If you’re anxiously waiting for summer to roll around, taking a listen to Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Nick Costa’s latest project, Sunbleach, will at least give you a bit of a preview. With an array of warm pastel colours on all the accompanying artwork, the project was recorded when Costa moved from Minneapolis to take in the beaches of Los Angeles during summer 2020. Since Costa spent a lengthy period of time as a working musician doing gigs in his hometown of Minneapolis, the change of scenery from two cities without much warmth to go around proved inspiring for Costa to slow down the tempos and turn up the reverb.
Known as somewhat of a genre-melder, his work draws comparisons to a wide variety of styles. While the impressively layered and abundantly dreamy textures of Sunbleach’s instrumentals are the star of the show, Costa varies his vocal delivery to give a couple tracks a country twang or a heavier edge, drawing from his classic rock inspirations while poetically touching on topics of love, death, disappointment, and hope.
We caught up with Nick Costa to talk about his latest set of tracks.
You say the album was inspired by “the warmth and ease of an LA summer.” What are some of your favourite things to do in summer in LA?
When we moved to LA briefly, it was the summer of 2020 so it was still pretty locked down. However, we did get to eat a lot of good food, go to a few farmer’s markets (including the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, which isn’t quite a farmer’s market but is still fun), drive around Hollywood, and said hello to the ocean a few times. Overall, the main thing we did while living there was vibe, and it was a dream.
You’ve also mentioned that this is your “finest work yet” – why do you think this is your biggest achievement? What’s your favourite thing about it?
I think I’m just the proudest of this one because it fully encompassed where I was at that time. Emotionally it felt just as liberating as my other albums, but this feels more cohesive while also being a more artistically exploratory sound for me. I had a lot of fun and fully submerged myself into these songs, and I think they show that while also being extremely cohesive as an entire album. I think for the first time I made something you can drop the needle on and listen to front-to-back and have it be a full experience.
Who have been some of your biggest musical influences? What have you been listening to lately?
For this album I was listening to a lot of Paul McCartney, Haim, and The Strokes. My favourite album of all time is RAM by Paul and Linda McCartney, but while I was making this album, I realized I hadn’t really gotten into a lot of the other McCartney solo or Wings albums, so I kind of made that my homework/obsession for a few months. That was also the year that Fleet Foxes released Shore, which might be an all-time favourite for me as well.
However, right now, I’ve switched my obsession to Willie Nelson. I’m trying to dive into his 60+ albums and give each one my attention, and it has been such a lovely journey. When Jubilee by Japanese Breakfast came out, I had that on repeat for a while. I’ve also really been loving the new Pedro the Lion record Havasu. Also, Weezer is something that never leaves the rotation as of the last few years, especially after their last two albums OK Human and Van Weezer.
You draw comparisons all over the web to artists from quite a wide range of genres – country, classic rock, modern pop, folksy singer-songwriters. What do you think is the power of a somewhat genre-free project, either for the creator or the audience?
Gosh, there is so much freedom there. I just don’t understand the urge to put yourself in a little box. Why not just write how you feel? If it comes out as a punk rock ripper, then let it be that way. If it comes out as a Mariah Carey inspired bop, then let it bop. I feel like being able to explore new sounds can be so interesting and expressive. It’s kinda therapeutic to just write however you feel in that moment. As long as it’s genuine, it will still sound like you.
As a technology-averse Zillennial, I appreciated your general unease for TikTok virality and the people who facilitated it when I checked out your Twitter feed. As a longtime working musician, how do you feel about the increasingly online and algorithmic way music promotion seems to be going lately?
Oh god, I had a stupid video on TikTok get like 15k views and I hated it. The comments were so mean, as if there isn’t just some dude on the other end receiving those. I think social media can be so good about connecting us, and also so bad at letting us see each other as human beings. It feels more and more like you as a “brand” aren’t worthy of making your art if you don’t have the followers, or if you’re not making trending videos, or if you aren’t focusing on pretty much anything else other than creating art. It feels so strange to me. It’s like, I was already singing for my supper, now you’re gonna make me dance too? That being said, I’m on those stupid apps all the time, and I think there’s just as much joy as there is ugliness. It’s just all coming at you at the exact same time, and I’m not sure how great that is for our brains.
One of the most memorable choruses comes on the emphatic “Do Better, Man!” What are some things that people need to be doing better right now?
There’s a lot as a society that we could be doing better, and I don’t claim to have all the big answers for that. “Do Better, Man!” is specifically about how a lot of people that I know and have shared a stage with have been called out for abuse, and how it’s important to hold each other accountable, but I was having trouble wrapping my head around how to do it. Especially as a man in the music industry, I feel like it’s our duty to make sure other men are making the music scene inclusive for everybody, because historically we’ve done an awful job at that. It’s time to make space, and if your friends are doing something that isn’t cool or is abusive, you need to tell them. It’s also important to make sure that the victims feel safe coming out about this, and that we believe them. Music is such a liberating and beautiful thing to share with the world, and it should be for everybody to listen to/make/enjoy safely and openly.
What’s next for Nick Costa? Anything else you’d like us to know?
Lots! After Sunbleach I plan on doing a video/audio series of stripped-down versions of the songs. Later this year I also have an instrumental album called Lull that I’ll be releasing digitally at some point. In December it’s also the 10th anniversary of a record I put out called Quarrels that never ended up on streaming services, so I’m going to be putting that up along with some B-sides from those sessions. I’m also already in talks about the next album’s production and I’ve got a massive pile of songs waiting to pick from.