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California crooner Matt Costa to grace Legends’ stage

Courtney Eckerle | Wednesday, February 22, 2012

“It’s no problem — I’m just sitting here, learning some songs on the guitar,” Indie-folk crooner Matt Costa said when I called him Tuesday afternoon.

“I can’t give away my secrets,” he quipped before admitting he’s messing around with “just some bossa nova stuff,” referencing a Brazilian style of music. “Stuff you always hear and you’re like, ‘Someday, I’m going to learn that,’ and today was that day.”

Gearing up to record a new album, Costa will be gracing the Legends stage this Saturday night at 10 p.m. When I asked him why he would leave sunny Southern California in the middle of winter to come to Indiana, he responded in true rocker fashion.

“The thing is, when I first heard about it I thought I was going to Paris and agreed to it. And they’re like, ‘No, you’re going to Notre Dame, the school,’ and I was like, ‘Aw, man’ — No, I’m just kidding. Notre Dame is a nice excuse to go play some songs, you know?”

Costa is an inadvertent fan but a fan nonetheless of Notre Dame (the school) because of some childhood confusion on his part between a school in his hometown of Huntington Beach, Calif., called “Mater Dei” and Notre Dame. In his defense, the two school’s logos are very similar — an ‘M’ instead of the Notre Dame ‘N’ ensnares the ‘D.’

“When I was a kid it was the first place when I wanted to go to school,” Costa said. “I don’t know why I became a fan of Notre Dame … There’s a school right by called Mater Dei. I confused the two I think, but I ended up getting the Fighting Irish hat, and ever since then I’ve been a fan, and that’s true.”

Currently gearing up to record a new album, Costa claims it will be different from the last one.

“The last record [Mobile Chateau] was more of an experiment, trying out a lot of sounds that I heard for a long time. I just wanted to immerse myself in my songs and in that world for a little while, doing more of sort of a 60’s sound … some psychedelic, not crazy psychedelic, but like Beach Boys and Zombies.”

Costa has lots of ideas for the new album, but isn’t sure what type of inspiration will strike when he actually sits down in the studio.

“Some of the songs will be more complete stories and probably folkier, with more elaborate arrangements and … prettier, maybe,” he said. “But I don’t even know — I’m about to go and do it pretty soon, so who knows once you get in there.”

Recently Costa has been drawing from an unlikely muse in classical music: “I’ve been listening to a lot of different symphonies and composers and things like that. If I can convince my label to try to arrange an orchestra, then I would try to do that. They’re like, ‘Can’t you do that on GarageBand?'”

Legends will be an intimate venue for Costa, who has toured with acts like Jack Johnson (he is on Johnson’s label, Brushfire Records), Oasis and Modest Mouse. Costa said the craziest venue he’s played at was Hyde Park in front of 50,000 people with Johnson.

“If 50,000 people wanted to come see me everywhere, I wouldn’t contest to that, but I just like playing music, so any opportunity to play songs and see other musicians,” he said. “You know, that’s kind of the best thing about those big shows, I’ve gotten to play with people that I look up to a lot … That’s kind of the coolest thing of doing those tours is seeing those guys play every night and seeing them work in the background. You learn a lot from that sort of thing.”

Costa has been touring for “eight or nine years,” and that has to get tiring, right?

“I feel like a veteran in some ways,” he said, “because you feel like you have to roll with the punches in the sense that sometimes you have to eat beef jerky and peanuts when you’re at a road house. But I still feel like every tour is fresh because there [are] always new thoughts coming in the brain as far as inspiration. I always feel like I have something new to share with whoever. It’s exciting. It’s more like a conversation — ‘Oh, check this out,’ [and] bouncing that off of each other.”

Music stemmed from his first love, skateboarding, which he started around the same time he discovered guitar. His friends played an instrumental role in the development of both passions.

“I started skateboarding and playing guitar when I was twelve,” he said. “I’d see my friends after school skating in the parking lot. Eventually somehow or another I came up to them and ended up chasing their skateboards around when they messed up on a trick and tried to ride it. Eventually, I saved up a bunch of lunch money and I bought a skateboard.

“Then when I went to those kid’s houses, I realized they all had guitars too. Then it was the kind of thing where they’d put down the guitar and I’d play it and learn some Nirvana songs or whatever, and then I kind of continued down that path and started doing both those things.”

But a decade ago, the choice between hobby and profession was made for him. Costa was on track to become a pro skateboarder when he injured himself. While laid up for a year recovering, he started writing songs.

“When I was 18 — I had sold my guitar actually. I traded it for a pair of shoes and a skateboard — I was skating heavily and I broke my leg. Then I think [about] two months before I broke my leg, I got a new acoustic guitar … So I finally got an acoustic guitar just in time for a whole year laid up in bed, in pretty much a full leg cast. I started writing songs. A friend had lent me a 4-track recorder.”

It was the first time Costa felt confident in his skills, he said.

“I could hear myself back and start laying things back on top of it, and all of a sudden it made sense … It sounded good instead of just bouncing my voice off a guitar and a wall,” he said. “For me, that’s how it all started. Then I met a bunch of people who helped me out along the way.

“It’s in the simple,” Costa said of good music. “The good thing about music is … you could spend a lot of time writing a great story and put the simplest chords behind it. Or you can do the opposite. You can say one line and put a bunch of music behind it, and all of a sudden you’re taken someplace equally as good.”

Now instead of trading guitars for skateboards, Costa surrounds himself with them.

“I’ve got so many guitars around my house, closets and outside and on the ceiling — for real, I’ve got one hanging off of the ceiling.”

As for what he does when he doesn’t have a guitar in his hand, Costa said he has been culturing himself.

“I’ve been working on my Spanish recently, traveling around. I like to read, I like to go into nature and taking walks.”

Costa added that another source of inspiration is his other, less dangerous hobby: eavesdropping.

“I like to drive around and go to diners and hang out for a little while. See what I see; listen to other people’s conversations.”

You’ve been warned. Look out for Costa at Nick’s Patio after the show on Saturday night and watch what you say. It might end up on his new album.

As for what to expect from Saturday’s show, Costa said he likes to keep it simple.

“I’m just going to be coming there and playing songs, a mix up of everything that I’ve done so far,” he said. “[I will] probably play some new songs that I’ve been working on for the record.”