26 May INDIE ACOUSTIC SINGER-SONGWRITER KOSTKA CAPTIVATES WITH NEW EP, FAR FROM NEAR
There’s nothing better than knowing what you want and going after it without hesitation. Indecision can be a nasty, time-consuming, and sometimes damning experience, whether you’re in line at the taco truck (spicy or mild?), in need of a date for that function you don’t want to attend (Morgan or Sydney?), or in the process of making a career change (die in this cubicle or take that wild card offer?). Sometimes, the inability to make a decision ultimately makes the decision for you – from my experience, this usually ISN’T the best route to take. (Stay with me. I’m getting to the music, don’t worry.)
Michigan singer-songwriter Kostka is a cut above the rest for many reasons, but I believe the greatest of these is that he KNOWS who he is and he knows what type of music he wants to create and perform. Without hesitation. Without apology. Without a Plan B. And that fullness of commitment comes across clearly in his newest EP, Far From Near. There’s no faltering, no half-way efforts, or any absence of heart. Kostka meticulously stitched his deep-seated emotions and personal experiences into each of the four stirring acoustic songs which appear on Far From Near. (Yes, I said ‘deep-seated’ emotions. The type that could conjure up ghosts from relationships past OR lead you to adopt a more forward-looking perspective. You MIGHT cry while listening, but I promise you will SMILE as well.)
My introduction to Kostka’s music happened via social media (Instagram and Spotify) when I discovered his song “One and Done”. From first listen, I knew I wanted to hear more of his discography and connect with him. I listened to Far From Near on its release day, and I’ve continued to listen to it ever since. (Yes, I’m listening NOW! I tend to switch between favorites on this one, but my current is “The Honest Truth”. Listening links provided below.) Kostka’s enthusiasm for making music, admiration for the people he makes music with, and appreciation for his listeners shines through each of his responses in the Q & A.
In this interview, you’ll learn about: each song on the new Far From Near EP; an embarrassing story from the sixth grade; Kostka’s versatility as both a solo performer and the frontman of a full band; his musical influences; what inspires him; why he’s almost never home; the cool house show scene; what he’s listening to now; and when we can expect new music. I hope you enjoy this one as much I did! (Also, be sure to check out the special Spotify playlist Kostka created for us. It’s the essence of acoustic chill and the very last link in this post.)
The conversation from our interview is chronicled below in a pure Q & A format.
Q & A:
How long have you been making music, and what instrument(s) do you play?
Kostka: I’ve been making music for quite a while. When I was in the fourth grade, I started playing guitar, and I’m almost twenty-five now. I jumped into guitar lessons for about four months, but then I gave up on theory and learning from a book. That’s when I started picking up things myself. From there on out I always created band names and knew I wanted to make music for a living.
My first band was in the fifth grade. We were called Almost Perfect, and we actually played shows and stuff, too, which was insane! In every band I played in, everyone else quit, so I guess that’s what led me to where I am now. It’s wild to think about how long this has been going on. I played shows throughout middle school and high school. I gave college a try, and was in a band then; and, after some trial and error, I just decided to just pursue the music solo. I also have ‘full band Kostka’, too, and that’s a lot of fun.
(‘Full band Kostka’ will be described in detail a little further in the interview.)
I think it’s so cool that you knew your passion at such a young age.
Yeah, there never was a Plan B, either. Never had a plan B in my life, whether that’s safe or not. If you are set in your ways for so long, then you must be doing it for a reason. Especially if you’ve been doing it since the age of nine or ten. At that age I already had the mentality that I wanted to sleep in my van and go on tour doing what I love. If that’s what you have had your mind set on for so long, without a backup plan, then I think that’s what you are driven to do. And that’s where I am now. It hasn’t been easy, by any means. It’s been hard, and it still is. Yet, at the end of the day, you are doing what you want to do. Deep down, if you are content that’s all that matters. It doesn’t really matter what other people think about your life decisions.
Let’s talk about your NEW EP Far From Near, which you just released two months ago. Can you tell us a little bit about each of the four songs: “Fireworks”, “One And Done”, “All Over You”, and “The Honest Truth”?
Kostka: I’ve been playing the songs on Far From Near for two or three years. I recorded them with my best friend, Chris Tanner, who also plays guitar in ‘full band Kostka’. I’ve known Chris for a very long time, even before we were good friends. What Chris has – the equipment and how he works helped me step out of my comfort zone and become a better musician. I’m fortunate for that. The original intention was to create a full-length, but it was a long process that stretched past two years. Eventually, the concept of the full-length transitioned to a six-song EP. Then it was to the point where I thought, Man, I have these four recordings, and I just kind of want them off my chest. I hadn’t released music in a while, and I had been in this creative block. I thought that maybe releasing these songs and letting them go would be the best option for me to continue to move forward in my creativity. I’m not saying these four songs held me back by any means; I love the songs on this EP for what they are and I’m really glad I’ve shared them.
“Fireworks” – I wrote this first song on the EP in thirty minutes. I had nothing to take into Chris’s home studio the day we planned to record, and we wanted to make progress that day. About a half hour before I had to be there, I wrote “Fireworks” on my acoustic. I had the song “West Coast” by Coconut Records on my mind for whatever reason during my jamming. It’s crazy how “Fireworks” just fell out of me but turned out to be a song a lot of people love. Sometimes I wish I wrote the song a little bit longer, but I still think it’s great. It’s about building up a lot of things on the inside of yourself and letting them go. I’ve also always thought of it as a summer song. “Fireworks” was written after “One and Done”, the second song on the EP, since it was always meant to be an intro song in the same key as “One and Done” – that was Chris’s suggestion.
“One and Done” – I see both “Fireworks” and “One and Done” as really happy songs. “One and Done” has been around for a long time. Chris and I recorded that song twice before it became the way it appears on this EP. Chris really opened my mind with adding the drums in, and that was something new for me. The first couple lyrics of the song are “holding tight and letting go.” When I wrote that song, I was just dealing with a lot of life at the age of 21/22. I had some toxic people in my life, and I had a tough time of letting certain things go. I kept them hanging on by a thread. That song made me feel so much better. I can remember writing “One and Done” in my bedroom, and feeling SO GOOD afterwards. It was therapeutic. It was beautiful. And it was a summer jam for a lot of people who follow my music. They really enjoyed that song last summer, and I think that’s why I chose to release the song as a single, and then also to include it on the EP.
“All Over You” – I will always love that song for so many different reasons. My summertime job was at a camp. At night, when everyone was sleeping, I would sneak away to this old wooden chapel and write songs. “All Over You” was one of those songs. It rolled out onto the paper within minutes. I worked on the guitar parts for a while; it sounded a little bit different in its original form than what it sounds like now. The recording seems ten times more sad, but it also captures so accurately what I was feeling when I wrote that song.
“All Over You” is definitely a relationship song. It’s about moving too fast – getting out of a long-term relationship and wanting to try something new, but sort of being freaked out after being rushed into what you were pursuing before with someone else. I had a tendency of freaking out and then just disconnecting myself from that person. That wasn’t the best way to go out about things, and that’s why I wrote the song. It’s about word vomit, too. Sometimes people get weirded out because the lyrics mention throwing up, but it’s not about actually throwing up on anyone. It’s about word vomit – saying terrible things at the wrong time and accidentally hurting people. Saying dumb things when you never really meant to, but those words fell out of your mouth because you grew nervous and sweaty. I do love that song. I still play it – not in the form of the recording and not as a full band, either, but that song will always be special to me, whether I continue to play it or not.
“The Honest Truth” – I wanted to write something happy. This one’s about being honest and free with others. Chris and I turned “The Honest Truth” into a fun party jam – in the best way you can with an acoustic song. You can hear gang vocals in the end. We invited all of our friends over to record those vocals and had such a good time doing it. And that’s what we wanted: we wanted the song to be a celebration of feeling good and living in the moment. Life can get very stressful and make you go crazy, but that song helped me unleash a lot of feelings in a more positive way. That’s how it came about. I love that song a lot. I move that song to the last song in the set when I do play shows – it’s a fun one to end the set on.
Would you like to address the EP as a whole?
Kostka: As a whole, I just wanted the songs out. I had a lot of shows lined up in April, but I was going through a lot of personal struggle and I wasn’t happy. I decided it was best for myself to take a break from playing shows. I am so fortunate for the support everyone has given me, especially the promoters of the shows – they’ve been so good. I was dealing with some unfortunate things, and I wanted the songs on this EP released to say, “Thank you for being there, and I will see you when it’s right.” I do love those songs, and even though I didn’t tour on the EP and support it in the traditional ways, it doesn’t mean I won’t for everything else. Releasing these songs eased my mind. When I’m ready to dive back into recording and playing shows again, I’ll have such a clear vision of where I want to be and the next direction for myself. I’m starting to get excited again.
When are you recording and performing as singer-songwriter Kostka and when are you performing as ‘full band Kostka’? How do you juggle the two?
Kostka: Originally, I played and recorded under my full name. Then, I changed to just my last name. I use the name Kostka whether I’m playing solo acoustic or when the full band plays. Sometimes I feel weird or guilty using my last name for ‘full band Kostka’, because my friends are playing music with me. I almost felt like I should adopt a separate band name, but I’ve received encouragement from others to keep the name Kostka in both instances. Maybe my not having a common last name helps, which is why I have chosen to stick with it even when I’m playing with other people.
I’m always going to play acoustic tours and tour solo. It’s easy, but it’s also exciting. It helps me make progress as a better musician when I play those shows. But, when ‘full band Kostka’ happens, we have SO MUCH FUN TOGETHER. There’s Chris Tanner, who plays guitar and does some backup vocals. My buddy, David Beuthin, who plays drums, and then my buddy Dave Daniele, who plays bass. I remember the first practice we had as ‘full band Kostka’ I was kind of nervous, since I hadn’t played with a full band before then in such a long time. We had a blast figuring out these songs.
I like the option of having ‘acoustic Kostka’ AND ‘full band Kostka’, whether that’s seen as consistent or not. I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter, because in the end I want to do it how I want to do it. ‘Full band Kostka’ touring will eventually happen, not sure when, but it would be great if we do at least a week of shows. When I plan more extensive touring it will most likely be as ‘acoustic Kostka’. I’m happy we have those options. Whenever I bring a new song idea to the guys, they fall right into place and we get an idea of where we want to take it. Everyone is in the group is REALLY good at what they do.
I have a song called “Coming Clean”, which was on one of my older EPs, that I think I will always play. At first, we were kind of confused about how to change that song into a full band song. It was mellow compared to the rest of the set, and we knew we needed to make it into something more fun. We ended up turning it into something amazing. A ‘full band Kostka’ set will include all of this styling and show us having a good time with each other. We play upbeat alternative rock acoustic songs.
People who hear ‘full band Kostka’ typically come up to us after sets and tell us we remind them of a band from the nineties. And I always think, Wait, this is really cool! A lot of us have those influences from nineties college rock bands (as well as modern day bands, too), because it’s what we grew up on. Everyone can bring their influences to the table. ‘Full band Kostka’ is completely different than ‘acoustic Kostka’. I’ve tried to apologize to them and say that they contribute so much that I feel a little bad that the full band name is Kostka, but they always just tell me to shut up because they’re having fun. At the end of the day, we‘re just happy to be playing together. I am so fortunate to have those guys in my life as bandmates and as best friends.
Are any of the other musicians from ‘full band Kostka’ on the new EP with you?
Kostka: Chris Tanner is on the EP – I covered vocals and guitar but he basically played everything else. And then we sent the songs around to the full band and everyone learned the parts. As far as what I record next, I want it to be acoustic AND full band. When that time comes, I want the whole gang together. I feel like it’s the right thing and it will be great for all of us to experience that together.
How you would you describe Kostka’s sound? (You don’t have to use typical genre tags.)
Kostka: I just say indie alternative rock. Also, when I play acoustic, I just say acoustic and don’t describe it any further. I don’t go as far as tagging myself with a genre like Americana or emo or anything. I stick with alternative. It is what it is. If people want to throw me in line with something or someone, that’s okay, too. I want people to have the imagination for themselves to classify what I am to them musically. I just want to play music that connects with people.
What do you want your listeners to take away from your music?
Kostka: First and foremost, I want listeners to be able to connect to these songs. I want these songs to be everyone else’s songs just as much as they are mine. Even though I wrote them, I want people to take them and make them their own. I also want listeners to just enjoy the music, learn the words, and sing along, too.
What is the most discouraging comment and/or the most encouraging comment you have received in your musical career so far?
Kostka: MOST DISCOURAGING: “Quit while you can, because the music industry is messed up!”
I understand that, but at some point, if you invest so much into something, why would you quit on it?
MOST ENCOURAGING: “Keep grinding and pushing towards where you want to be. Soak in every opportunity, every chance you can to do something new with your art.”
You never know what will happen or when it will happen. That’s the whole point of wanting to expand your career with whatever art form you are pursuing, whether its music or any of the others. Those are the words I’ve held SO close to me, because I’ve always heard those words from musicians I look up to. My mentality is: if they can do it, so can I – whatever journey that is. If they can be successful and be happy and pursue it for as long as they have, I can, too. And that’s my intention.
Well I hope you stick with it, because I want to hear more of your music.
Kostka: Thank you! I’m hoping to put out more music soon. I’m not sure if it will be this year or early next year. I want to work on something and get it out. That’s something I haven’t done a whole lot of: putting out music. I know I have some songs on Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify, but it’s just not enough. I want to make more music and release more of it.
Where can we listen to the music you made before this new EP?
Kostka: It’s all on Bandcamp under the Kostka name. There’s the first EP, Recover (2013), and then my second, These Past Few Months (2014). Everything after that is somewhat newer. A lot of those songs I don’t play anymore, but I like to keep them up for old time’s sake and for the people who continue to connect and enjoy listening to them.
Do you have any funny or crazy stories related to the making of your music or your live performances?
Kostka: I remember in the sixth grade (with my first band) our middle school had something called the Friday video announcements that students contributed to. The whole school watched the announcements from the TVs in each of the classrooms. Our tech teacher was SO cool, and he let us include a video of us playing a song from band practice. I was screaming my lungs out in the footage we gave him. I got so much shit from classmates after the video, and I was just like, man, you guys just don’t understand the music we’re writing or what we’re doing. I was SO embarrassed. Thankfully, it was a Friday and this had all blown over by Monday, but that Friday was HELL. You know, the teachers were cool and they understood it. One day, the students might look back and realize they were jerks.
No! They’ll think, Man, I saw one of the FIRST Kostka performances! And soon they’ll be begging you for tickets.
Kostka: (Laughs.) Yeah, we’ll see about that. That’s one story that stands out. I mean, I tour alone a lot. No one can really go on the road with me, because they all have jobs or are in school. I just do what I can to make ends meet, so I can fund what I am meant to be doing. I’ve done a fair amount of touring, but I can’t pinpoint certain stories other than sleeping in my cars or in a minivan I used to have. I enjoy meeting good people on the road. When I do go solo, I don’t complain about not having someone with me. That just pushes me even more to get out there and meet as many people as I can. I’ve met a lot of good friends doing that, and I guess that’s a story in itself.
What is it like living in Michigan as a singer-songwriter? Can you tell us about the music scene?
Kostka: The music scene here is pretty cool! There’s a lot of awesome bands coming out of Michigan, such as: Vital Sea, Mover Shaker, Watching for Foxes, Wolves & Machines, and American Opera – lots of GREAT music. Fusion Shows is a big, independent concert production and promotion company that puts on a lot of awesome shows throughout the state. There’s a lot of house shows and DIY music fests happening here as well. I think we’re in a good spot right now for Michigan music.
Where I live in Bay City, things are slowly coming back. Cool things are happening with Patchwork, an annual, ten-day art and music festival in the Great Lakes Bay Region of Michigan – it’s so incredible to see these events happening in my hometown. And I was just in Detroit for a show last night. I love that I’m always finding something new to check out, and how there’s so many options – that’s how I know that there’s good things happening in Michigan in terms of music.
As a singer-songwriter it’s cool – I’m not the one who plays three hour long bar sets. I want to play shows, and I’m fortunate that I can do that. When I’m not playing in Michigan, I want to be on the road touring out of state. Some people say you shouldn’t go on tour until you have a solid home state fanbase, but then there are people who say the complete opposite. I would like to think that I’m able to make both happen as much as I can.
I think social media has completely changed the rules of the game. You can pursue both a home state fanbase and an out of state fanbase at the same time. Even with OUR interaction now: I’m in California and I found you through social media (Instagram and Spotify) without ever having seen you play a show– if we hadn’t connected on social media, it would have taken me a bit longer to find you.
What do you like best about playing live? And, have any of the venues you’ve played at stood out from the rest?
Kostka: There’s a cool house show scene in Akron, Ohio – it’s a solid community of people who really BELIEVE in shows. I always love making a stop there because of it. As far as Michigan goes, I love playing house shows here. I have random people scattered throughout Michigan I know, and it’s always a treat for them whenever I pass through regardless of whether it’s a bar show, an all ages venue, or a house show.
I can’t name a specific venue I like most, but the feeling of playing live is great, especially for the people who are there for the show. I have trouble playing bar shows for people who are there for the show but also there to talk. When I play more of an intimate stripped down show or a house show, people are THERE for the music, and I think that’s what I appreciate so much – the people who are there to listen and to soak in what you can give them. I LOVE talking to people and including them in conversations while playing. Hey, I’m here playing songs for you, and I appreciate your time, but I want to get to know YOU also. And that’s my favorite thing to do.
Alright. You have to tell us more about these house shows! I’m so intrigued. How does someone find you? What is it like?
Kostka: These are actual house venues: either a group of friends or musicians that live in a house together and throw on shows. Even taking this back to social media, there’s now Facebook groups for DIY tour booking; and, you find one person who knows another person who knows another person who knows where one is happening in the United States. There’s a lot of bands and people that just enjoy throwing house shows or basement shows.
So there’s people sitting on couches or at kitchen tables watching you play?
Kostka: Yeah! It’s like a normal show: a stacked bill with other bands. It’s a REALLY cool thing for touring bands. Many of them LIKE playing house shows. Much of the circle I’m in loves hitting new spots on tour and meeting new people. It’s also just really nice to hang out for the night, to share your music, and to make lasting relationships. Who knows? Those people will most likely come out next time and support you, too.
What has and what now inspires you to create music?
Kostka: I guess life in general. Getting a little bit older and growing up makes you think a little bit differently about so many experiences in your life, past and present, and where you want to be in the future. The hardships of life, be it relationships or friendships and people changing, inspire me to write more. It’s all inspiration. My way out is writing, regardless of whether or not an idea gets thrown away. I always go in with the mindset of writing to write and then just see what happens. Staying inspired, listening to new music and bands you’ve grown up on, watching other bands play shows – it all keeps you driven and focused, and it’s reassuring to know that you’re not the only one in the dream of pursuing music. Watching others play influences you and helps you influence others when you play.
What do you like to do when you’re not making or playing music?
Kostka: I’m always staying busy with something, whether it’s going for a drive or riding my bike. I also work for a coffee roasting company here in Bay City. I roast coffee beans, so that’s another thing I enjoy doing and it helps pay the bills. I keep myself busy, whether it’s spending time with family – having nephews and a niece helps me shift my focus onto something else. I love spending time with them and with friends that are still in town. I’m almost never home, regardless of whether it’s me being out and about in town or me taking off. It’s either that or finding odd jobs on Craigslist to pay the bills.
What artists/ bands are you currently listening to?
Kostka: I’m really into the band Pinegrove. They’re on Run For Cover records – amazing! I can’t get enough of their album, Cardinal. Pinegrove has been huge for me lately. The Menzingers, Vital Sea, and Movers & Shakers recently put out great records that I enjoy listening to.
Many of my influences are acoustic driven rock bands. I’m a huge Dashboard Confessional fan, so I’m always looking forward to hearing what Chris Carrabba puts out next – likewise, I’m a fan of the Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls.
I also listen to a lot of older bands I grew up on, like Taking Back Sunday and Northstar. I’ve been getting into a lot of singer-songwriters, such as Joe Pug, David Bazan, and Rocky Votolato. My genres and my choice of music are expanding tremendously. I’m trying to understand songwriting now more than ever, and that’s what helping me focus on these solo artists who are making a career out of what they’re doing. It’s great learning how they go about their writing. You can apply new skills to what you originally do and step out of your comfort zone.
You’ve alluded you are working on new music – can you tell us anything about it, even in its early stages?
Kostka: The EP Far From Near was something I wanted to get out so I could fully embrace this mental break I needed from everything. That being said, this week I’ll be checking out a studio and recording a couple of demo ideas for new songs and I’ll ease myself back into it. I’d love to have new music out soon, whether it’s a single or a new EP. I’ll probably hold off on a full-length album for a while. I’ve been noticing a lot of artists releasing singles lately. I’m going to keep writing and recording, and if I don’t get something new out before the end of this year, it will be early next year.
Shout-outs: Are there any people you would like to thank and / or draw our attention to?
Kostka: For sure. I’m grateful for the guys I get to share my music with and play my music with: Chris Tanner, Dave Daniele, and David Beuthin. We have so much fun together. I’m forever grateful for the things they bring to the table.
Family, best friends, everyone who listens to my songs: Thank you! It’s very reassuring to have people out there listening to your music and really care about what you are doing. If anything else, that drives me even more to pursue what I love to do. I appreciate it.
Connect with Kostka:
Listen to the Far From Near EP:
Listen to Far From Near AND what Kostka is Listening to:
Spotify Playlist: MMM: Kostka