How Matt Costa Went From Pro Skater Prospect to Soft-Focus Folkie

Locating the root of singer/guitarist Matt Costa's passion for folk music means returning to the scene of a most gruesome injury. At age 18, the Orange County-bred Costa was a skateboarder on the verge of going pro. Then, during one skating session, he botched the landing of a staircase jump, leaving him with a rolled ankle and bone jutting out of skin. In one go, both his leg and hopes of skating professionally were shattered. He quickly underwent emergency surgery to repair the severely fragmented bone, but he had lots of trauma left to endure. During his initial hospital stay, he shared a room with a patient who unexpectedly died. After using morphine to cope with the pain, he experienced withdrawal when trying to give it up. He spent six months in a cast thinking things were better until he felt a sharp pain in his leg — a signal that doctors needed to slice him open again to insert a plate, adding six more months to his recovery.

"All of a sudden, life was kind of different," Costa, now 30.

With skating out of the question — for a while, the chances of walking properly didn't look great, either — Costa needed something to occupy his hours, so he turned to music. As a listener, he became engrossed in British folk from 1960s and '70s. Costa's uncle made mix CDs for his nephew using pieces of his own collection, and one of its key items was Summer Day Reflection Songs, a compilation of songs by Scottish folkie Donovan. Costa remembers being drawn to Donovan because of his unusual picking style, his guitar-playing tricks inspired by Celtic music and open tuning, and a voice that sounded better than Dylan's.

Matt Costa
Matt Costa

"Before [the accident], I always was on the move," he says. "When you're laid up, you think about things more. Songs hit me more."

More than a decade after his leg was broken, Costa stands again, now in a very different place. Instead of being a professional skater, he's a professional musician with multiple records, significant tours, and notable song placements under his belt. He retains great affection for the school of sound that scored his post-accident downtime — evidence of which is found in the fantastically full-sounding Matt Costa.

Costa conceived his fourth and latest record as a moody, melancholy album in the vein of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska or material by Donovan and Nick Drake. After making good on his dream of going to Glasgow to record, Matt Costa producer/engineer Tony Doogan (Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai) successfully talked the musician into skewing the album's style more toward the direction of a spaghetti Western soundtrack. "Good Times" — a triumphant, entire-village-on-parade-sounding tune whose misty-eyed chorus focuses on the phrase "The good times are coming to an end" — finds the middle ground between Costa's and Doogan's angles. Matt Costa still has downbeat, somber moments in tracks like "Early November" and "Eyes for You," but you get the sense that the result sounds much bigger and brighter than Costa initially planned.

When the Huntington Beach-based Costa started writing songs, he spent little time thinking about making a career out of this or reeling in a fan base, so he's been happily surprised by the fortunes that have unfolded.

"Music has always been really rewarding to me — just the actual music itself, listening to it, learning a song. To be able to make a living over the last 10 years [on] music, it's afforded me the opportunity to put more of myself into it than I ever thought that I could," he says. "I feel like I owe myself to the music, and there's nothing more I'd rather like to do."

 
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