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Matt Costa - The IndieLondon interview

Matt Costa

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MATT Costa talks to us exclusively about his excellent new album Mobile Chateau (out now), why it’s an ode to his late uncle and some of the particular inspirations behind the songs.

He also discusses why Jack Johnson’s Brushfire record label is the best place for him, how drinking with Oasis was a terrifying prospect when he supported them on tour and what the success of past albums such as Unfamiliar Faces has meant to him.

Q. Hi Matt, we’re loving the new sound – what made you decide it was time for a change on this album?
Matt Costa: Thank you. My uncle, who turned me on to music from the Sixties, passed away, so it’s an ode to him. I felt like I had been a fan of that music for so long that it was finally ready to come out.

Q. How did you go about recruiting The Mothers Sons?
Matt Costa: My friend, Danny Garcia, was playing with them. I saw them play a few times around town and then I started going to their rehearsals and it just sort of evolved from there.

Q. Where did the name of the album – Mobile Chateau – come from?
Matt Costa: It came from a mobile that my wife made while we were staying at this chateau in the French countryside. It later turned into a ‘movable feast’ type theme.

Q. How did you find taking on the production duties yourself? Was it more challenging than you expected? But was it also liberating creatively?
Matt Costa: Well, I was not planning on it, I just sort of started and tried to imagine it as a larger 4-track. I think ‘perspective’ was the only hard thing about producing my own record, it was hard to not lose perspective but I just trusted my instinct.

Q. Opening track, The Season, is a great start – what inspired it? It’s kind of upbeat, yet melancholy at the same time…
Matt Costa: There comes a time when everyone has to go, it’s bittersweet.

Q. You mention The Beach Boys and The Byrds as influences on the sound of the album – what is the enduring appeal of their music in your opinion?
Matt Costa: The melodies, the melodies are beautiful.

Q. There’s also a timeless quality about the ‘60s pop melodies that also feature on the LP – was that a fun sound to recreate with a contemporary vibe?
Matt Costa: Well, I really tried to go for that sound but I’m living in the present so that makes it contemporary. I like to pretend I’m outside of myself and that is what the recordings and the process helped me to do.

Q. We love Johnny’s Love of Majik – what inspired that song?
Matt Costa: Mississippi, John Hurt… also images I remember as a child and trying to pinpoint the day you become an adult.

Matt Costa

Q. Are you looking forward to seeing how the album is received in the UK, in particular? As the sound would seem to be especially tailored towards some of our music sensibilities and our love for a classic sound?
Matt Costa: Yes, it’s interesting how people may view it. I really like Fairport Convention and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Donovan and The Incredible String Band. They were all influences on this record but I guess it still comes out with a California sound. I hope people enjoy it, I’m proud of it.

Q. Witchcraft is another cracking song – can you talk a little about how that was put together, thematically and instrumentally?
Matt Costa: It’s about the mystic power of women, unexplainable, irresistible and dangerous. I tried to make the guitars become increasingly more like a rat going mad, tempting someone to cross its path.

Q. Painted Face contains some terrific imagery, too, and is a stripped back gem – was it as fun to write as it sounds? And, again, what inspired it?
Matt Costa: Painted Face is based on the painting The Circus by George Seurat. When I made the demo of the recording my wife was crocheting and making all sorts of noises in the other room, so when it came time to record the song in the studio I gave all of those noises instrument counterparts and that’s why there are a lot of random sounds in the song.

Q. And Next Time abounds with those strange effects you wanted to master – or space oddities. How much fun did you have playing around with those effects?
Matt Costa: Next Time started as more of a Buddy Holly song but when slowed down and given some poly-rhythms it left more space for extra sounds.

Q. How has life changed for you since the success of Unfamiliar Faces and, in particular, Mr Pitiful?
Matt Costa: I have been able to meet and play music with some of my heroes and people who I think are wonderful.

Q. Were you surprised by the success of Mr Pitiful?
Matt Costa: Yes, you can never plan what a song will do. I wrote it on a piano I paid $200 for and I definitely got my money’s worth.

Matt Costa

Q. You can also proudly lay claim to having been one of the last acts to tour with Oasis? So, how was that?
Matt Costa: Touring with Oasis was great, they were really kind to me. At the end of the tour we were drinking in their dressing room and they said: “Where have you been every night at this time? You should’ve been here drinking with us.” I told them that I would’ve but that I was too fucking scared!

Q. You’re still attached to the Brushfire label, so how supportive was Jack Johnson in the delivery of this album and its new direction?
Matt Costa: Jack has always been real supportive. I am lucky to be with a label like Brushfire. I don’t believe there is a better label for me.

Q. Will you continue to challenge yourself as an artist and experimenting with different sounds, thereby challenging expectation?
Matt Costa: I hope so.

Q. What’s been the most pleasing/surprising reaction you’ve had to the new material so far?
Matt Costa: Bob Lind likes my reinterpretation of his lyrics for Go Ask Your Man in my song Drive. Bob was my uncle’s favourite songwriter. Over the past 10 years I have fallen in love with his songs and lyrics.

Q. Finally, what are the 10 tracks that are never far from your iPod player at the moment?
Matt Costa: Jump Sturdy – Dr. John
Heart Full Of Soul – Yardbirds
Frankie And Albert – Missiissippi John Hurt
Lovin’ You – Lovin’ Spoonful
Evil – Howlin’ Wolf
Brothers On The Slide – Cymande
Rex’s Blues – Townes Van Zandt
A Very Cellular Song – Incredible String Band
First Girl I Loved – Incredible String Band
Booksong – Fairport Convention

Read our review of Mobile Chateau