Joseph Costa and Lindsay Anderson occupy a “warm intimate pocket” although given the tension of working together for so long, it’s hard to believe that self-description. To hear Costa tell it, being a member of L’Altra can be both trying and beautiful, and perhaps it’s that tension that allows the atmospheric pop to linger so tenderly long after the songs on Telepathic are over.
Here, Costa speaks to us about the band’s niche audience and coming back together with Anderson after taking some time apart. The solo world wasn’t quite what Costa thought it would be, thus it’s welcome for both audience and artist to be back together.
SSv: You and Lindsay have been making music together for some time. Can you talk about the chemistry there after so many years?
Joseph Costa: Yeah, we’ve known each other forever. The creative partnership has never been the easiest, but it’s always been worth the trouble. Right after our album Different Days in 2005, I think, it got to the point where we weren’t able to work together so we took some time off. I think what happens is that there’s this fine line when you know someone really well and it becomes easy to say anything you think. I’m not sure that’s always the best thing. [Laughs]
There’s this critical distance where you’re too close to be close… or it’s hard to explain. But in that space, you learn to appreciate each other and yet we also have that critical distance of keeping close enough but not too close in a way we can work together. It’s crazy to work with someone for so long, and I think every partnership goes through those moments where you just can’t stand somebody one minute and the next you want to hang out and write songs together.
SSv: How did that dynamic play out specifically on the new album?
Joseph: Well, after Different Days, we each made solo albums. We were then chatting and found out each of us were writing songs, so we got together. I was in Brooklyn and she was in Chicago, but we got together over the summer one time to bounce ideas off of each other. It was easier than it had ever been, so we thought, ‘Hey, we have to do another record.’ I think the time apart helped us remember the good parts of what the collaboration was.
I know I’m not easy to work with and I believe she would say the same thing. So I think we learned some tolerance and we have this unstated agreement because when we work together, we really like what we get out of it. It’s not always easy still, but I think that’s part of the music — the way that we bump heads.
SSv: That’s interesting that you describe the partnership that way, because that’s the opposite of what comes out. The music could never be described as tense or chaotic.
Joseph: Yeah, that’s true. I was actually just thinking of that as I was saying it. [Laughs] I think part of it is that we enjoyed having this dialogue in our music of bumping heads or sharing ideas, so we do a lot of call and response sorts of things. It’s a lot of persons wanting to counteract what the other is doing.
SSv: So when you know each other so well, what does that allow you to do? Were there moments in the studio that you could go to certain places only because you have that background?
Joseph: For sure. The last track on the album, “Telepathic,” was the joke title of the song because I had written part B and she’d written part A and they fit perfectly together. We’d written them separately, so we were like, ‘Woah!’ We’d written them together but it was totally separate as weird as that sounds. That’s only something that can happen when you’ve played with someone so long. You learn to hear what they are going to do even when they’re not there, and you even write a song with what you think they’re going to do in mind. That’s one example.
SSv: Do you come back to the group with a different perspective because you’d been solo? Not just because of the space, but being on your own?
Joseph: Definitely. Doing solo records is an eye-opening thing. It was a lot harder than I had imagined. I think my solo album came out to mixed results. So I think what that did was make me realize that I do get more out of it when I’m working with other people. Music is best when people are intertwining sounds and ideas, and that’s something that I lost. It was cool to come back to it, especially the first live show we played. I thought, ‘Wow, this feels great.’ That’s something only a musician can love when you’re playing and everything is meshing together. It was such a great feeling to get that back.
SSv: Everyone focuses is on that feel and tone and voice of the music of L’Altra. Is that something you value as well? Is that an apt descriptor of what you like to take in?
Joseph: Yeah, I find the stuff I listen to has that sort of feel to it. I don’t know why that stuff tends to be mellow for me, but it does. For us, what we try to do is create an atmosphere in what we do. I think the thing about our music is those who like our stuff find something they can relate to in it. The emails we get from people always reference, ‘Oh, this means this to me.’ I think that’s why we have this weird niche audience, because there’s that feel in our music that you either like it or it doesn’t hit you. For the people who are into it, there seems to be that deep connection.
I think that’s a nice thing, although it does limit us because we’re always going to be in that small pocket. But it’s a nice, intimate pocket, I guess.
SSv: How content are you right now in that pocket?
Joseph: I love what I do. I love that it affects people. On the other hand, there are certain times where I’m playing a show or something and it’s not getting through. I can look at it and it’s really isolating. So when it does work, it’s an awesome feeling.
SSv: I want to go back to the atmosphere thing, because if that’s what you appreciate, do you have certain artists that you look to as someone who is so good at doing that? Who influences you on that end?
Joseph: I think the band Beach House seems to really do that well. They’re one of the contemporary bands I am listening to a ton. I think Will Oldham does that. Then for older stuff, I was really influenced by The Cure when I was a kid. My older brother was really into new wave, so he passed all of that on to me like Love and Rockets and New Order. All of our stuff has that feel in it, too. For some reason, I was always drawn to the music from England when I was younger. I don’t know why. I would just romanticize it more, so I think that has a big influence.
Lately, I will say that I just discovered Gram Parsons. A friend of mine turned me onto it and it’s really cool music. He’s a dead country singer, but it’s thick and deep and it has that feel to it. He did this record with The Byrds and it’s amazing. A lot of people have a big thing where they hate country music, but there’s definitely cool country. It’s worth checking out. It’s called Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It’s awesome.