Like only the most insightful songwriters, Austin Plaine draws intense emotion from the subtlest moments. On his sophomore album Stratford, the Minnesota-bred, Nashville based musician shapes his lyrical storytelling with both precision and pure feeling, capturing every nuance of lost love and longing and fractured innocence. And while Stratford is steeped in a warm nostalgia, Plaine instills each song with a quiet optimism that speaks to bravely moving forward, even in troubled times.
Produced by Jay Foote and mixed by Steve Vealey (M. Ward, Phoenix, Hurray for the Riff Raff) at the legendary Electric Lady Studios, Stratford arrives as the follow-up to Plaine's self-titled debut - a 2015 release that earned comparisons to Bob Dylan and Conor Oberst from Baeble Music. In a departure from that more stripped-down effort, Plaine assembled a full-fledged band who recorded in an apartment in Brooklyn, infusing Stratford with a homegrown feel and loose yet kinetic energy.
Taking its title from the Flatbush Street where the album came to life, Stratford offers a classically arranged take on folk-rock that illuminates the intimacy of Plaine's vocal work and the graceful candor of his lyrics. From track to track, the 27-year-old singer/guitarist reveals a refined sense of songcraft that he partly credits to moving to Nashville from his hometown of Minneapolis in early 2017. "Being part of a whole community of songwriters, you realize there's a lot of different directions you can take a song," he says. "It's really opened me up as a writer, and it's also helped me to hone in on every word of every line that I write."
With its abundance of indelible images - night trains and the Northern Lights, backyard camping and drive-in romance - Stratford also bears a richness of detail that hints at the literary and cinematic influence behind Plaine's songwriting. "People tend to think my songs are personal because I sing in the first person, but often it's very observational for me," says Plaine, who names Alexandre Dumas and Henry Miller among his inspirations. "I'm learning to understand new philosophies of life, love and death," attributing his passion for reading has helped him attain a better sense of his surroundings.
Proving the emotional depth of Plaine's artistry, Stratford opens with the wistful reminiscence of "Something More" (a steel-guitar-laced track "like a movie I've seen before / way back when / we were something more" sings Plaine in the chorus), then slips into the bittersweet, burned-but-not-broken ache of "What Kind of Fool" (a rollicking, country-tinged number co-written with Sixpence None the Richer's Leigh Nash and Stephen Wilson). Later, on "Lucky Ones", Plaine presents a more hopeful portrait unconditional love, with singer-songwriter Soren Bryce lending her vocals to the chorus's bright and beautiful harmonies.
While there's no shortage of delicately rendered love songs on Stratford, Plaine also brings social commentary to tracks like "Rise Above It" (a soulfully understated anthem woven with intricate guitar lines, dreamy mellotron tones and luminous organ melodies). And on "If Tomorrow Never Comes," Stratford closes out with a powerful missive featuring the album's most urgent vocal delivery ("I wake up every morning and I see the reddest sun / They're shooting guns and sending bombs in a war that isn't won / And through the lies I do disguise my heart inside my lungs / I live life today as if tomorrow never comes"). "That song is me showing my frustration with this modern world, and how we're so consumed with social media that we tune out what's happening right in front of us," says Plaine. "We get so lost on the screens of our phones instead of seeing the world for what it is. I'm guilty. I love my iPhone."
Born in Fargo and raised in Minnesota, Plaine had his first foray into making music upon finding an old guitar of his grandfather's in a family closet. By high school he'd started writing songs, tapping into the timeless sensibilities that still inform in his music today. "My first influences were anything my dad was playing in the pickup truck when I'd go out on rides with him," he says. "He'd play Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison and Neil Young, and that's what I dug into. Then high school came and Bright Eyes changed my life." During his junior year at the University of Minnesota, Plaine began dedicating himself more fully to songwriting and playing guitar. After posting several of his songs online, he headed down to Nashville to record a few tracks with Jordan Schmidt (a producer/songwriter/engineer known for his work with Florida Georgia Line and Motion City Soundtrack). A major creative turning point for Plaine, his time in Nashville led to the making of his debut album and release of "Never Come Back Again" - a breakthrough single that's now amassed over 10 million streams on Spotify.
Although Plaine notes that gaining more life experience in recent years has shifted his songwriting perspective, his music maintains an unaffected quality that's deeply refreshing. "I try really hard not to force songs" he says. "But I am always songbanking and hopefully one finds the finish line." As a result of that instinct-driven approach, Stratford emerges as an emotionally raw album that's cathartic for both listener and artist. "It will always be therapy for me," Plaine points out. "If I get through a whole day without singing or playing guitar, the day just feels really strange. I don't think that will ever change for me."
Anthony da Costa is no stranger to the music world. At age 13 he started writing songs and playing out anywhere he could, and his career as a singer-songwriter never really stopped. In the last decade, he's lived in New York City, Austin, Texas, and most recently, Nashville, Tenn., all of which have shaped him as a musician and led to countless opportunities and collaborations.
da Costa has released many albums over the course of his career, most recently a solo LP (da Costa) and a collaboration with Adam Levy (Neighbors) in 2017, and an EP (Shadow Love) in 2019. For the last several years, he's also been consistently touring, sharing bills with bands such as Big Thief, The Milk Carton Kids and Loretta Lynn, and sharing stages with Joy Williams (The Civil Wars), Sarah Jarosz, Molly Tuttle and Yola, just to name a few.
During his time as a sideman, da Costa's desire to write and release songs of his own remained steady. Last year he met up with long-time friend and producer Kenneth Pattengale (The Milk Carton Kids), and made what will be his next solo record, called Feet on the Dashboard, and in da Costa's words, "it's been a long time coming." A culmination of a sound developed since he was a teenager, Feet on the Dashboard is a collection of songs set to be a deliberate reintroduction to who da Costa is, and who he has always been: an earnest songwriter and an artist on his own merit.
Having been inspired by artists like Bob Dylan, Bright Eyes, Elliott Smith, and Ryan Adams, it’s easy to see why Austin Plaine found a love for songwriting and lyrics. The Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter turned to music as his personal outlet and hasn’t looked back since. After having his music featured in a Mastercard commercial, as well as some TV shows, his debut was released SEPTEMBER 11,2015 on Washington Square Music.
Anthony da Costa’s songs don’t extend metaphors or spin yarns. They shoot straight. The singer-songwriter and guitarist speaks plainly, from the heart and the gut.
With his latest work, including his recent solo album DA COSTA, he adds the musical force of some of American folk and roots’ seminal cities to his forthright style. “In the past few years, since I moved from New York to Austin and then to Nashville, I’ve found my voice as a songwriter,” muses da Costa. “I’ve honed my band, made strong musical friendships. I felt like I started over and found what I needed to say.” You can hear it clearly in his songs, whether they are steeped in rock-country grit or frank folk.
A seasoned sideperson, he’s toured extensively with Grammy-winning performers (Sarah Jarosz) and Americana darlings (Aoife O’Donovan). He’s shared the stage with everyone from Judy Collins to Kenny Loggins, played major festivals and late-night shows (CONAN), and written songs with hitmakers (Steve Poltz).
da Costa grew up listening to everything: folk singers, rock icons, bluegrass revivalists, roots-rock storytellers like Dylan, as well as the pop on the radio. “I grew up listening to boy bands, singing in the church choir, performing in school musicals,” recalls da Costa. “There’s always a pop aspect to what I do, but one of my favorite singers is George Jones,” whose influence resounds in da Costa’s often tender tenor.
He started writing in his early teens, a precocious performer unafraid to stand up at open mic with a guitar and rack harmonica, no matter who teased him. He listened in awe to seasoned folk singer-songwriters like Dan Bern, who could mesmerize an audience for hours with his originals. “Dan inspired me, the way he could move from heartbreak to humor. I wanted to have the material to play long gigs like that. I wanted to build community from those experiences,” reflects da Costa. “Throughout high school and college, I lived a double life. Any spare moment I had I spent writing, recording, touring, performing, doing everything I could to get better.”
He succeeded, becoming the youngest winner of the songwriting contests at Falcon Ridge and Kerrville Folk Festivals in his mid-teens, competing against performers several times his age. He played gigs at any coffeeshop he could near his hometown of Pleasantville, NY, carrying a thick binder of favorite covers with him. Over time, he replaced more and more of the classic songs with his own work.
When da Costa went to New York City for college, he began to move away from music that would help him shout over an espresso machine, toward music that captured listeners with its forceful simplicity. He was inspired by Tony Scherr, Bill Frisell’s bassist and a gifted maverick guitarist in his own right, who played gigs at the same downtown Manhattan venue he did.
“Tony played like a weirdo Jimi Hendrix, sang like a weirdo Willie Nelson,” da Costa recalls. “He taught me the importance of sustain, of slowing down and digging into a note. Thanks to him, I fell in love with the trio format of guitar, bass, and drums, a format I use in my own work. You can cover so much ground with a trio. At some point, I wanted to do everything with just those instruments.”
da Costa’s approach to his own instrument shifted significantly. He was used to banging away on the guitar for maximum impact, to shredding for maximum showiness. Then, after a long tour, his hands protested. “After many years of intensive playing, I started to feel discomfort due to overuse, in both hands. That marked a change in a lot of things for me,” he reflects. “I started thinking a lot more, picking up the electric guitar. I had to use a lighter touch and focus more on nuance. I got more interested in dynamics, in building from a whisper.”
These musical explorations unfolded further when da Costa left his old stomping grounds behind for Austin, Texas. It was a clean, hard break, as he hopped into his car with a few belongings. He fell hard for the quirky, music-loving city. Its laidback vibe contrasted with terse hustle of New York, nurturing a new turn in da Costa’s writing and playing.
As he played with legendary Austin songwriters like Jimmy LaFave, Texas’ straightforward ethos seeped into da Costa’s sleek lyrics. “For me, the goal with songs is to get you to feel something, yes or no. Feel something, whatever you want, as long as you relate in some way,” da Costa notes. “In my music, this comes out in plain speech, something that’s relatable and interesting enough to affect you. On DA COSTA I wrote a lot about relationships, about what fell apart and what my experience says about the world. What I learned from it.”
What started in Austin couldn’t end there, however, as da Costa realized after a few years he was a little too comfortable for his own good. He struck out once again, this time heading for Nashville, where he began writing, and pouring himself into his solo career. He challenged himself by collaborating with far-flung musical friends like Jarosz (the two will release several songs together this year) and Adam Levy (Norah Jones)
“I feel I’m just getting my own music off the ground, though I’ve been playing it for 13 years,” da Costa muses. “But everything I’ve done has contributed to my knowledge. It was the prelude, and now I know singing and writing my songs is most important to me.”