MEB staffer Heather Allen speaks with Salvatore Costa of Smashing Satellites to discuss how this musical endeavor is different from what he did in My Darkest Days, his on-going struggle with reading music, and how “Hounds” quite literally came to him in a dream.
MEB: What initially inspired you to become an artist? I know that you’ve been in the game for a little bit. I know that you were in My Darkest Days.
Salvatore Costa: Initially, I have two older sisters that are 9 and 11 years older than me. My sister that’s 11 years older was a professional pianist, and my other sister who’s 9 years older than me was kind of a product of the grunge era and was obsessed with a lot of grunge bands, eclectic weird artists. When I was only a kid, I would watch my one sister with technically proficient musicianship playing Chopin and Beethoven and all of this amazing music. Then I had my other sister who wasn’t as musically inclined to have the ability to play instruments, but she just had a great ear for finding and discovering great artists. She was a true fan who would buy records and had an insane record collection so I was always surrounded by these 2 different worlds of music. I just became obsessed with it and then from there I had a lot of great people in my life that fostered my love for music. My sisters bought me my first guitar, my mom put me through school back in the day and was always teaching me how important lyrics and words are. I guess I fell in love with music and never fell out of love with it.
Awesome! And you did mention a difference between going into instruments and then lyrics. What would you consider yourself to be more a part of – an instrumentalist or do you consider yourself to be more of a lyricist?
That’s actually a great question! It really depends because I’ve been in so many different situations lyrically that I have become a great chameleon. I’ve been a guy that’s been able to do special stuff. I’ve been a musician that’s been able to write music for other artists. I’ve been the type of musician who’s done everything. Smashing Satellites for example, the entire record was recorded by myself – I am the band on the record. I played the majority of the instruments and any instrument that I couldn’t play, I got some amazing players in LA to come out to play. For the most part it was just myself, so I’ve just kind of, over the years had to learn to be good at things that I wasn’t necessarily good at because I got sick of relying on other people. So instead of finding someone to play keyboards or someone to do the backing vocals or anything I just learned to do that on my own, so that I can go into the studio to make a record on my own. It’s essentially what I did with this.
That’s really awesome that you worked really hard to learn everything that pretty much has to do with music. Going off of that question, which part of learning do you think was the most beneficial to you? You mentioned that you learned a bunch of different instruments that you’ve never played before that relied on other people for, but what was the most exciting part about learning something new? Or I guess which instrument did you find the most challenging?
Probably the most challenging for me has always been the fact that I cannot read music for the life of me. I have tried so many times and I’ve realized that my brain doesn’t function like that. I’ve studied music from so many different teachers and no one could get it through to me. That’s just not my strength as a musician, but that’s what makes me a creator. I guess you could say that I’m not very good at picking up a piece of music that’s somebody else’s and looking at it and playing it. I’d rather just listen to it and play it and to try to understand the emotion that’s being drawn from the actual audio or the actual recording. I’d rather listen to it than just look at it while playing the guitar robotically. I’d rather hear it and be able to interpret it with my ears versus my eyes. So I guess you can say that’s been my biggest challenge is being able to sight-read. But every time I realize how non-concerning it is for what I want to do because I love creating and I love playing. Those concerns tend to make me more creative because I have to focus more on my creativity and my physical ability to actually play instruments versus using math and science when trying to read music.
Yeah definitely. Going into more you as a musician, you already kind of touched bases on a little bit of your struggles but also what you’ve been pursuing as well. Who are your personal musical influences? Who are your band’s influences? Are they different or similar?
I guess on my own as an artist, I would have to say Jimmy Page has always been a huge influence for me in terms of guitar because to me he was the epitome of just being a wicked creator and executing what he creates, no one could really play like him. My favorite musicians and artists tend to be people that have a unique thing about the way that they sing or they play that can’t be duplicated because it’s very specific to themselves. So Jimmy Page, I also love Prince, Barry Gibb the singer of The Bee Gees, Don Henley and Glenn Frey from The Eagles in terms of being a writing team. Oh, and Michael Jackson as well. On the band front, I was really into bands like Placebo, Nirvana, I listened to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins as well, and a lot of artists from the grunge era like Soundgarden, bands like that.
Yeah you kind of hear that with the way that your music sounds. There’s this cool electro-rock kind of deal but you also kind of hear the grunge as well and I thought that was super awesome when I was listening to the EP, which I’ll go into a little later on. So in terms of your influences and any artist that you might think are cool, if you could choose any three artists to create a tour with who would they be and what would the tour be named?
Ooh! I’d probably have to say, if they still existed, I would have love to have done a tour with Nirvana, The Bee Gees, and The Eagles. That would’ve been the most messed up tour ever because I don’t think those bands would have ever met period. I would have loved to tour with those three bands at the same time, but I don’t know what it would be named though, (laughs).
Going into the music of your debut EP SonicAluzion, which will be officially released at the end of this month. What do you hope for your audience takes away from the music?
The songs on the record very much capture certain points in my life and they’re really really close to me. They were written a string of lows in my life and some of the extreme highs as well, and a lot of revelations that I had during certain periods of time. I essentially want people to be able to sit down and listen to my music and apply it to their own lives because at the end of the day I’m a very selfish writer. I write only for myself, I really don’t write thinking of anybody else. I kind of do that because I feel like if you write for what other people are going to like, then you’re letting people contrive and it becomes diluted and fake to a certain extent. If you write for yourself, you’re essentially writing for everyone else because if you’re writing for yourself it appeals to all of those who have gone through the same heartbreak, ups and downs whether you’re a rockstar or a homeless person, whether you’re an athlete or in finance. All of them feel the same human emotions and I feel that if I passed them today and I wrote to them, honestly, someone would be able to interpret the songs to their own life. That’s kind of my goal with this music. Every song has a specific meaning to me and I want it to have a specific meaning to everyone else even it isn’t necessarily what it was to me. I wanted to just generate emotions that they feel that they understand.
That’s really good to hear and I definitely think the fans will get that out of your music. In terms of the writing and recording process for the EP, how was it different than what you did when you were playing guitar in My Darkest Days?
First of all, the main, main difference was time. I literally spent a year and a half making this record. I would spend over a month on tracks like “Like a Feather”, which is on the EP, and I spent over a month just recording that one song. If I wanted to go a step further with everything in my head, I wanted realize it through audio and have it sound exactly how I heard it in my head. I played around with different instruments and I eventually brought in the strings – I brought in cellos and violins and violas to patch in certain things. I guess first off is that My Darkest Days was a band that was in a box, it was a rock band and that’s all it was and that’s all it was ever going to be. There was a little set of rules when we were making a record for that band where it was like “This is what you have to do because this is what your audience is going to want to hear and this is what radio is going to want to hear”. It was something that we kind of had to do and I kind of got fed up with that model. I don’t like to be put in a box creatively and every time I feel like I’m being told to do something or being put into a box I end up running away. It’s the main reason why I created Smashing Satellites because I wanted to create music that had absolutely no barriers. If I wanted to bring in a fiddle, if I wanted to bring in an organ, or if I wanted to bring in some weird instrument, I wanted the ability to actually think it through and create with different tools. The biggest difference between those two bands was that My Darkest Days was like “Okay, get the guitar, get the bass, get the drums and let’s just make a rock record”, but with this, every song was tailored to what I was hearing in my brain and what I imagined. I was very visual in what I pictured and I could see what these songs were going to sound like. I don’t think a lot of these songs had a style. If I had to, I could listen to these songs and actually see a portrait because that’s how embedded they are to me and that’s how good I want them to be for people when they listen to them. It’s just really time that’s needed to be able to explore and having no boundaries. I had a rule while in the studio that you can never “no”, so I never had anybody that could tell me “No, you can’t try that”or “You can’t do that”. I think that was the biggest difference and I think that’s what the creative process was in this record – I went in and whatever I wanted to do I just did. I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do and I didn’t let anybody do that and for me I got to do a record that I wanted to make.
Yeah I definitely feel that you did. I felt like I was hearing a personal story when I listened to it and it’s definitely out of the box. Speaking of being out of the box, your first released single is “Hounds”. Wanted to ask what inspired the track?
It’s funny because “Hounds” actually isn’t the first single contrary to what I had written. It’s the first song that I’ve put out since I left My Darkest Days purely because I want people to know right off the bat that this is not going to be just another rock record- it’s going to be quirky and it’s going to be different. We actually haven’t released the first single just yet, but I wanted to put something out there virally that people could listen to and that people could visually see and get an idea of what the feeling of this record is going to be like. In terms of the actual creation of the song, I had a lot of trouble with insomnia and at times I would go days without sleeping. I was in my apartment in L.A. and had a writing session the next day in Malibu and I was fresh out of ideas, I was so burnt out because I hadn’t slept in a few days, and I started laying down in my apartment looking up at the ceiling and I was dead awake. I guess from pure exhaustion after being awake for a couple of days, I completely just fell into like a really deep sleep and I started having this dream. I remember in this dream that I was looking down at my hands and it was kind of starting to feel kind of like this surreal, somewhat distorted type world. I was laying out on the grass and staring up at this full moon, and I look down at my hands and saw hair on them then I started to feel my head and my arms and my chest and there was hair everywhere! I felt my face and it was slightly elongated with hair everywhere, and I was just “Oh my God I’m turning into a werewolf”(laughs). In the dream, I looked to my right and there was a female version of myself, kind of like a werewolf woman, but really beautiful with these really big pair of blueish-green eyes looking back at me. In the dream, I remember looking over at her thinking (starts singing the chorus) I just started singing it and then I woke up from the dream and that was it! The next day, when I was writing in Malibu, I brought it up to the writer that I was working with and was like “Hey, I had a dream last night and I sang this in the dream. What do you think?” and he was like “This is a really cool idea! I could just roll with it”. That’s kind of how the song came to be.
Wow, that’s awesome that it came to you in a dream, like, literally came to you in a dream!
It’s definitely never happened to me before and I don’t know if it will ever happen again, but it was the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me on a creative level because it wasn’t so much just the visual idea that came from it, it was the melody and something I sang in a dream. It was so weird!
Well at least you have the documentation of it and now the world will be able to hear it forever!
Speaking of the visual aspect of “Hounds”, you actually released a music video for “Hounds”. It’s very visually stimulating and very bright and really cool looking and from what you described about your dream it makes sense why the video is the way that it is. So I’m going to assume that you came up with the concept through your dream then.
Yeah! It was essentially a dream and I wanted the video to reflect the dream, but with the dream there was never an ending on the night that the song was conceived because I woke up. So I had the chance to create an ending for it and that’s kind of what we did. There are just so many meanings to the song itself so I kind of just wanted to keep the video open-ended for interpretation and still kind of be quirky and cool because that’s who I am. I’m kind of quirky and odd and I wanted it to just have that feel.
Yeah the video definitely shows your personality as well as the song and the rest of the EP. In terms of continuing to be an entertainer, what keeps you pushing forward?
Aside from the obvious things like playing in front of an audience or singing your songs, that’s very obvious because those are things that are very amazing and not as many people get to travel throughout the world to go play for people listening to your songs and coming to shows. That’s an amazing feeling and that’s great, but for me it’s more getting the band at the level where I have a bigger voice than I do now so I can speak on many issues, like ethical type issues like bullying and harm to animals. Essentially I want to bring awareness to so many horrific things in the world and I feel like people like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine, they’re such jarring artists and people listen to artists at that level than they do the President of the United States. I feel like if you can get to that level and you can leverage it to so a lot of good things for the world that is the ultimate win for me.
That’s really good to hear and I definitely agree that people listen to music a lot more than they listen to political figures. And my last question for you is what kind big plans should we be looking forward to from Smashing Satellites in the rest of the year?
Really just recreating the record for live and starting to get on tour and actually playing it. Creating the record was one thing and it was a giant process in and that took a long time. Recreating is going to be a little bit difficult because the songs are very orchestral and there’s only four of us live. We’re finding really creative ways to bring that to the live show and we’re spending a lot of time on it and we’re getting really close to the first show that’s coming up October 10th. With that we’ll start playing and touring and kind of doing what I did with my previous band, but on a different level in a way and it’s going to be pretty cool.