Eavesdropping on L'altra


February 4, 2005


Guitarist-vocalist Joe Costa and keyboardist-vocalist Lindsay Anderson are not particularly outgoing people eager to share their personal lives with the world. But it's hard to separate the story of their band from the tale of their fractured romance.

The two met in Cleveland in the early '90s and were a couple for seven years, moving to Chicago together when they started performing as L'altra (Italian for "the feminine other"). While they're no longer romantically involved, their music, especially on their powerful third album, "Different Days," continues to evoke the voyeuristic sense of listening in on intimate pillow talk -- or a lover's quarrel.

The group -- whose lineup expands and contracts, depending on the gig -- builds its spare but inviting sound on the pair's wispy vocals, Costa's ethereal guitar lines, which are strongly influenced by early '90s English "shoegazer" bands such as Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins, and Anderson's baroque Wurlitzer organ.

I spoke to the two as they geared up to play a series of local shows celebrating Hefty Records' release of "Different Days," just in time for Valentine's Day. L'altra will perform at Metro, 3730 N. Clark (773-549-0203) on Feb. 11, the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn (312-923-2000) on Feb. 12, the Hideout, 1354 W. Waubansia (773-227-4433) on Feb. 14 and the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western (773-276-3600) on Feb. 19. For more information, visit the Web site www.laltra.com.

Q. Your music is very introspective, fragile and sort of private in a way. I can't imagine that you're the type of people who enjoy talking about your personal lives, but the story of this album has become the story of the end of your romantic relationship.

Anderson: I really didn't think it would be the focus, honestly, and it's turning out to be so. It's a little bit shocking that it's turning out to be the thing.

Costa: It's been a little embarrassing; I wish they would talk about the music. But I think the music is what makes people interested in our personal relationship: The music does sound very introspective and personal, and it feels so much so that when they hear the story about Lindsay and me, it kind of helps them make sense of it all.

Anderson: I think people identify with it a lot.

Q. One of the things that invites speculation about your relationship is the call-and-response nature of the vocals: It's as if you two are having a conversation -- or an argument -- in the lyrics.

Costa: We really focus on the lyrics, and we've worked a lot on them over the years. They're very important to the songs. Lately, we've been writing apart and then coming together and bouncing ideas off each other. For example, the song "Bring On Happiness" was one that I had started, and Lindsay wrote the whole chorus and the circus-sounding melody, and that kind of made the whole song for me.

Q. The sound is an interesting combination of early '90s shoegazer music and classical influences. Where is that coming from?

Costa: Lindsay comes from a more classical background, and I think that's where the baroque comes from. I grew up playing more garage rock, and I was really into the shoegazer stuff when I was in high school.

Anderson: There's been a lot of talk about my classical training, and my mom was a musician, but I didn't continue with it through college and I don't have a degree in music. I took piano lessons forever and I sang in choirs, but I just think I have a very musical background. I was also a dancer, and I think that has a lot to do with the classical idea of music ingrained in my head -- for three hours a day, that's all I would listen to.

Q. How did you come to be in a rock band?

Anderson: Just through meeting Joe in college. He introduced me to all of the shoegazer music, and I really liked it because it was definitely along my style of tastes. It just seemed like a fun thing to do.

Costa: Then we moved to Chicago. We were looking for a new thing, and all of the stuff going on here really opened our eyes. When we moved here in the late '90s, it was a really good time for Chicago music.

Q. Yet L'altra doesn't play out on the local music scene a lot -- the band is pretty low-key.

Anderson: Our time has been spent recording and also touring in Europe. We've never had the support here in America to allow us to play our music as much as we'd like here. But with Hefty, already I feel a big change.

Q. How did this impressive series of Chicago gigs come about?

Costa: We haven't played in Chicago in about two years, and we just put the word out that we were interested in doing some shows, and a lot of people wanted us to do it. It just sort of ended up being this mini-tour of Chicago. What's good about it is that since we're just a duo and we play with our friends or whoever's able to play the show, we're going to do something different for every show. For some shows, we'll have a drummer; for others, it may just be Lindsay and me, and we're talking with [cellist] Fred [Longberg-Holm] about playing the Valentine's Day show.

Delicious stoner comedy music to my ears

I missed "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" in theaters last year but recently caught up with it on DVD, and it deserves its cult status as an instant classic in the time-honored genre of the rock 'n' roll road movie. The tale of two stoners (John Cho and Kal Penn) trying to stave off the munchies with a sack full of belly-bombers, it's decidedly un-P.C. but uproariously funny, and it's powered by a killer soundtrack that ranges from well-chosen underground hip-hop (86 & Classic, Fannypack, Black Eyed Peas) to Heart's "Crazy On You" to a show-stopping, dashboard-pounding sing-along on Wilson Phillips' "Hold On" that rivals Wayne and Garth's immortal duet on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." A bonus with the DVD is that you can freeze-frame to check out the cool band poster art adorning the walls of Kumar's bedroom.