Chrissy Costanza of Against the Current
Meet Chrissy Costanza, the woman leading the pop subculture that’s melding nostalgic Pop Rock with contemporary Alternative sound. Think LIGHTS meets Halsey meets Transviolet. Vocalist for New York State-based Alternative Pop band, Against the Current, Chrissy, along with bandmates Dan Gow and Will Ferri, have grown a massive fanbase of millennials ready for the next generation of pop rock music. Not only are they ready, but they’ve been waiting for 2 years since the release of the band’s first album, In Our Bones.
Having gained popularity 4 years ago, doing covers of pop songs on a Youtube channel that would go on to amass a total of 305,000,000+ views and counting, and help launch their careers from local Poughkeepsie band, to world tour headliners after the release of their second EP, Gravity, Against the Current is laying the groundwork for a new wave of alternative pop.
I sat down with Chrissy to ask her about the new album, how she’s grown since making covers on Youtube, and the songs and lyrics that mean the most to her.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
LET’S GO back to the beginning. HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN MUSIC?
“So technically for me, I’ve been singing forever. My parents will joke around that I was singing in my crib before I could talk. But I actually started in musical theatre because that’s what I knew. I was 9 or 10 when my mom got me my first guitar and I started writing little songs and [the song] ‘Personal’ is about my friend Julius who passed away, and I really looked to him once, when I was 11 or 12, because that was the first time that I had ever seen someone in a band that wasn’t a big band, just a regular band playing at local venues. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world and that’s what I wanted to do. He was such a rockstar. Mind you, he’s playing for like 20 people, and I’m sitting there in awe thinking this is the best thing I’ve ever seen. So I met [my bandmates] Dan and Will through a mutual friend and they’ve been playing in bands together since they were 9 years old. They came over with an acoustic guitar and we played Taylor Swift covers in my basement and it kind of just went from there.”
and when did you decide to pursue it full time?
“After graduating high school. I wanted to pursue it full time before that, but obviously my parents weren’t going to just let me leave high school. So after I graduated, I actually went to college for a year because Dan and Will are a year younger than me, so they were still finishing up high school and I was off at college and really not feeling it. I wanted to play shows, I wanted to go on tour and really do this. So as soon as they graduated high school, it was game on.”
You gained a lot of popularity doing covers of other songs. How did you transition into making more original music? Many of your covers went viral.
“Yeah, it was weird because, we never planned on getting that into covers. It was kind of a thing we did when we went to release our first song thinking, ‘how are we going to get anyone to give a shit about it?’ So we did a cover with Alex Goot, who’s a big YouTuber and we thought hopefully people would come back to our channel and listen to our original song. The cover did so well that we just kept doing more of them because people wanted more. We never thought that it would go as far as it did, but the whole time that we were doing covers, we were still on a regular music schedule behind the scenes. It took us a while to get to our first record - we had put 2 EPs out, but they came out a year apart, whereas we could release a cover every month.”
How would you describe the band's style?
"We always have a hard time putting a name on it because originally, for a while, we were telling everyone we're a pop rock band and that just didn't feel right because... when you think pop rock, you think like early Paramore, that kind of thing, and we don't necessarily think we sound like that. So I think what we've been saying now is 'Pop Alternative', because it's not quite "pop", but it still has this alternative root to it."
You've been doing this for a long time, like 7 or 8 years now, how do you keep your fanbase engaged?
"I think we're just straight up with them, honestly. I hate when a band that I really like is about to do a new record cycle and instead of just doing branding, they completely change everything and they become new people. That doesn't feel like growth to me, that feels like putting on a costume or a mask. The fans that have been there since day one, we never want them to feel like they didn't know us in the next cycle. People grow up, and people can change a lot, but it's just about being true to ourselves and hopefully that resonates with [our fans].
SO YOu’re 23 now… HOW DOEs it feel to have had this experience of being signed to a label, and going on tour, and releasing an album, and having a fan base, all during your late teens, early twenties? How has that shaped you?
“It’s definitely strange. When I try to explain it to people who I grew up with or who I met at school, they’re always like, ‘What is that like?’ or ‘That’s such a weird life.’ I guess it is, but at 15, we were looking up to all of these other bands and Will’s older brother was in a band that was always on tour, so to us, that’s just what life was going to look like in our future because that’s where we wanted to be. So by 15, I already had this idea that I was going to be here and that this is what I wanted to do. I didn’t know exactly how it would look, but I knew that this is what I wanted out of it.”
WAS THERE A NOTABLE TIPPING POINT WHERE YOU WENT FROM, ‘LET’S SEE WHERE THIS GOES,’ TO, ‘THIS IS BIG NOW’?
“Maybe with the Gravity EP release. Because, I think that once Gravity was out, we did a whole world tour off that EP and we headlined Asia for the first time, and we headlined all over Europe, a full US tour, and I think that was the moment where I felt like we really had something.”
WHERE DO YOU SEE AGAINST THE CURRENT IN 5 YEARS?
“It’s so hard to say, but I definitely think that the pop world is where we fit in the best. It’s what makes most sense for us. I think we’re definitely going to continue to grow on this side of us that you hear on Past Lives, I think this is way closer to who we are and who we want to be. Hopefully just a ton of growth. We’d love to just be touring and be in bigger rooms, bigger venues, doing really cool things.
WHat’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome throughout all of this?
“I think one of the biggest problems we’ve had as a band is just trying to find where we fit in. There’ve been so many moments where we felt like the outsiders. We did a tour with our friends, and you could tell that their fans did not want us there, and then we did another tour and we got to open for Good Charlotte a second time, and you could tell that their older fanbase [was really put off by us]. There were a lot of little tours in the beginning where we just felt on the outside of things. Not fitting in like everyone else. We’re also pretty shy, which doesn’t help because we’re not really good at shoving ourselves through the door. We do our own thing and I think on this record, we finally [realized that] we don’t have to sound like another band or fit this structure. This is the music we want to make, this is the music we love to make and we’re just gonna do it our way.”
You took a 2 year break after your last release In Our Bones, tell me more about that time and how it changed you as an artist.
"So after In Our Bones, we toured nonstop for almost two and a half years, but for the better part of 2 years, at least. That was definitely one of the best and worst times simultaneously because, it was coming off of our first record, we were so excited, we were going places we'd never seen before, we were in front of new people, we were on some of the biggest tours we'd ever been on, and it was amazing, but we were also gone so much and we were just constantly on planes and buses and vans going from place to place, meeting so many people every day that it just kind of drains you after a while. That's a lot of what this record talks about. Not wanting to feel numb because -especially when you're doing something you love- you want to love it and you want to have the best time doing it.
How is Past Lives different from In Our Bones? How has the sound changed?
"Sonically, we approached every song differently than we approached In Our Bones. We're a 3-piece band, so we're vocals, guitars, drums and In Our Bones, [we felt the need to] have the vocal part, the drum part, and the guitar part, but we learned that it's not always the case for every song; not every song needs full drums the whole time or like a guitar riff that goes the entire song. Some songs are better off with synths and pads and things that are a little pulled back and more finessed. So we wanted to play around with that a lot and as well as just playing around with different tones too, like making guitars sound like anything but guitars, and just kind of making sure that we're doing what's best for the song and not just what we thought we had to do as a band."
How did you SETTLE into the name ‘Past Lives’?
“Well there are so many moments on the record where it’s like these past versions of myself. You know, in this relationship, or in this frame of mind, or this situation, and I think in all of those moments when you’re in them, it feels like you’re never going to get out of them. So when you are numb, it feels like you’re never going to feel again and when you’re upset, it feels like you’ll never be happy, and when you’re on top of the world, it feels like you’ll never be sad again. Those moments are so total and so saturated that you can’t really remember before or after them; it doesn’t seem like there ever was a before or there ever will be an after. But when you look back on them, it’s kind of hard to recognize yourself in them because coming out of them, you grew so much. For me, when I look back on those moments, it’s kind of like looking back on past lives, looking back on past versions of myself.”
WILL YOU BE TOURING WITH PAST LIVES?
“Yes! Absolutely. We’re on tour right now, it’s [only partially] a Past Lives tour because obviously the album doesn’t come out until tomorrow, but we’re going to be in Asia later this year and then doing a whole lot of touring next year.”
WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR FANS AND LISTENERS TO TAKE AWAY FROM PAST LIVES WHEN THEY LISTEN TO IT?
“I think maybe a more subtle undertone is not to take yourself, at any given moment, too seriously because there is a before and there will be an after. I think that’s something I failed to do; I would always think this is the end all be all when it wasn’t. Another thing is… there’s always a possibility of a silver lining and you can be the one to save yourself. That’s the most important one for me because I think at one point in my life, I was looking for a new person to inspire me, a new person to show me how to live, and I would look up to one person so much and want to emulate everything they did and then eventually I realized that I can just tell myself who I want to be and how I want to live. That was the most important thing for me to learn.
What does your song writing process look like?
"It changes depending on the song, but for the most part, we start with some kind of riff or rough instrumental demo that Will has or some weird idea, sometimes it's a vocal idea, and we build around that. We usually end up demoing most of the songs, and a lot of what we demo ends up being used in the actual song. For us, even though this is pop music, it's easy for pop music to be really manufactured and we want to make sure that there's still this real element in it and that there's rawness in it. There's rawness in all of the lyrics, so we like putting our ideas down right away because then we get to have that authentic, ‘this is really what I was feeling when we were writing this’ on the actual recording.”
WHO ARE SOME ARTISTS WHO REALLY INSPIRE YOU?
“There are so many. For us, we’ve always taken inspiration from lots of weird places, so instead of just [trying to emulate bands], we combine so many different things that we love. Recently I’ve been loving the rapper NF, and I’m obviously not a rapper, but I love his lyrical content and the way he talks about things and the brutal honesty. I’ll pull inspiration from there, or a band like Foo Fighters - we sound nothing like the Foo Fighters, and anyone who’s a Foo Fighters fan [would agree], but I just love Dave Grohl’s presentation of the band and how he presents himself, his lyrics, and the group as a whole. For me, that’s something really inspiring.”
So there's a song on the album, “Come Alive”. I know that this song really made you realize what the album was about. How did you come to that discovery?
"Writing ‘Come Alive’ was a long process, actually. It’s a song where the lyrics are actually really simple, the chorus is literally “come alive” like twenty times. When you have lyrics that are so simple, they have to be the right ones, they have to be saying the right thing because it’s so easy for them to miss the mark. So when we were writing that song, we wanted to make sure that [the lyrics] were like the first thing that you would have said if you were trying to explain what you were feeling. Maybe that’s not the best thing to say, but it’s what you feel and what makes sense and I think once that happened, I was like ‘Oh, I know what’s happening here, I know what this album is.’”
Was there a song that you really enjoyed the process of making? A SONG THAT REALLY JUST FELL TOGETHER AND CLICKED WHEN YOU WERE MAKING IT?
“Yeah, I think for me, that was probably ‘Personal’ or ‘I Like The Way’. ‘I Like The Way’ took longer, but it was really fun because that piano riff just feels really good and makes you happy to listen to, so I was happy to listen to it over and over. ‘Personal’ just came together so fast it was basically done that day, final vocals, final everything. [The song] was almost done within 12 hours of starting it, so that’s one of those moments that feels so satisfying as an artist because it feels like it just came together so easily, but you know it’s right.”
What’s your favorite song on Past lives?
“It’s a tie right now between three of them, [my bandmates and I] have the same three favorites, so we usually just pick one. It’s either ‘Come Alive’, ‘Personal’, or ‘Voices’. I think ‘Come Alive’ is at the top for me right now.”
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE LYRIC OFF OF THE ALBUM?
“I have so many favorite lyrics. I have a list. It’s hard, they’re like my little kids. Sometimes the lyrics that mean the most, don’t necessarily sound the prettiest. I think on ‘Come Alive’, "There’s a war inside my mind, but I’m the only one who fights." It’s that idea that… I was making it harder for myself. I was super into whatever rut I was in at the time and I was just swinging at thin air. I wasn’t trying to help myself, I was just fighting myself constantly. Once I realized that, I was able to climb out of that rut.”