Matt Costa’s Next Steps

October 29th, 2007: As seen on Archive (PDF)

Photo: Autumn de Wilde

Skate or die dude! A piece of Matt Costa literally had to perish in order for the folk popster we all know today to take shape. He was a few steps away from going pro until he shattered his leg and retreated to his Huntington Beach bedroom with a 4-track and an acoustic guitar.

Skating was a huge part of Costa’s life. He even admits it’s how he first got turned on to music, by cuing into the soundtracks of his favorite skate videos: “You had to take it upon yourself to do the research. Like see the names in the credits and then go to your record store and buy it. I remember waiting like two years to actually find something,” explains Matt.

You’d think these tracks he used to hunt down would be the token ska/punk thrashings so synonymous with the culture. But then you’d be ignoring the sub-cultures that didn’t hit the mainstream, like those that utilize classic Donovan tracks; jazzy, almost hip-hop breakbeats i.e. “Get Thy Bearings” off of 1968’s The Hurdy Gurdy Man. Call it a precursor to Lupe Fiasco’s aerial and varial metaphors for love.

Although Costa did tear through some abrasive Gorilla Biscuits’ covers with his first high school band, his records are a far shot from punk and on another map as dub. When his first demo made it to the hands of Jack Johnson, who signed him, it was the Pacific sunshine acoustics that won him over. And his 2005 debut, Songs We Sing, is riddled with Beach Boys and West coast jangle pop.

Sometimes this 25-year-old’s affinity for his idols, (like Donovan), bleeds a little too much into his work, but there’s no denying the fact that Costa is genuine. And his new album, Unfamiliar Faces, due out January 15th, again on Johnson’s Brushfire records, is a giant step for the singer/songwriter and his new way of seeing the world. For one, things aren’t so sunshiny anymore. He turns to a heavy-hearted, breathy blues cut called “Heart of Stone,” about “dealing with the repercussions of something when you know either way that it’s doomed to be devastating… a part of your innocence dies.” Or the title track, another bitter-sweet, twinkly keys and acoustic pulled from the “anxiety you get from the unknown when you put your trust into people and how that feeling leaves them vulnerable.”

And two, he’s grown, in that deep, bleeding heart way we all like to devour – vulnerable, jaded and anxious. But he’s “beyond that” he jokes, “ I wrote those songs and now they’re out of my system.”