Anthony da Costa

Quick Q and A with Anthony da Costa

Anthony da Costa is an old soul.  Only in his mid-twenties and he’s lived a lifetime of music already and his music continues to impress everyone who listens.  Anthony writes some extraordinarily insightful songs which touch the heart and soul.  He’s a gifted musician who deserves to be a household name.

Here’s an example of an early Anthony da Costa song – “Ain’t Much of a Soldier” from NERFA 2007.

Here’s a more recent video.

You’re a recent transplant to Nashville. What’s your take on the scene there?

 I love it so far! I have more friends in town than I even remembered. I first visited Nashville when I was 16, and remembered really enjoying myself…although my visit was rather touristy. I was there to play the Tin Pan South Festival (a crazy in-the-round show that also featured Richard Marx, Kenny Loggins, Jonathan Edwards and more) and ended up playing the Bluebird Open Mic and upstairs at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. I went to Robert’s Western World, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. I even had a publishing company A&R guy tell me that he could “get me onstage at the Ryman…” I couldn’t believe it. What I would later find out is that he meant he could get me a guided tour of the Ryman…and at the end of those tours, they let you pose with the old WSM Radio microphone in the middle of the stage. Instead of simply posing, I got out my guitar and played a song. I still thought it was pretty cool. I wonder if those dozen or so unsuspecting tourists did.

When I was moving to Austin, I was also considering Nashville…and I always sort of imagined I’d give it a shot. I think the scene there is bustling with some incredible talent (as is Austin). What I like about Nashville is the constant sense of forward movement. I love writing songs and it’s a town where that sort of thing is encouraged. I’ve already written a bunch of songs with my good friend Steve Poltz, and I’m really excited about those. I feel like I wake up every day and do something positive for my creative self. Plus, it’s just a lovely town with a great farmer’s market, good food, and lovely friends.

You lived in Austin for quite some time .  Tell us about your experience there and a little about how that scene may differ from the one in Nashville (or how they’re similar)!

Austin will always hold an incredibly special place in my heart. I really love that town. In fact, I once considered dropping out of college (or at least transferring) so that I could move to Texas back in 2010. It was thanks to the Kerrville Folk Festival that I made so many Austin-based friends. When it came time to move out of New York City, Nashville was on the docket, but Austin had my heart. It was a real mental health/comfort move for me, since I already had a very supportive community located there.

I’m extremely grateful for the time I had in Austin. In those 2 1/2 years, I made tons of music with some of the best songwriters and players in the world. I started my own trio called Da Costa, and developed a whole new sound for myself. I made four albums, all of which I’m super proud of (and they will eventually be released!). I love the people. I love the atmosphere. I love the tacos.

I think a big difference between Austin and Nashville is just the industry thing. Austin has SXSW, but Nashville is a music business town all year round. Nashville is much easier to tour out of (meaning that you don’t have to drive all day just to get out of the state). I’m much closer to my family and roots in the northeast. I can get to the midwest very easily. I knew how isolated Austin was from most touring routes, and didn’t seem to care while I was there. But it’s about time I get my own music back out there, and Nashville seems like a great place to be based out of right now. I still love Austin so much, and I imagine I’m going to be visiting there a lot.

Are you a disciplined writer?  Do you journal or have any other kind of creative practices that help you write?

I try to write as much as I can. I find that I go through pretty prolific periods where I’ll be writing multiple songs in a day/sitting. Sometimes, a little bit of constructive pressure can be good, such as a session date for making another record. For instance, I hadn’t written much of anything in the several months leading into a session I had with my friend Adam Levy this past November. We were due to make an album together. Then, the week before our time in the studio, I wrote five new songs. They’re all on that record. I think that the most helpful part of my writing process is that I don’t have a lot of rules, if any. I’m not saying that everything I crank out is golden (far from it) but I find that the more I write, the better the songs that make it through are. Also, co-writing has become a more serious endeavor of mine, as I mentioned above. It doesn’t always work, sitting in a room and writing with someone…I used to mostly co-write from afar (via email, finishing other people’s songs, etc.). But lately, I’ve been meeting with people in Nashville, sitting in a room, and seeing what we come up with together. Steve and I have been in a crazy good flow lately. I’m probably jinxing it as we speak. He DID just get a new table and a couple of chairs for the writing room, though.

You are the youngest musician to ever win both the Kerrville and Falcon Ridge competitions.  What was that experience like?  And what’s it like now not being the youngest kid on the block anymore?

I will always be very grateful for the opportunities I had to be part of those festivals. I had never heard of these folk festivals before I started attending the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA). I had also become involved with a collective of folk musicians in the Hudson Valley called Tribes Hill. It was through these people and experiences that I heard about Falcon Ridge and Kerrville. I was super young when I “competed” at those festivals. At 16 years old, I had definitely not fully developed as a writer (I think we are all constantly developing…hopefully). But I did have some songs that I was super proud of, and I must have offered a perspective that set me apart, due to my age and, frankly, how green I was. I think that the most important aspect of those contests for me was getting to make so many friends who were as passionate about writing and music as I was…as well as the music fans who support those festivals every year and make what we do possible. Music as a “competition” is a weird thing for me…but man, was I honored to be part of those events. The Kerrville Folk Festival has especially become a crucial part of my life, due to the camaraderie it has offered me.

Do you have any one song of yours that you are most proud of?

That’s a tough one! I am really proud of this song called “New Life.” It’s on my new release, Da Costa. I wrote it a few years back. It was something I began while at home in New York, and ended up finishing while sitting in my friend MC Hansen’s backyard in Denmark. He lives just about an hour outside of Copenhagen, in what is essentially farm country. I was sitting in his backyard on a day off. He had chickens and dogs running around…I was watching trees sway in the wind, and I wrote the back half of the song. A lot of my songs deal with the various stages of relationships…I think “New Life” is one of the most honest reflections that I’ve ever put to paper. And I hope that other people can relate to it. New things can be so much fun, and yet terrifying…and we all have our patterns and habits that we’re trying to shake. We recorded this song a few times. The first version was with the full band and had a sort of Neil Young & Crazy Horse vibe, which was cool but not really working for the vibe of the song. After a solo guitar version that was fine, I called my friend John Elliott, who suggested recording the song on the piano. I hadn’t written the song on the piano, but it fit like a glove. Michael St. Clair offers some gorgeous horns on it, too. Last track of the album. Buried but there. Dig in.

I’ve noticed that you advocate a lot of specific kinds of gear. What are some of your favorite pieces of gear you’ve been using lately?

Ha! I really went down a rabbit hole of gear consumption in Austin…I did more buying and selling of guitars, pedals and amplifiers in the first two years of living there than I ever hope to in my life. It can be fun, but also extremely time and money consuming. I feel like I’ve settled into a couple of rigs that work very well for me, and are basically all that I need for my current musical projects. I am a firm believer in Collings Guitars, which are made in Austin. They are the only guitars that I play. I’ve been jamming my Collings I-35 and Statesman on this current tour with Aoife O’Donovan. For an amp, I typically play a Swart ST-45 head, which was handmade in Wilmington, NC by Michael Swart. I’ve also got a Princeton-type combo amplifier made by a guy in New Jersey under the name Tyler Amps (he calls it a PT-14). On the road, I often use a Class D solid state amp called a Pro Block 200. It’s made by Quilter Amplification in California. It has 0 tubes in it, but the amp head weighs 4 pounds and I can fit it in my backpack (plus, it sounds great!). For effect pedals, I rely heavily on my Strymon Timeline delay, which makes a ton of classic AND spooky sounds. With Aoife O’Donovan, I use a Greer Lightspeed overdrive that might be one of the best drive pedals I’ve ever heard. I use plenty of other stuff by Strymon, as well as JHS, Wren & Cuff, Malekko, Mantic and more.

You’ve had some great opportunities to tour with other artists like Aoife O’Donovan.  How did that come about?  Did you know Aoife from your New York days?

Aoife and I met several times over the years, first in New York and then again at a festival out in Colorado. I have been aware of her band Crooked Still for the past 10 years, hearing about them through the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival community. We reconnected last year at the Fayetteville Roots Festival, where a chance occurrence led to an impromptu late-night jam on the last night of the festival. She was there with her trio I’m With Her (also featuring Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins). I happened to be sitting in on guitar for the jam. After we were through, she asked me what I was doing in 2016. I said, “Nothing,” which was true. We met up a month or two later in New York to jam, and it clicked. I’ve been LOVING playing with her. She is one of the best musicians I have ever witnessed. It’s such an honor to get to sing and play onstage with her every night. She’s a force of nature like no other. And a total pro. I’m learning lots.

What music are you listening to these days?  I’ve always kept track of musicians who you recommend, by the way.  Who should we all be turned on to?

One of my new favorite bands is a largely instrumental trio based out of Nashville called Haas Kowert Tice. It features Brittany Haas (of the Dave Rawlings Machine, and Crooked Still), Paul Kowert (of Punch Brothers), and Jordan Tice (of Horse County). They’re totally rad. Also, I have worn out my copy of my friend Jeremy’s most recent album. His band is called Small Houses and the record is called “Still Talk, Second City.” Download that record ASAP. It kind of destroys me every time, but in a good way. Also, David Francey. I’m sure plenty of your readers are aware of him, but if not…get on it. Start with his first album, “Torn Screen Door.” Also I love the new Sarah Jarosz record. And Christian Lee Hutson. Okay okay I could go on forever but I won’t.