Living on the Edge
Former skater Matt Costa finds new thrills
“I don't believe everything I see/ and if you don't like the movie, then quit acting,” sings Matt Costa on “Mr. Pitiful,” the track that opens his latest full-length album, Unfamiliar Faces. A fitting sentiment for a multitalented individual whose own life has unfolded like something out of a Hollywood script. Considered a local hero around his old stomping grounds in Huntington Beach, California, Costa originally made a name for himself as a passionate and innovative pro skateboarder who loved good music and big tricks. His pro dream came to an abrupt end five years ago, though, when he shattered his leg.
“There’s nothing quite like that thrill you get when you’re leaning over a ledge just to see what it would be like if you fell — and then you fall,” says Costa of his former risk-assessment tactics. “Kind of like the time I was in San Antonio celebrating the Fourth of July with some friends. It was the perfect American scenario, with fireworks shot off as a train rolled by in the night. I was so drunk on tequila that I went right over the rail of my friend’s balcony. I landed face first in an agave cactus; it probably saved me from breaking my neck. If I was a cat with nine lives, I would have lost one just then.”
Music became Matt’s solace during the painful 18-month recovery that followed his accident as he channelled his energy into songwriting, singing and playing his guitar. His tentative demo, a homemade four-track recording, soon began circulating the So Cal music scene, eventually coming to the attention of No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumant, and subsequently surfer-cum-mellow-rock god Jack Johnson. Signed to Johnson’s Brushfire label on the strength of his beautiful folk-rock sound, Costa released his debut Songs We Sing in 2005 to critical acclaim and began touring widely with artists including Modest Mouse, Pinback, Gomez, Built to Spill and, most recently, Oasis.
“Not bad, hey?” says Matt Costa of his current tour mates. “I’m going to have to bring all of my muscle to the stage to stand up with these guys. But seriously, it’s an amazing feeling to be performing at this level. I don’t have much time every night, so I try to keep things concise. I’m constantly writing new material, but I also realize that, like anything, there’s comfort in repetition. It’s a form of mediation. For better or for worse, we humans are creatures of habit and we’re all doomed to repeat ourselves. I think that repetition often brings clarity. Like with skateboarding, I don’t think of it as practice — every time is the real thing. Every time counts.”
Making every moment count, Costa now finds his thrills performing in front of sold-out crowds, wowing audiences at festivals such as Lollapalooza, Coachella, Sasquatch, Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo. An amazingly adept observer of everyday minutia, he continues to find inspiration in common objects and ordinary interactions.
“I appreciate the harmony found in simple things,” says Costa, whose tune “Lullaby” was tapped by Johnson for the Curious George soundtrack. “My memories of listening to music as a kid are one of my greatest sources of joy. Sitting down at the piano, I still get so excited about the sound of music.”
by Christine Leonard
Originally published August 28, 2008 in FastForward Magazine.