Band of the Day

2012.02.26

Matt Costa

Wonderfully chilled-out acoustic gems from a Californian singer-songwriter
I've got a perfect picture stuck in my mind, oh I was falling crooked over the hands of time.
lyrics from The Season

Matthew Albert Costa (b. June 16, 1982) is a singer-songwriter from Huntington Beach, California. From an early age, Costa was interested in music, and received his first guitar at the age of 12. While he played in a band in high school, he dreamt of becoming a pro skateboarder. However, at the age of 18 he suffered a serious leg injury from a skateboarding accident. He began making four-track demos during his year-and-a-half-long rehabilitation period. Unlike the aggressive punk music featured in the skateboarding videos he grew up on, Costa's music draws on classic 60s folk and pop influences, and acoustic guitar arrangements. One of his demos landed in the hands of No Doubt's guitarist Tom Dumont, who was also involved in the Southern Californian art/music scene. Dumont signed on as producer to Costa's two independently released EP's. Catching the attention of singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, Costa was quickly signed to his label, Brushfire Records. His first album, Songs We Sing, was released in 2006. This was followed by Unfamiliar Faces in 2008, and Mobile Chateau in 2010.

When you're a kid, you dream about what you're going to be when you grow up. You could be an astronaut, a princess, or even a professional candy taste tester. For singer-songwriter Matt Costa, his dream was to be a pro skateboarder. Though he's had a guitar since the age of 12, skateboarding was a huge part of his life. However, at 18 he suffered a serious leg injury from a skateboarding accident. During his year-and-a-half-long rehabilitation period, he turned to music and began making four-track demos. Costa's music, drawing on classic 60s folk and pop influences, quickly caught the attention of singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, who signed Costa to his label Brushfire Records. We recently spoke with Costa to find out how watching skate videos played a big role in getting him into music, what drives him as a performer, and which Dolly Parton lyric he wishes he could take credit for.

Band of the Day: Question: Who's been most influential in your life as an artist?

Matt Costa: It depends on day! But to sum it all up, my uncle was pretty influential by introducing me to some older music. My folks, too.

Band of the Day: Who has better taste in music, between your mom and your dad?

Matt: Oh wow! Well, I think my mom only really likes one band, that band Bread [laughs]. I think my uncle, a different uncle, gave her that CD awhile back and I think it's the only CD she has in her car. My dad, I'd say he knows a little bit more about music. He has some cool jazz stories and things. He also knows about [bands like] The Flying Burrito Brothers and all that stuff.

Band of the Day: Could you tell me a little bit about how watching skateboard videos got you interested in music?

Matt: When I first started watching [skate videos], they could use anything really. Before they got really big, they could use anything, any song, and no one would care because they weren't paying attention. I remember hearing that Van Morrison song, “Caravan,” The Moody Blues, and a lot of old soul stuff. There was a lot of hip hop, too, which samples a lot of old funk and soul so you'd hear things like Curtis Mayfield. But it was cool because a lot of times I wouldn't know who I was hearing, I just knew who I was watching. Then I'd be somewhere and hear a song and be like, “Oh that's the one from that girl skate video!” Then I'd get pumped up and end up researching it. The first time I heard Donovan was in a skate video, it was a song called “Get Thy Bearings.”

Band of the Day: That's a very appropriate song for a skate video!

Matt: Ha, yeah! So a lot of stuff like that. Also at that time it seemed like everyone who had a skateboard also had a guitar, so I learned chords from them.

Band of the Day: What's your main source of music discovery today?

Matt: Probably word of mouth, or the internet. You research an artist and find their influences, or go to a record shop and you're down this whole path, it's a cyclical chain of events. I'd be interested to see how the world of music changes in the next 50 years, with how people can learn anything at their fingertips [using the internet]. Who knows?

Band of the Day: Do the meanings of your own songs change for you as the years go on?

Matt: Yeah they do, just 'cause I think as humans we change. Sometimes they change 'cause you're far detached, but ultimately the goal is getting back to that spot, remembering a certain time, that original source of inspiration. Whenever I'm playing a song, I always try to go back to that mental spot.

Band of the Day: When and how did you finally feel comfortable as a performer, as opposed to just a recording musician?

Matt: Shoot, that kinda goes back and forth. I have to spend a lot of time writing and recording and learning new things, to try to develop new takes on songwriting. When I write songs, I set myself up to try something new in a live setting. There has to be that vulnerability, that's what makes it interesting, I think, to keep doing it. Seeing someone step out of their comfort zone, and you're there alongside them, you realize you're in that moment together. That's what makes a performance cool. If it became routine and easy, there wouldn't be anything new and exciting to watch. You walk out on a bit of a tightrope, and who knows how long it ends up being and if you make it to the other end?

Band of the Day: And you never really know how the audience is going to react before you go onstage, do you?

Matt: You know, I kind of think of it like a painting or artwork. Everyone kind of looks at it differently, and that's the goal. You never really know what the paint's going to do when it hits the canvas. You could practice all your life and get really good at it, but you still gotta do trial and error.

Band of the Day: What's your favorite lyric that you wrote, and which lyric do you wish you could take credit for?

Matt: Oh man, I don't even know! I don't think I write any of them, they just pass through at different times, a lot of things I see, people doing different things. I'd like to take credit for that Dolly Parton song, “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” and all the lyrics for that song. But it's a little too late now!

Band of the Day: For someone who's never heard your music, what would be the best way for them to hear your music for the first time?

Matt: Wow, let's see [laughs]...maybe, sorry I keep thinking of crazy stuff! Ok, think of like a real terrible moment in your life, something that should never happen, and then you realize that it isn't going to happen, and you get saved from it. Then the moment that you realize, “Oh everything's ok!” that's when one of my songs comes on! Then you'll always remember, every time you listen to that song, that close encounter with death and how excited you were to live.

Band of the Day: What's the smartest decision you've made with music, and the dumbest?

Matt: All the decisions I've made in music have just kind of been mistakes [laughs] and I've learned to value those a lot. You know, you hit a wrong chord and then the next thing you know you're writing a song with the right chord. My decision was to, everyday, make mistakes. If you make the right decisions all the time, I dunno, you're either not making enough mistakes or you're making too many...I'll leave that up in the air, for the readers to decide!

Band of the Day: Who is your Band of the Day today?

Matt: Well I just spent the morning reading some, and came across this guy called Mose Allison. Apparently Nick Drake was a fan of him. He's like a blues/jazz guy from the 50s, so I'm going to to listen to him later!

Band of the Day: Any final parting words?

Matt: What will it be, folks, what will it be? That's it [laughs]!