Storytelling is more than jigsawing a pile of words into place until they reveal a compelling picture. A good storyteller knows the environment in which the story is delivered can make the tale more fascinating and memorable.
Matt Costa is that sort of storyteller. His recent album, Santa Rosa Fangs, features a dozen tracks which connect into a single story. He's currently performing a series of living room shows, 11 in all in California, Oregon and Texas, to bring those songs and others from his career to intimate settings. Fans were encouraged to connect to Costa to be candidates to host these house shows, which precede a more traditional tour he'll embark on this fall. The Houston-area show is set for Thursday night at the Cypress home of a fan who answered the call for hosting duties.
"These shows are more personally engaging. I've rarely done shows where I can look onto a coffee table and see someone's family photos," Costa said. "It makes the show more alive, inviting someone into your home is a much more personal experience."
Costa's sat at merch tables or posed for selfies with fans. The living room shows allow for more interpersonal moments than those. Here he's able to have give-and-take with fans who've followed him from breakthrough hits like "Sunshine" and "Mr. Pitiful" to his broader success. And, he's able to discern more quickly whether the tale he relates in Santa Rosa Fangs, his fifth studio album, resonates with listeners.
The album has a dedicated West Coast vibe about it. Costa recorded it at home in Laguna Beach and its plotline follows a trio of California siblings. We ask which storytellers he admires and he mentions John Steinbeck and Bruce Springsteen.
"Steinbeck wrote some of his best work in a cottage in Pacific Grove. So I centered one of the song titles around that city. It's in central California along the coast," Costa noted. "Springsteen wrote 'Nebraska' on a humble multi-track tape recorder. These are some of my favorite songs of his, the spirit of those recordings I tried to capture on this record. I wrote and recorded the bulk of it in the spare bedroom of my house. Both of these writers are like fathers to me in their work."
The album is the first full-length LP Costa has released in five years. He wasn't idle during that time, though. He scored the documentary Orange Sunshine and released some indie EPs. Mostly he involved himself in forms of art that weren't strictly songwriting and those pursuits had a creative impact on Santa Rosa Fangs.
"Working on films, painting and practicing short fiction writing was what I thought I needed to help my process. The longer I've played music the more vast ideas can become almost spread thin. At young age I was guided by my own limitations, but growing and learning more with an idealistic approach to make something pure and telling my story, I've found that I'm closer to truth than ever before."
And closer to fans than ever before, too. Costa expects to meet interesting and enthusiastic music lovers at the Houston show based on his first trip here more than a decade ago. That night, audiences at McGonigel's Mucky Duck got a glimpse of the talent that would lead Costa to world tours and big stages. When his set was done, a group of fans asked for more, so he obliged by playing a sidewalk set outside the venue.
"Mucky Duck was my first time playing in Houston. An L.A. band opened, called The 88. After the show I played some songs leaning on the brick walls in the dark," he recalled."It was my first time traveling around the country on my own solo tour. It was inspiring to lean on a whole new city and sing my songs to eager ears."
Matt Costa performs 7 p.m. Thursday, September 13, in the Cypress-area living room of a lucky fan. To respect the homeowner's privacy, venue info is available only to ticket purchasers. Tickets available through Eventbrite. $25.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.