If you ask anyone to think about a great summer memory, vivid flashes of laughter with friends and the warm glow of the summer sun will spill out to form stories that they remember fondly. Growing up in the Midwest, a lot of my fondest summer memories revolve around a lake– kayaking, hiking, boating, lake house adventures– you get the jist. I remember one Fourth of July weekend at a lake house filled with friends, old and new, puttering out into the water on a pontoon boat and losing track of the time and any worries that were bottled up in my mind. Despite the brutal sunburn, I can’t remember a time that weekend where I wasn’t smiling ear to ear.
I got the chance to meet with a longtime friend from Chicago who has been a musician for the better part of a decade. Jack Costanza found success in his music scene of Fort Collins, Colorado, and resonates with the DIY musicians that believe their art deserves to be heard. Co-Stanza’s music represents those good times with friends, sunny days outdoors, and happy memories that put a smile on your face. To some, Jack is a guitarist, songwriter, and producer for his band ‘Co-Stanza’; but to me, Jack is a great friend that invited me to his lake house so many years ago. Here is a casual Q&A with Jack about being a musician, juggling music with life, insight into his creative process and summertime, and some thoughts about the future of his art.
So let’s start from the beginning… If we go back 8 years ago, Jack Costanza is living in Chicago, still doing music. It’s pre-covid, and pre-your success within the FoCo music scene. Fast forward to now, you’ve played in a few Denver music festivals, you’ve hit 3.5 million streams on “I Don’t Mind” [and congrats on that]. If you were to chat with past Jack, what do you think would be the most shocking update for him, and what would be some advice to give for the future?
- JC: Interesting! It depends exactly when in the past I find myself, but I think one thing that would be super interesting would be finding out that Ryan Adams and I live out in Colorado now. We met at DePaul. It would be crazy to know because at that point, there were no solid plans for me to even move out to Colorado, and to know that he’s playing in my band out here would be pretty shocking. For advice, I don’t think it would be just ‘one thing’. I think I would say something along the lines of “enjoy the ride, and don’t always think about what it could lead you to.” It’s already so cool that anything happened at all, so if you think of those successes as stepping stones, you realize that those steps are already cool enough as it is.
Right, forget about the end destination. I get that, because then if you’re fixating on one thing, you can get bewildered thinking about ‘what’s the next thing from here? I did this, now what’?
- Yeah, it becomes ‘how can I leverage this?’ and I don’t like that. Take every show and every win and instead of thinking ‘we just played for 200 people but I just KNOW we can do that for 600’– well, 200 people just had a good night. That’s pretty cool.
So you think finding out about playing with Ryan Adams would be more shocking that heading about the world going into lockdown for a while?
- Ha, I was thinking musically. I don’t want to spoil it for him [past Jack]! I want him to experience the pandemic like we all did.
I guess if you spoiled it for your past self, you probably wouldn’t get singles like ‘Big Picture’. You’d probably get a full EP leading up to it.
- I would be a prophet!
So in a similar vein, what did making music back then mean to you, and what does it mean to you now?
- I feel like music in the beginning felt a lot more casual and second-nature. That has definitely changed for me and it’s something that I’m working on this summer. I’m trying to figure out what I want it all to be for me. Getting a job as a teacher has changed my life a lot, because it’s this career that has given me health insurance and pays me enough for all of the things that I need. I don’t feel like I’m scrambling and because of that, I’m missing the role that music used to play in my life. I haven’t always enjoyed the change, and I want to work on returning a little bit to how it felt in the beginning.
I see, sounds like you want a little bit of the best of both worlds.
- Maybe, yeah. The pressure and the focus in making things better has made me better, but emotionally I want to return. I want to keep the skills I’ve gained since then, though.
You’ve gotten to play in lots of venues around Colorado and be featured in some music festivals alongside big acts like Goth Babe, Cautious Clay, Still Woozy, and some upcoming shows with Backseat Lovers, Peach Pit, and Briston Maroney when you play Endless Sunshine Fest in September. If you could craft up a ‘dream lineup’ of artists that you would love to play alongside, what would be some names?
- Oh that’s fun to think about! I guess I’m going to answer it as the show I would like to see the most, and not the show that would maybe “work” the best genre-wise. For some headliners I would choose Daft Punk, Gorillaz, and Clairo. Then I would have Skegss, Japanese House, Whitney, and JD Beck + Domi Keys as the second line on the poster. And the third line would be The Born Ruffians, The Wild Reeds, and Kunzite. So many more I would like to add but I think that would be a pretty sick festival!
Co-Stanza has released a steady stream of music since his 2018 EP Cool We Are Having Fun, including several singles and a second EP Patch of Grass, released in 2021. Jack has not departed with his optimism as a songwriter and continues to use it as his greatest tool, blending catchy hooks, punchy drums, and shimmering guitar licks together. His indie pop-based sound has touched on deeper themes with the aforementioned ‘Big Picture’, dealing with the uncertainties and anxieties of life during COVID.
Speaking of your newer work, you have two new singles out right now, with three more on the way?
How does it feel for you to be “in the zone” from a writing and production perspective, or does that not really exist?
- Well it definitely exists on a smaller scale. There’s times when I’m stuck on a chorus or something for weeks, and figure it out in 30 seconds after taking another look. Or I’ll be downstairs working on something and I’ll realize 4 hours went by. I feel like anyone in the creative space can resonate with that. But I’ve always been someone that struggles with being “in the zone” with bigger picture stuff–I don’t like posting, I don’t like promoting, I don’t like setting release dates…
You don’t like interviews…
- *laughs* No I do! Not when they’re the most basic questions all of the time, but they’re usually pretty fun.
Noted, you were saying?
- Yeah, it’s like I’ll shoot a music video and get really excited to post all the things from the shoot, and then all of a sudden I want to delete my Instagram. It happens over and over again, and I can’t feel “the zone” for like 6 months straight. I want to quit the promo and stop everything except writing and releasing music. The music zone [music making & live performance] I’m always in, but the trajectory of the project zone is tough for me to stay in.
I feel like that trajectory zone is tricky, it seems like it takes the most effort. When you’re in the creative zone where it feels like second-nature, it seems to be more like leisure, or even working out, and onstage you go off the energy of the crowd. When it’s something you don’t enjoy, you’re constantly going against the grain.
- I was just going to bring that up. Getting somewhere you want to go takes work that you don’t like, but I don’t know where I want to go! I’m already happy doing it. It’s not the same hunger as when I was working at my last job and I couldn’t pay for insurance and I told myself that I should take more pictures of myself and post them because I have to make some more money and make this project work. Now, I just feel a lot more comfortable, and it’s made it a lot harder to do the things I don’t enjoy because I don’t really need to anymore.
That’s such a valuable point! On one hand, pressure makes diamonds, and you stress yourself and work really hard to do something because you just really want to do it. But now if you’re comfortable, everything eases up.
On top of being a musician, you’ve mentioned you are a teacher, tell us a little more about that.
- I teach high school social studies, and last year was my first full year. I loved it overall– it was a lot of hours per week, but a lot of it was enjoyable. You learn about cool stuff around the world, watch documentaries and take some notes for presentations, bookmark articles. I definitely feel ready to protect my time a bit better going into year two because I understand things like how long creating a lesson plan actually takes. Of course grading and stuff like that is never fun.
Right. Is there anything about your experience as a teacher that has helped you as a musician, or vice versa?
- Like I was saying before, that security of my job makes me feel so purposeful and connected, and that has changed my mindset on music and continuing to work on that, just being calm and content with where I’m at. Confidence onstage and in front of the class is also a main crossover, too. They can be pretty similar sometimes, you just connect to the people who are ready to connect, and try to connect with the people that aren’t, and sleep well at night knowing you tried it.
That mindset definitely makes it easier on yourself, that’s a good way to look at it from both sides. It seems like it eliminates some of that pressure.
- Yeah, it definitely helps.
Co-Stanza consists of Jack Costanza (guitar/vocals), Ryan Adams (guitar), Seeder Whaley (bass) and Simon Martin (drums). Getting a chance to check out Co-Stanza live, it’s easy to tell how dialed in these guys are with each other.
What are some of the best parts about playing with your friends live on stage, as well as the worst parts if any?
- I am SO lucky to play with the people that I do. Ryan, Seeder, and Simon are three of my best friends I have ever had. We have been a really peaceful band and very rarely have any arguments, which is awesome. Being onstage with those guys just feels so safe because we all are there to have a good time and nobody forgets that. When I can look around at my buddies and we are all smiling and dancing and doing our favorite thing together it makes me so happy. Also, we love each other for so much more than our musicianship which means if anyone messes up, it doesn’t matter. Having Ryan move here after he was living in Boston for several years has been wild. I didn’t really think I would ever be on stage with him on a regular basis again, but here we are! I don’t even have any downsides if I am being honest. I feel like this arrangement of people has been everything I could want from a band and more.
That’s amazing to hear. When I photographed you all in Denver last year, I could feel the connection. I’m sure the crowd could feel it too, which is why they gave such a turnout to your middle of the day set during a summer heatwave. Speaking of, a lot of your music, vibe, and energy draws from the concept of summer, pointing at your most recent release of ‘Sunny’, and going all the way back to your 2018 EP Cool We Are Having Fun. To you, what makes a good summer?
- Oh, that’s such a good question. I think a great summer is A.) filled with being outside often with people that you like, as many hours of the day as possible. It’s pretty broad, but just doing things that you like, hopping from brewery to brewery, skating, swimming, biking, chatting, whatever. B.) a great summer is one that you don’t think about how fast or slow it’s going, almost like that flow state in music we were talking about earlier. A great summer is when every hour that’s passing is passing naturally. I sort of have this caterpillar metamorphosis analysis….
Woah, I’m buckled in!
- I think Winter is when you learn, work, think, and hone in, and I think Summer is where you test it all out! You know what I mean? Winter is the time to look inward, figure out what makes you sad or happy and how your relationships are. I don’t think summer is the time to do that, summer is the time to take what you learned and see if you were right, see if your values align with what you like, and when winter rolls around you reflect again and see how you did.
Wow, that’s pretty cool. I’ve never really thought about it like that! People in temperate climates probably don’t really know what you’re saying, like “oh well I live in Miami”. Has that sort of been your writing process then? Is that when your stuff usually comes out?
- Different stuff. I feel like I write similar amounts in both, but the Winter stuff is more reflective and also kind of more digital and weird, like the WLF2MN side project stuff comes out more in winter. Sub basses and bubbly synths and auto-tune, stuff like that. Summer has a lot of open major chords and brightness, more free. My music listening changes too. Summer comes along and I’m listening to Wet Leg and Skegss constantly, in Winter it’s more about Pat Metheny and Julian Lodge jazz guitar, it just changes a lot for me. I get pretty affected by seasons and weather.
It seems to help by adding some variance to your creative process though.
- It makes me go through a lot of moods and a lot of approaches, yeah, which I think is pretty valuable. The only thing that ever takes me out of that is the business side. I don’t know if the business lends itself to the short sporadic bursts and radio silence and then a change of genre. Usually industry people tell you that you want to try and find your lane and sound, so that’s why it’s always been so hard for me. I love playing acoustic guitar songs, but I also love crunchy synth leads, and marrying them feels forced sometimes. In all ways it’s a blessing and a curse to be so moveable by the environment.
Jack’s creative approach and its relation to seasons and sensations has always been apparent in his work, and how it affects his mood, mindset, and output. His Spotify bio reads:
“Created and developed in the picture perfect suburbs west of Chicago, Co-Stanza is a pop music project by Jack Costanza with its roots in good vibes and midwest charm. Think of skateboarding with an unsweetened iced tea and your closest homies, 75 degrees and sunny. Think of a couple cold ones and a pontoon boat getting your tan on. Co-Stanza is trying to transport ya to your best mood and get you out of your seat. Co-Stanza’s music primarily comes straight from Jack’s bedroom, plastered with old magazines and photos of friends all over the walls. Drawing from the love and wonder of the world we are lucky enough to live in, Co-Stanza keeps it simple. Relying heavily on classic pop elements, Co-Stanza brings the attitude in punchy guitar work, and vocals that incorporate hip-hop attitudes with the hookiness of pop singer. Co-Stanza is tryna hang out and wants to know if you’re free.”
His mentioned side project WLF2MN is more of a seasonal creative outlet, rather than an artistic alter ego. WLF2MN is rooted in more of the abstract, with some of the songs not featuring any vocals at all, let alone the catchy hooks and pop aura we’ve come to know. A lot of the artistic direction is based in glitch and psychedelia, as reflected by the artwork as it is in the music itself. This has created space for newer and more abstract ideas that seem to balance out the brighter side of Co-Stanza.
So what’s one thing about being a musician that NOBODY brings up?
- A few things. One, there is so much waiting. When you have a show where your set starts at 10, it is normal to have to get to the venue at like 3:30. Sometimes you will wait 7 hours just to play your 1 hour set and then spend another hour tearing things down. You have to REALLY love playing live for it to be worth it. Having your friends around makes it a lot easier too. Another thing is probably the money side. It is never fun to mix art and business and the industry is just so insanely saturated and competitive, it is hard to imagine being financially stable from a single music project. Which is a shame. I just heard Julien Baker say that she cleans office buildings as a side hustle. I was like… If she can’t be full time… yikes.
What feels different about this new string of singles compared to your past work?
- One of the main things that feels different about these singles in the production, I think that I have to give so much of that credit to Ryan Adams. Much like the caterpillar metaphor I mentioned earlier, he was already so good, but then [Ryan] went to Berkeley, and now he’s like a freaky-wizard good. I just feel like now, all of the sounds feel louder and they punch harder, and they rock your stereo a little more which is so fun. I’d also say that the singles show a good consistent through line of my artistic voice, but they bounce around styles. Working with one producer [Ryan] for these has allowed for there to be some movement around stylistically, but keeping enough elements the same–it’s still my voice, they still feel like our songs. There’s one song coming out called ‘Staying In’ that’s basically a rock song with distorted electric guitars and super punchy drums, so it’s cool to be able to do it in a way that’s not a full departure.
That’s cool, I’m excited to hear that one. Finishing up with my last question here, it’s pretty broad. What are some thoughts you have for your music moving forward?
- Like we talked about before, I really think that music moving forward is going to be changing yet again as I really work towards making music in the moment and for the joy of it again. I want to be expressing some other sides of who I am through music that aren’t really anywhere in my discography at the moment. I want to work towards reclaiming the purest love that I have towards this process and feel comfortable making and releasing songs that capture that, regardless of what they may sound like. I have a lot of things in the demo phase that I want to get out there and I am excited to share them!
I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of fans who would be excited to hear that, man. Thank you for your time, it was awesome to hear all of these intricacies.
- Yeah dude it’s nice to see you too!
If you’re in the Colorado area, don’t miss out on Endless Sunshine Music Festival on September 8th in Denver, featuring Co-Stanza, as well as The Backseat Lovers, Peach Pit, Briston Maroney, The Velveteers, The M.O.S.S., The Mañanas, and Blankslate. For those unable to go, check out Co-Stanza on Spotify and Apple Music. His newest release ‘On My Mind’ released in April 2023 is an electric indie pop banger that deserves a spot on any house party playlist. Expect to see ‘Kickback’ releasing later this month, and his final single of the summer ‘Staying In’ slotted for September 2023.