Geography is an undeniable inspiration for songwriter Matt Costa. Born, raised and still based in Orange County, the singer and former skateboarder’s music, in some way, has always been shaped by his life in the Golden State.
Even before Jack Johnson and Brushfire Records re-released Costa’s debut album, Songs We Sing, in 2006, the multi-instrumentalist and composer was drawing creativity from a life of traveling up and down the California coastline.
But it’s never been more apparent than in the last few years. Costa was tapped to score the soundtrack for Orange Sunshine, a 2016 documentary about LSD and Orange County hippie renegades The Brotherhood of Eternal Love — all of the events chronicled in the film taking place mere miles from the songwriter’s home.
And Costa’s new fifth full-length album, May’s Santa Rosa Fangs (his first in five years), is a concept album both partly autobiographical and site-specific.
He’s taking things one step farther with the Oct. 5 release of the Novella Edition of the album, which includes an in-depth examination of his latest record through prose and sonic texturing.
Before he takes his highly personal set of new tunes on the road with Tennis in October and November, Costa is spending the end of September on a private residence living room tour, two of which will take place in Oceanside and Vista on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
He recently spoke to PACIFIC about it all as he was getting ready to board a plane for Texas.
PACIFIC: Have you done house concerts before?
MATT COSTA: I did a few of them in California about a year ago. I had a converted airport shuttle. We went from place to place and I slept in it. Doing it a little bit differently this time.
But still, it has to be such a different dynamic than playing a regular gig.
It’s one thing to go to a venue. You play and the fans are there. Clubs or rock venues aren’t formal settings, but it is formulaic in a way. To go to someone’s house, they have to want to invite you in, and they have to want to invite other people.
You sit down and you see family pictures. It makes you realize how the music acts on a very human level. And much in the same way that we interact with each other, it becomes very apparent how much we’re involved in one another’s lives. It’s very special in that way.
And that doesn’t come with regular shows?
I’ve felt it before a little bit. But never in the way that I did when I did the living room shows. The communal setting brings about that feeling much more.
You snuck a pair of EPs in there as well, but how much did working on the score to Orange Sunshine affect Santa Rosa Fangs?
I had some of the songs for Santa Rosa Fangs before I was working on Orange Sunshine. But when I started working on the EPs, my idea was to really have a strong focus so they would each fit into their own world. And that was in hopes that I could later have some sort of really idealistic, creative record that spoke in larger terms.
I was developing that when I was offered the score. And I thought that was it. Here is something with visuals that takes place where I live, so I dove into it. And I surprised myself with that. I really felt like I was able to get into that headspace.
So coming from that, I knew I wanted to dive into Santa Rosa Fangs with the same kind of intensity and purpose. The EPs and the score really helped.
Is the Novella Edition a result of realizing you had more to say?
The Novella Edition is elaborating on the story more. When I first started writing the record, all of these characters started surfacing. And they were characters that were involved in my own life, but also just manifestations of ideas. So when I tell this, I’m telling some of my own story, but also how it relates to the story of Santa Rosa Fangs.
There’s a bit of a blurred line there. There’s a family lineage that plays into the story. I’m just painting the picture of the themes in the record a bit further. I had written the music to it. And I could see the vision of the story in my head. That’s how I always write.
Whenever I do a song, when it strikes images in my head, that’s when I know to pursue it. I can see it. And with this I saw the whole thing. Coming to it once the album was done was kind of a backward approach. But now it’s developing even more.
Well, it’s being developed into a screenplay I’m working on that elaborates the story ever further.
So much of what you do is inspired by geography. Then, you pick up the score to a film that just happens to about events that took place in your backyard. It all seems to dovetail together.
It’s inspired by all of that. And I think that’s why I’ve also always been drawn to the classic California writers — Robinson Jeffers, of course (John) Steinbeck, and all of that.
I can drive a couple of hundred miles to the landscape from which they’re writing, and the words and stories are really filled in. And maybe some of those times I was just a passerby, but after driving through there I didn’t feel like a passerby anymore. I had more invested in it.
And growing up in a similar part California is a part of my own story, and my father being from here as well. It’s natural. It’s natural to write about it because it’s what I know. I have my own memories from these dates and places and I like to use them as a catalyst.
It also makes it undeniably personal.
I do think the goal is to speak and think on those terms. But the goal is to also transcend the thing and the place. It’s just a start. And it’s just a story. It could be anywhere. But this one isn’t. It’s where I’m from.
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 20 and 7 p.m. Sept. 21
Where: Thursday in Oceanside & Friday in Vista