Living without regret is a theme for Tiffany Costello. It’s a constant drive that’s inspired her to move to several different (and culturally exciting) cities across the country and to try and maintain a consistent vehicle for her musical expression. That vehicle is Housekeys, ethereal and oceanic synth-driven ambience that’s ideal if you’re into Nils Frahm and Brian Eno.
Costello, after just two months back living in her hometown of Fort Worth, has released Exploded Views, a four-song EP that found its way onto streaming platforms earlier this month through Slow Echo, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based ambient footprint Echoes Blue.
On Views, unlike many other ambient artists who create much of their music “in the box” — meaning with software-based synth modelers and plug-ins on a computer — Costello opted to create most of her sounds the old-fashioned way: with actual physical instruments, namely her Nord Electro synthesizer, Rhodes piano, and electric guitars. The end product is the sonic equivalent of a sci-fi movie that uses real practical effects versus the flat, weightless look of CGI. The result is much more immersive and authentic-feeling, with thick and wooly synth waves that crash over you rather than trickle into your ear. The music makes for the perfect soundtrack to any therapeutic task, reading, or folding laundry, or staring into the void while contemplating where it all went wrong. Housekeys’ sonics are wide and expansive but remain grounding and contemplative at the same time.
“I draw from emotion,” Costello said of her music creation. “I’m always trying to pull out whatever I’m feeling and put it into the music. The translation of where the artist is at while they’re creating to how it’s perceived by the audience is always fascinating to me.”
Though Costello has been writing and performing under the Housekeys moniker since her time living in Denver about seven years ago, Exploded Views is the project’s first official release, a delay she said she owes to fear.
“I’ve always been trying to do the music thing,” she said, “but I have stage fright, and [a desire for] perfection is always lingering, so I never really put anything out.”
A turning point for her progress in overcoming her fear happened during her first handful of shows. She managed to score an opening slot for instrumental post-rock outfit Unwed Sailor, a favorite band of hers since high school.
“That was really cool for me,” she recalled. “It was a big boost for me in thinking maybe this thing is something I can continue doing.”
She admits she’s come a long way. The specter of disappointment from not pursuing her goals is a constant source of motivation.
“I’ve learned to compartmentalize it,” she said of ignoring her fear. “I can just shut that entire room out of my head. I’ll always regret it if I don’t do something because I’m scared to do it.”
That drive of avoiding remorse over not taking chances brought her to Seattle from her time in Denver. Then a few years later, she moved to New York. Living there, she said, was a humbling experience. She found it difficult to break into the saturated music scene and instead began focusing on theater, acting, and dance as her creative outlet. All the while, she continued to write music and tried to learn more home recording techniques. Then she got another break that steered her focus back to music. After years of applying, she was finally accepted by South by Southwest for a slot on a showcase with well-regarded ambient acts Nico Rosenberg, Lucy Gooch, and others.
“That kind of shifted everything into a whirlwind,” Costello said of the experience of SXSW. “It was really well-received. Getting to play that, I totally shifted gears, and I’m really excited about it. I ended up writing a bunch of new music for that set. Some of that music will go into the new record I’m doing in October.”
As a project, Housekeys’ sound has evolved over the years Costello has been tending to it, beginning with a shoegaze vibe, then revving into mostly improvised noise existing only in performance. During her time in Seattle, she began to try to smooth out some of the rougher edges, to add some structure, and to try to find the form of “proper songs” hidden within the undefined blocks of sonic marble.
From her years-long tour living in many of the country’s cultural hot spots to her newfound focus on recording and playing live and to her diving headfirst back into the local music scene — reconnecting with old musical allies and even starting a Facebook page devoted to archiving the rich musical history of Fort Worth — Costello is trying to do it all. However, her latest endeavor to avoid the I-wish-I-would-haves will push her further than anything yet. For that next album she’s planning on tracking next month, not only will Costello sing — a task that her self-professed shyness to this point hasn’t allowed — she will do that singing all the way in Reykjavik, Iceland. Housekeys will be recording in the rocky and rainy island’s famed Sundlaugin Studio, home of post-rock icons Sigur Rós. She admits she’s nervous about the prospect — a foreign country, attempting to live up to a historied studio’s standards, uncharted musical territory — but that old drive is compelling her to once again take the inherent risks, both emotional and financial.
The next step for Costello appears to be adding a rhythm section and expanding Housekeys into a proper band, and she said she looks forward to the next stage of evolution for the project.
“The way I view this whole thing is that I’ve stopped trying to control it,” she said. “Instead, I’m now like, ‘OK, what would you like to create for me today?,’ letting it all exist how it wants.”