Santa Rosa Fangs is a stirring, stunning, and cinematic look and listen into the sometimes autobiographical, sometimes fictional journey of the venerable California musician Matt Costa through the tangled groves and grapevines of his home state.
Throughout the album’s twelve songs, Costa illuminates what he has learned and how he has grown in the past 15 years of his career. His music has taken him around the world, allowing him to work with diverse, respected artists and to connect with people everywhere—from his albums released on Brushfire Records to recording with Belle and Sebastian in Glasgow, to penning film scores and releasing a variety of genre-bending EP’s, and to finally coming home to Los Angeles’s Dangerbird Records for his first new proper full-length release in nearly five years. A rebirth in a sense, through his keen pop sensibility, studious songwriting, technical mastery, and a modern-meets-vintage sound bursting with bite, Costa has recorded the album of his career, one sure to reach new shores and sailors alike.
The tale of Santa Rosa Fangs centers around a young woman named Sharon (as told through the shimmering chorus of the eponymous Costello-meets-Petty lead single), her two brothers Ritchie and Tony, and their story of love, loss, and coming of age in a timeless yet contemporary California. It is replete with long distance love affairs and nostalgic romances woven through the loom of tragedy and time. According to Costa, the titular teeth refer to that inescapable feeling of a romantic, tragic, and eternal bite that certain places and events will always hold on us.
He began the recording of Santa Rosa Fangs over a year and a half ago, though some songs here predate that mark. Over the past few years, Costa had challenged himself to explore new terrain, from the acoustic-fingerpicking/lo-fi garage/experimental sounds of 2015’s EP’s to the acid-washed and reverb-laden soundtrack to the film Orange Sunshine to another complete album that never saw the light of day. Realizing he sought a collection of dyed-in-the-wool songs rather than sonic experiments, in July of 2017 he and producers Peter Matthew Bauer (The Walkmen) and Nick Stumpf (French Kicks) entered a studio to begin work.
Costa was pushed in new directions working with Bauer and Stumpf and cites “Real Love,” an upbeat, heavy tune written in 5/4 time, as an example of their collaborative influence on the album. Originally intended as an acoustic song, he was encouraged by his producers to approach it from a fresh direction. “I had done that sort of thing before, a Nick Drake, fingerpicking type thing,” he says. “Pete and Nick inspired me to take it to a new place. To write a driving rock song in 5/4 is a real challenge, but I had the basis in my pattern and we all drove it home with a really strong beat. On my own I might have stuck with a simpler take, but it felt good to tackle some new ground.”
In another circumstance, Costa again came up with two variations of the same song, but rather than being forced to choose between the two, he simply used both. As a result, “I Remember It Well” bookends the album, first as a rollicking, piano-driven number that sets the record’s tone and pace, and second as a sparser, quiet version to end it. The latter was the initial version and was also the first song written for the album some four years ago.”
“I’ve interwoven my own stories into a fictional idea of what ‘Santa Rosa Fangs’ is, from my own time spent living in Northern and Southern California and years driving up and down the coast, seeing the landscape and where life can pull you within one state,” Costa says. “It is all these things—the ‘bite that is eternal, the smile in the neon’—and it has fangs. They stick with you: the romantic, the tragic, all that. It’s the characters’ story and my story, too, contemporary but still tortured by the past. It’s a window into a time period but spoken as if it’s the present. The beauty of love and loss doesn’t have a date on it; it’s timeless.”
For Matt Costa, the world of Santa Rosa Fangs is the past, present, and future of his life all rolled up into one long stretch of sunlit California coastline.