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It’s a pleasant spring afternoon in Madison, TN, and singer-songwriter Anthony da Costa is on his porch watching the occasional car go by. Originally, that porch was set to be vacant on this day, as de Costa was supposed to be in the midst of his spring tour promoting his new album, Feet on the Dashboard. The coronavirus pandemic, however, caused a change in the itinerary.
While there is some serenity to be had in a quiet day, for da Costa, his porch must seem like a million miles from the stages of The Hollywood Bowl, or Conan, both of which he’s performed on as a sideman.
da Costa’s career as a sideman began when he was just a teenager, and continued through to adulthood, where he’s graced the stage with everyone from Jimmy LaFave, and Sam Baker, to members of Crooked Still, and Civil Wars.
“At my core I feel like what I do best is sing and write songs,” says da Costa, now 29, “but at the same time I’m proud of what I’ve done as a sideperson, and I know that I’m good at it, and it’s a passion of mine to support really incredible artists, because I know what it’s like to have my own songs and want to be supported, so I try to approach that with sensitivity, and it’s worked out for me. But this year was a moment of like – I’m gonna do my own thing. Finally, I’m gonna do my own thing.”
While any touring will have to wait – and da Costa says he’s already rescheduled a handful of shows for the fall – Feet on the Dashboard cruised into listener’s ears last month.
“I think going into all of this I was just like, man, this is my chance to step back out as a songwriter,” da Costa says of the project, “and at this point it’s kind of interesting, because I can’t feel the same pressure about it anymore because everything has changed so drastically.”
The Road to Feet on the Dashboard
Before Feet on the Dashboard was even in its infancy stage, the true genesis of the album was when da Costa teamed up with producer Kenneth Pattengale.
“Kenneth and I talked about this record for almost a year before we recorded it.”
During those conversations, de Costa says an important series of questions would set the tone for what would become the album. “The goal is – what are the best songs? What are the best songs that we have? What are the best songs that you have? What are the best of the ones you’ve been writing, and how can we make them better? What are the best songs?”
Because of this process, da Costa says, “There are a few songs on this record, including ‘Feet on the Dashboard,’ that were written seven or eight years ago, which I would scoff at (including) in the past, but that song has been a fixture of my live shows for almost seven years, and I had never put it on a record. I’d always had folks come up to me and ask me if it was on anything. It just kind of came together, and weirdly became the mission statement of the album.”
A Dashboard Romance
The feet on the dashboard of the album’s title track reference an ex-girlfriend of da Costa’s, a woman he dated throughout college who was 8 years his senior.
“She was one of those people that just made you feel really good about driving her around,” he remembers. “That song, to me, captured the full essence of what she was to me. She made me feel alive. She made me feel like a somebody, and it was my favorite thing when she would put on her jean shorts, and we’d get in the car and go drive somewhere upstate, and she would literally sit in the passenger seat of the car and pick songs, because she had way cooler musical taste than me.”
da Costa says his musical taste at that time ranged from boy bands, to the alternative rock of the era, to folk music, while his girlfriend, “listened to cool, darker, heavier music,” and put bands like Glassjaw into rotation.
“I always loved when she played music in the car, and for those few years of my life I was totally in love.”
The College Years
In addition to cruising around with the woman who would end up inspiring a number of his songs, college was an interesting time for da Costa for a few other reasons, most notably, even though he’d already established himself as an in-demand sideman, he decided to go to Columbia for a liberal arts education rather than opting to go the music school route.
He remembers having some interesting conversations with faculty members about performing, and touring. “I would talk to my advisor, and the vibe would be like, ‘What are you doing?’ Because I toured throughout all of college. I played shows in the city, NYC, almost every night, and then I would go out on the weekends and tour, and (I was) still hanging out with folks way older than me, and I’d go down to Brooklyn and drink all night with my friends, play Pete’s Candy Store, and not make it to Italian class the next morning.”
A New Reality
The late nights in Brooklyn hot spots behind him, da Costa sits on his porch in his current home of Madison, TN, waiting for the world to reopen. He says he, like many other artists, has been trying to wrap his mind around how the reality of the present pandemic affects his place in the world.
“In the grand scheme of things I have days when I’m like, this is not important. I can’t post about my album today. I can’t post about my single, or this article, or this live stream, because there’s insane things going on in the world, and we all need to be focusing on, in a lot of ways it’s the bigger picture, and in a lot of ways it’s just getting through each day … but I know as a music lover, and fan, I need music. I watch my friends’ live streams, I listen to my friends’ records when they come out. That is part of how I’m getting through every day.”
da Costa’s fans agree that music is a necessity in this time, and they’ve been very open with him about it. “I’ve gotten a lot of really sweet feedback, even some people who’ve written me and said, ‘This is helping me get through,’ or, ‘I’m listening to Feet on the Dashboard and I’m imagining I’m driving’ … That’s incredible.”
Even having just released an album, da Costa is currently working on new music. “All I’ve been doing is writing and recording,” he says, “That’s my only solace. I’m like a child again in my parents’ basement, barely knowing how to use the shitty recording equipment that I have. I’ve been on that train. That’s been a lifesaver to me.”
When music venues open their doors again, da Costa will be ready, and the spotlight will finally be on him.