Matt Costa's Latest Explores the '60s and '70s with Members of Belle & Sebastian"/>
Though he was discovered by No Doubt's guitarist and signed to Jack Johnson's record label, SoCal singer-songwriter Matt Costa sounds far less beachy than the former's ska-punk roots or the latter's breezy folk, especially on his self-titled fourth album. To change things up, the 30-year-old jetted off to Glasgow, Scotland to record with producer Tony Doogan and members of seminal indie pop group Belle & Sebastian. The resulting album is unlike anything he's recorded previously, a lush exploration of psychedelic '60s pop and '70s Laurel Canyon rock that will bring Costa to The Crocodile on March 27th. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, we chatted with Costa about the record, traveling to Scotland to make it and the perils of busking.
What inspired you to want to make the record in Scotland with members of Belle and Sebastian? In terms of process anyway, it seems a pretty stark contrast to your last album which you recorded and produced yourself. In the back of my brain, I always wanted to record in Scotland or somewhere over there. I like the idea of melodies that we are ingrained with culturally and the history of things that are innately in us. And also the interplay between folk music and rock music and how it has been transferred back and forth over the pond throughout decades, most recently with rock & roll. British music always appealed to me. Probably because I wasn't there, I romanticize it a little more. Like The Beach Boys, I knew what they were singing about.
Is there an era or genre you're particularly fond of? I would say anything from Shirley Collins to Bert Jansch and that kind of folk scene. And more contemporary rock people, like all the stuff you hear growing up: The Kinks and The Stones and The Who. Once I started seeing the interplay throughout different generations, the idea of that became really fascinating to me. Most recently, I learned a song by the Louvin Brothers, who had a song that was taught to them by their mother, which was an English ballad, an old one, called "Mary of the Wild Moor," and that in itself speaks of what I mean - songs just make their way to different places and they morph when they get there and musical sensibility changes how the song is sung.
Why the choice to self-title this record? That often signals an artist's re-birth or a change in direction. Did you see this record as being that? I felt really passionately about the title of the last record that I had done, Mobile Chateau. That one made sense to me and I felt that it was a lot to live up to because the title of that record I really lived. When it came time to doing this record, I searched through all the lyrics and even came up with puns in my head but none of it seemed to tell the story well enough. I just decided I was going to self-title it and leave it at that. It was more of a lack of a title than anything.
While writing the record you spent a lot of time practicing different fingerpicking techniques as well as classical arrangements. Is it important for you to continue your musical education? What does that offer you as a songwriter? Leading up to this record, a lot of my guitar playing was inspired by stringed instruments, so I learned a lot of flatpicking, like fiddle double stops. Also, string compositions for the chordal phrasings that lend themselves to guitar. On piano you can find them easily but on guitar it's a little harder so I just spent time learning a lot of those things.
Are you writing on the guitar mostly? I write on the piano and the guitar but I tried to play the guitar less like a guitar and more like what a violin part would do or something.
That seems counterintuitive to how most pop songs would be written. I can't start writing a song until the sound is there and the music brings an image. If it's me just banging out the chord and strumming through it, sometimes that works, but I find that if I'm learning a bunch of Mozart songs, all of the sudden I'm putting myself in that vein enough that I can pick up the guitar the next time and it will already be coming from that world. Being a songwriter, the verse-chorus thing is already there. I already know how that works.
Can you tell me a bit about the cover's collage and how it came to be? This guy Jacob [Escobedo] heard the record and that's what he came up with. I can't tell you what it means exactly but it's kind of like my head's exploding with these different colors.
I know you sometimes take your guitar out after shows and play for fans who might not have gotten to hear a favorite song. Have you ever busked? I have. I did it in Santa Ana, [California] where I live, and in San Diego, San Francisco. You find a good doorway to stand in and you get yourself some amplification.
How much did you make on your best day? $25 maybe. You have to manage, not only your playing, but your stash as well. You can't leave too much out there because then it looks like you've got too much but you don't want to leave too little either. Money management is not my strong point.
Do you remember the first time you played Seattle? Yeah, I drove up the coast and I did a show opening up for one of the bands Stone Gossard was in, at the Crocodile Café. I love Seattle.