Art of Flying are one of the best kept musical secrets around.
The songwriting of musical partners David Costanza and Anne Speroni has been set to music, arranged, rearranged, and played by an ever-changing “cast of talented co-conspirators,” over the many years that these two have collaborated.
I first met the band (who included Peter Halter at the time), when my friend (whom I managed before leaving NYC), Cindy Lee Berryhill, met and jammed with them in Questa, and invited them to come play at our Sunday night Open Mic at The End of the Universe Cafe. We had started the Open Mic at Cafe Tazza when we first moved here, and after a few other locations, it had finally landed.This was during the early ‘90’s. After Cindy left to follow her dreams on the West Coast, they became regulars at the Sunday night scene which I kept on doing. I was immediately struck by their originality and talent, and became a fan.
David and Anne were married back then with one daughter and another on the way. At the time they were based in Questa where they both lived and made music in their home studio.
In Taos, Art of Flying continue to stay mostly under the radar and off the (musical grid), while keeping on keeping on.
The Italian magazine BLOW-UP has called them “the best-kept secret in American music of the new century.” Rolling Stone listed Art of Flying as one of its ‘bands to watch’ from New Mexico.”
You might recognize David from his day job at Shank, where he’s both the receptionist and Rachel Bell’s right hand man who helps with her baby daughter, Vida. During the first year of Vida’s life, David could be seen pushing her pram around town while Rachel worked.
Both Anne and David have remarried since I first met them (David’s wife is renowned Yoga Instructor, Sonya Luz), but have continued to be actively involved in both their (now grown), daughters’ lives, as well as continuing to make music together.
I’ve wanted to feature them on the blog for sometime, and I thought the month of hearts and love, was the perfect opportunity. Especially in this day and age where the old-fashioned notion of a nuclear family is being disrupted along with everything else!
Love is unconditional and love is not dependent on contracts or dogma. Love both changes and endures, and love shines most when its creating art and music and beauty, and this is so apparent on the band’s latest recording, Escort Mission.
With that in mind, I fired off a few questions to the two of them and here are their responses.
1) So you and Dave met very young, and were together for years. You have two daughters, and although you separated years ago, you remain friends and play music together. How has the music remained such a constant through all the other changes in your lives?
Dave and I started playing music together shortly after we met almost 37 years ago, so it’s always been a strong connection we have. That just never changed, and in fact has become stronger and more interesting over time.
2)You’re not as vocal but clearly you bring as much to the table – can you talk about your process working together on songs?
With a few exceptions, we write songs independently. Dave is much, much more prolific than I am. The collaborative piece comes more with how we develop the songs, usually in the studio, as part of the recording process. We are able to be very honest and critical with each other and maintain a good degree of humor about it all. Having that shared language of song/music over such a long period of time, I think allows us to balance out and support each others strengths and weaknesses in the creative process.
3) How does this incarnation of your band differ from the others and how is the music impacted and informed by these new choices?
Our current incarnation has really renewed our faith in how well true collaboration can really work. We all have opinions and a sense of humor. There’s really nothing at stake and no deadlines (usually), so we are just free to try things out and explore. Max and Kevyn definitely push us to be more, maybe, “refined” in some ways that Dave and I wouldn’t have done on our own, but I so appreciate being challenged in that way. I’ve always been in it more for the process and this group makes the process really interesting and fun and rewarding in itself.
4) Female bassists were not common when you started out – was Tina Weymouth an influence? Can you talk a little about what brought you to the instrument?
I just remember really tuning in to the bass ever since I first started listening to music. It was what I gravitated towards, the piece I would always focus on and try to dissect. I think I liked how grounded and functional it was. Dee Murray, who played with Elton John, was the first bassist I paid attention to. Later there was Mike Watt of the Minutemen, and others, but I never thought a second about being a woman bass player, I just wanted to be a bass player.
1) I’ve known you a long time – from the End of the Universe Cafe days when you guys were the Lords of Howling, and Peter was still in the band. So many changes since then! Can you tell my readers a little about the Art of Flying’s evolution?
Anne & I started playing music together in college, in Santa Barbara, CA in 1983. Second wave ska! We played at the Theater Dept. dance parties! We were learning to play our instruments & they would ‘dance to anything!’ so it was a perfect fit. I was a privileged white-boy from SoCal so I didn’t see anything wrong with naming a band after a long-forgotten department store known as White Front. The band was great! The name makes me cringe now…oh well…we apologize & move on. Anne & I got married in 1984 & moved to San Francisco & the band moved up there too. We played with bands like Faith No More & Camper Van Beethoven & it was a great scene & our little ska band evolved into a 7 piece noise band before noise was cool! San Francisco was an expensive place to live, although this is hardly surprising when you look at the quality of the apartments. We often admired the Fourth Street apartments and there were many other stunning places around the city. Eventually, because of the expense, we followed a friend out to New Mexico & set up a recording studio & got to work. Somewhere around 1990 a prolific songwriter & tall-tale-teller from Baltimore came to town & Anne & I, along with Peter Halter became his backing band & that was called Lords of Howling. I loved that band. We recorded 12 or 13 cassettes that I would dub one at a time & we would sell them at shows for $5. WFMU in Jersey City still has some! We made a CD (Baltimore Pearl Crescent Meadow Painted God Will Visit You) & as is often the case, the band blew up! Anne & Peter & I carried on & Anne came up with the name: Art of Flying. That would be 1998. We continued to learn how to play & learn how to record & learn how to ‘not stress out’ so much & we made 8 or 9 CDs (a format I really can’t stand! I much prefer cassettes). Everything’s available at our Bandcamp page:
Somewhere around 2013 or 2014 we started playing with Max & Kevyn from Two Ton Strap. They are a bit of a life-long musical partnership so they have a similar understanding about things. We spent the last 2 or 3 years recording & re-recording our latest record, Escort Mission. We made an LP, which is the only format I ever loved.
2) This new record is deep. It encapsulates so much – past and present – musically it’s a sort of hybrid of old and new – can you tell us a bt about the making of it, and how you decided on the songs and arrangements?
In 2012 our beloved studio, The Barn, was foreclosed & so after 25 years of moving in I was given 9 days to move out! so all of the recording equipment ended up in storage. In 2013 I got it all out & moved it into my house in town, a tight squeeze to say the least! & I started recording a brand new batch of songs. I had lots of songs waiting while things were in storage, like 25 songs! I wanted to make a 90 minute cassette with all of the songs! Max & Kevyn were such good sports to come over & play along with these musical skeletons, so to speak, without vocals, in most cases, so it was pretty hard to tell what was going on. Anne’s a bit more used to this way of working. After a while the song would take shape without ever really having a plan at first what that shape would be! The song Escort Mission was finished first. I work with a 16-track (2″ if you’re keeping score) machine & I filled up all 16 tracks with guitars & pianos so we transferred them to Max’s computer so we could add drums & Kevyn’s guitars & Anne’s vocals. Escort Mission is the first album we combined the analog & digital set-ups which has a lot to do with how it sounds. We were able to edit on the computer which was a blast & very helpful when some of the basics got a bit out of hand. After a year or so of this process we started to whittle away at all the songs & narrowed things down to 8 songs that were the most interesting recordings. An LP can only be 20 minutes a side, or thereabouts. Hang Around the Water is one of the first songs I ever wrote, the End of Side B I wrote during the recording process. I think that encapsulates the history of Art of Flying in some mysterious way & the whole album feels like a ‘concept album’ though I couldn’t say what that concept is.
3)You and Anne have been making music together forever; through marriage, children, divorce, re-marriage – what’s the secret to making beautiful music together no matter what?
LOL! There’s no secret! & certainly it’s not all beautiful. Over & over again we both just love to make music. Which is writing songs. Recording songs. Playing them together in the living room. A friend once said: “Nothing can stop us from making music, not even people not listening!” That may be close to our Mantra with music-making. We really aren’t that concerned with ‘what people think about it.’ It’s nice, of course, to hear someone say they like this or that. But it isn’t why we do it. With Escort Mission we were so satisfied with the process that it was an end in itself. Now it’s out in the world & there have been many kind replies & a lot of ‘radio silence,’ & that’s how it goes.
For more about Art of Flying and to hear their music, please visit their Bandcamp page linked below.
Top portrait of David and Anne by Zoe Zimmerman
Black and white photo of the duo performing by Doctor Foxglove, other shots thanks to Art of Flying