L’Altra is Italian for “the feminine other.” The band formed in 1999 in Chicago with Ken Dyber, Eben English, Lindsay Anderson, and Joseph Desler Costa. After a couple of records and an EP, Dyber and English left the band to pursue other interests, and Costa and Anderson continued on until both were pretty much on the verge of snapping. Joseph and I talked a bit about the challenges L’Altra have faced in the past, reuniting with Lindsay for their record Telepathic, and what comes now.
Kristina Villarini: How would you describe your sound?
Joseph Desler Costa: It’s soft rock. (Laughs) No. Ironically, I would say indie slow jams or indie soft jams. I’m perfectly aware that we make intimate music that doesn’t appeal to everyone. The people who find us, they find something they can relate to and something that makes them feel. But I think it’s hit or miss for everyone.
KV: Do you think it’s easier or harder to create that ‘intimate’ style of music?
JDC: It’s harder. We put a lot of ourselves into it, so if we get to a place where people don’t like it or aren’t open to it… The criticism burns when you’re making something so personal. If we play a show and no one is listening, it can be a pretty empty feeling. But when it does work, it’s a great feeling. We play music to get something from the audience in return.
KV: Creating that kind of music together must contribute to the tenuous balance of band relations.
JDC: Well, Lindsay and I have known each other forever. We go way back. It’s just easier to create something like that with someone you know well. There’s this intimacy there. I feel comfortable letting her see things that aren’t ready yet and sharing things with her.
KV: Are you happy with the overall reception to L’Altra?
JDC: It’s up and down. Sometimes we feel like it’s super important and sometimes it just feels like no one cares. We took some time off before the fourth record… We kind of found the reason why we do this and the time was right to revisit this.
KV: Why do you play music?
JDC: The thing I got off on playing music, and this is going to sound cheesy, but when the band all comes together… And everything is working. That feeling where you’re creating something. And to meet girls. (Laughs)
KV: Finally! No one ever tells me the truth when I ask that question.
JDC: (Laughs) Really? Well, that’s it.
KV: At least it’s out in the open now. So, did the time off help you as an artist to contribute to the band in a different way?
JDC: I think so. I saw things differently; things that I need to do. I could see that she brought all of these things to the table once we weren’t around each other anymore. Now I’ve found another way to do things together and maybe this time helped us appreciate each other more.
KV: Well, you’re both very different.
JDC: Yeah, before the time off we were driving everybody crazy. It wasn’t the best environment, and that’s not to say we were this crazy, conflicted band, but things were tough. Working alone I saw a lot of bad decisions. You’re always learning. While we apart, I was writing and she was writing… And I called her and things just went from there.
KV: Has it been more of a challenge to work with someone you know?
JDC: The challenge is to not let yourself go when you’re comfortable with somebody. It’s so hard, once that barrier is gone. We are back to filtering ourselves and finding the middle ground in things. But who knows? Maybe there’s a conflict in our music and that’s a part of it. And in a weird way maybe we like it.
KV: How do you create this imaginary line in the sand to working with someone but not making boring, unfeeling music?
JDC: There’s this weird line between what is too far, and you just never want to cross it.
KV: Is the new record a departure from your sound or a natural evolution?
JDC: A departure? I wouldn’t say that. A refining, maybe. I think that refining is natural. We didn’t go into the process with a preconceived notion. I think some fans may expect more electronics. I think the essence of who we are, is within those four records. I can say that we have picked up where we left off to create music, but we’re better than we were five years ago.
L’Altra has a slew of festival dates in 2011. They will be in Japan, at SXSW and at Primavera in Spain. They will be foregoing the laptops for a full band set-up, which should be awesome. Look out for Telepathic in March.