage prior to Matt Costa’s show.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great pleasure to welcome our special guest Matt Costa here at the Loft at Center Stage. So first of all, thanks for making the time to do this.
Yes, thanks for having me on the show.
Who is Matt Costa?
Well, I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure that out my whole life. I guess that’s the challenge, but today—songwriter. Going to be doing some songs here in Atlanta, for the time being. Let’s see—28 years old and enjoying it.
You’ve got a new album out on Brushfire Records. It’s entitled “Mobile Chateau.” So for everyone that’s wondering—what exactly does “Mobile Chateau” mean?
Well, quite literally my wife had made a mobile—in the chateau we were staying at in France. From there the idea changed into a movable feast sort of thing—all of the people who were involved with making the record, playing on it and the artwork and stuff like that. So it’s my own movable feast.
Do you have a favorite song from the album?
Everyday is different, because you feel different ways everyday. I really liked the way “Drive” turned out. I like that song because it’s collaboration in a sense that I took the initiative to make. There’s a singer from the sixties named Bob Lynn who wrote a song called “Go Ask Your Man.” My uncle had turned me onto him. So anyways, it’s half of his lyrics, half of my lyrics. Then I rewrote all the music to it. So I essentially co-wrote and rewrote an old song that was half my idea and half the original idea. I like that one for that reason because I’ve never done that before. I never thought I could sing those songs, put it on a record and believe it. For some reason I felt a great parallel with him in that song. I never felt like another song like that was my own, until now. That was interesting, something new that I did on this record.
Matt, tell us about some of your influences.
John Steinbeck. The guys in my band, they’re influences. I think you put yourself around people that push you. Donavon, Airport Convention. A lot of sixties, British. I learned to play folk music because of their interpretations of it, and then finally I went back to American roots. But now I’m kind of going back. I always go back to those British, late sixties records for inspiration, at least on this record I did.
I wanted to ask you about one of the songs from the last album “Unfamiliar Faces,” the song is “Mr. Pitiful.” I really like that one, if you don’t mind going back and talking about one from the last record.
Sure, yeah. Well, I wrote that song. I bought a piano from a piano shop in Sacramento and I had just moved into a place up there that I was renting. I bought the piano. It was a nice piano shop, they had thousands of dollars of pianos—ya know, like hundred thousand dollar pianos, fifty thousand dollars, nice Steinways, nice ones. I found this one in the corner. I didn’t want to spend. I didn’t have enough money to buy a real nice piano, but I saw one in the corner. I asked the guy how much it was. “This one?” He was trying to get rid of it. The finish was all messed up on it, the keys were all jagged, wood was coming through on the black keys and he said “I’ll give it to you for 250 bucks.” “250 bucks?” “Yeah, you just got to get somebody to take it home.” I had a friend pull the truck up. I gave him 250 bucks and took that piano home. I started working on playing more piano. I always like working on piano, I think it’s a helpful tool when you can’t go any further on a guitar you can take a melody to the piano, chords and stuff like that and it can grow. You can’t get the full low end on the guitar, for the bass notes so you can’t hear how things play together. So I wrote “Mr. Pitiful” one day on that piano. That’s the first song I ever wrote on that piano. The feeling of how someone’s own character or something can make you feel like you did something personally that offended them. I guess on both ends, it just sounds almost ironic the way that the lyrics play with the upbeat thing. I like using subjects that juxtapose the music because I’m always drawn to upbeat melodies and upbeat sounds.
Is there a part of music that you’d say you like better than the other? You write songs. You record music and you perform. You’re in different modes when you’re doing each one, but they all interplay. Sometimes you try to emulate sounds from a live show on a recording or sometimes you do the opposite. Sometimes you try to emulate sounds from a recording on a live show. Sometimes you’re working on, you’re playing a song and you write a little riff to a song and you’re doing it during sound check or something like that and sometimes you’re during the middle of a show and you try something out, a song and you never thought of it that way just because in the moment it makes you think about it differently so you push yourself to play it. You discover something about it. I think they’re all intertwined, but I’d say I really like the writing process and the satisfaction of creating something new and writing a song. I like the creation aspect of it. That’s my favorite part, so writing a song and having that feeling afterwards that you released this feeling and now it has an identity. Older songs too, recreating those and making those evolve with your own musical abilities. As you play, you’re going to learn more. Recently on this record, I’ve wanted to do subtle changes in the songs—going to radio stations and things, when we do performances in the studios at NPR and stuff like that, incorporating things that weren’t on the original recording or on the record so those are documented at the time. You don’t want to go back and rerecord a whole record, but it’s cool to capture that moment again with an evolution. That’s something that only in the last month or so, on this tour, have really enjoyed the idea of trying to do.
When somebody goes and they hear you perform or when they listen to one of your records, what is it you want the listener to get out of that experience?
Wow. When someone listens to the music I think, a sense of relation. A lot of times there’s live lessons in music. You hear something and you go “Man I never knew that.” That that happened to someone else in their life or in the same way or how to deal with something. Or just a little bit of an escape from the monotony of something. That’s why you put on your headphones and could be anywhere and you could be someplace else. So I think I take the listener and try to create as much of an out of body experience as possible.
Now the latest album is “Mobile Chateau” and everyone can check out mattcosta.com. They can also check out brushfirerecords.com. Speaking of Brushfire, how did you find your way on the Brushfire Record label? I remember in 2005 you were performing with ALO. How did that happen?
Well, I put out the first record “Songs We Sing” with my friend Tom. We did it independently. Emmett Malloy and Jack Johnson heard that, they are the two main folks behind Brushfire Records. They asked me to come out on tour. In the middle of that tour, we’d been getting along so well they asked me if they wanted me to put my music out on their record label. So that’s how it came about. I said yeah, because I liked a lot of the ideas. I put so much time in the music. It’s nice when the music becomes a community and also gives back to good causes. The people’s motives are true and pure.
Is there anything you’d like to say before we leave?
Keep on keepin’ on. Make sure you enjoy things. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that. I have to remind myself all the time. In any circumstance it’s easy to take things for granted—the people around you and everything. Don’t take anything for granted because there’s always someone in a worse position. When you see someone in that position, you gotta help ‘em out.
Mr. Costa, thanks for the interview.
Yeah, my pleasure.
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