Matt Costa

Tuesday, 06 February 2007

Lately it seems as if everyone is in the business of mixing genres, trying to create something unheard of. This can be interesting, but sometimes it’s nice to stick to some roots. With the current folk revival, some artists are choosing to shy away from an over-produced sound to return to the basics. The result is simple, sweet music that is best enjoyed live. To be honest, it’s refreshing to once again see a show where there isn’t a single laptop on stage.

Matt Costa is the folk musician who’s been capturing hearts over the past few years with his distinctly tangible melodies. His latest show was at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, closing a fifteen-date tour with G. Love. He opened the performance and immediately set off the vibe that his music wasn’t an act. He was just playing his tunes for all who were willing to listen. Costa has a wonderfully modest presence on stage: he seemed almost embarrassed by the fan’s cheers. This embarrassment wasn’t from nervousness or vulnerability, but rather from a vague discomfort with the yelled approval and shouted love confessions of female fans. It’s as though he’s unsure of how to respond to endless approval from an ever-growing fan base.

Facing a packed house, Costa played most of the set with a full band, but on several songs limited himself to a select few members. This was a wise choice, as it kept some of the music from being overwhelmed by instrumentals. Fans sang along with many of the more popular songs and enjoyed the band’s naturally friendly jam carried throughout the performance.

When the show ended I was escorted to the dressing room, thanks to some unexpected luck, and joined a crowd of Costa’s friends and band members. I was somewhat uneasy because I didn’t have a prepared list of interview questions, but Costa is a personable man, especially when more than slightly intoxicated. We made down-to-earth conversation, and as the dialogue inevitably drifted towards music he opened up about the forces that led him to his style. He was particularly devoted to music that he considered to have strong roots, citing folk influences such as Carter Family, Donovan, Fairport Convention, and of course, Bob Dylan. He said he was drawn to folk music because it was genuine, and as the artist matured, the same song could represent completely different themes at different stages in the artist’s life. He continued by describing folk music as anything but static; each performance carrying with it a slight variation as the artist inadvertently adds his own mood and new experiences. We agreed on the limitations of being able to capture the essence of folk music on an album. After all, when you are able to limitlessly re-record a song to perfection, while trying to convey human fallibility, you cannot prevent the loss of some authenticity.

The evening was winding down as it approached 2am, and as Matt and I made final comments on his music, I brought up the song he chose to end the evening with, “TV Gods.” It’s very different from his other pieces, with a deeply resonant quality that Costa described as “tribal.” We discussed this shift in style and the need for musicians to alter their approach as they mature as artists. He quoted Bob Dylan, “If you’re not in a constant state of evolution, you’re nothing.” So while Matt Costa chooses to continue with this sound, he doesn’t seem afraid to test the boundaries of his roots in the future.

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