Matt Costa's Favorite Stage Is Still the Sidewalk

Categories: interview
matt costa.jpg
Nolan Hall
Matt Costa unleashing his inner Dylan

By Arrissia Owen

Huntington Beach-bred troubadour Matt Costa headed to the misty moors of Scotland to record his latest self-titled release, out Feb. 12 (yeah, that's today!). He intended to record a rootsy, melancholy album entrenched in Americana, but once the jet landed, things got a bit cuckoo.

Instead, producer extraordinaire Tony Doogan (Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai) helped transform Costa's folky sound into sing-along handclappers full of lush orchestration, gorgeous melodies and good times.

The song "Good Times," although not really about carefree frolicking, will fool you into fun. "Early November" is reminiscent of '60s French pop, and "Ophelia" is unabashedly Dylanesque, with plaintive, sublime harp blowing. "Shotgun" sounds like pure mirth.

Costa is keeping with his tradition of performing at indie record store Fingerprints on record-release day, bringing old favorites, as well as stripped-down versions of the new songs. He likes the face-to-face time with fans and looks forward to showing off what he calls his "more mystical" sound. The Weekly caught up with Costa for a bit of a blether.


Do you seek out the interaction with fans at intimate venues such as Fingerprints?

I try for that at any show. I like to get to know people who listen to the music. Sometimes it's interesting hearing their stories and putting a face to the people listening, and vice versa. We get to interact with one another outside of where the song takes the listener or myself.

I saw you at a Sea Shepherd fund-raiser in Riverside back in 2010. You played a set inside the museum, and then afterward, I saw you sitting on the corner, strumming for a few fans. Do you do that a lot?

I do that sometimes because people will come out after, and they're like, "Oh, I was hoping you would play this song." And so I'm like, "I've got my guitar; I'll play it."

I know how much songs mean to me when I hear them, and musicians I respect have done that for me. There is really nothing better than that. So yeah, I'll sit there and play some songs on the sidewalk. That's why I'm out there: to play songs. So I might as well do it until the lights go off.

Who has done that for you?

Well, Donovan Leitch [1960s Scottish singer famous for "Mellow Yellow"]. I did a show with him a couple of years ago at the El Rey. . . . It was a bit of a different scenario. We rehearsed the day before the show, and I sang "Sunshine Superman" with him. There were tons of people in the room.

Then, the day of the show, I went and hung out with him one-on-one. He played me a couple of songs, just me and him. It's one thing to hear something through a microphone and a PA. But to just hear it coming out of one of your heroes--it's pretty magical.

So for the new album, you traveled to Donovan's territory, Scotland, to work with Doogan. Did the songs' direction start to change before you went on that trip, or did you travel there looking for those big production arrangements with strings to go with what you were already dreaming up?

It's a bit of both. After the previous record, I wrote a number of songs, and some of them were intended to have full bands and more production. But then I spent a good year or so leading up to the recording of this record and getting more into finger-style guitar, learning more Mozart on guitar, learning how the phrasing works with the strings.

Also, [listening to singers] such as British troubadour-style musicians, including Davy Graham, Bert Jansch and John Martin--their stuff is really folky and mostly stripped-down. So I was imagining having some string production to those kinds of songs--rainy, sort of moody records.

I started talking to Tony, and he had a vision of doing them in a sort of Ennio Morricone production. He did a lot of the 1960s spaghetti westerns. It had a really cinematic, lush, big production with strings. He likes using a lot of landscapes and horizons in the mountain ranges as inspiration for the sounds.

Once, he suggested having the Belle and Sebastian people and other Glasgow musicians contribute, and especially once I got over there, I realized it would be a shame to not focus on songs that a year ago I loved and instead use songs I had written in the months leading up. So I decided to incorporate it all.

Matt Costa performs at Fingerprint Records, 420 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 433-4996; www.fingerprintsmusic.com. Tues., Feb. 12, 7 p.m. For more information about Matt Costa, visit www.mattcosta.com.

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