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INTERVIEW: Staircase Spirits talk overcoming psychological abuse, personal and professional growth, the many facets of the music industry, and their new EP ‘Love Stories’

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me! Let’s dive right into it—what is the proudest accomplishment of your band’s career this far?

A: My pleasure! There are actually two answers to that – I’d say the largest tangible accomplishment we’ve had so far was being chosen for Substream Magazine’s “Substream Approved” section earlier this year, especially so soon into our existence as a band. Eva and I are both super proud of that. However, on the more personal side of things – the thing I’m proudest of is pulling off tracking all 15 songs for the Stories trilogy. We had some serious upheaval – money is tight (and we’re completely self funded), we’ve had a hard time holding onto a guitarist, that kind of thing. So ultimately, continuing to exist through the crappy stuff and to have as high a musical output as we have is probably the thing I’m MOST proud of, because that was the part that was all on us.

E: Being a Substream Approved band definitely still feels very special. It sounds corny, but flipping through a physical magazine and seeing our faces was surreal. I moved to California from New Jersey and I have a pretty big family. A lot of my family members bought it and sent me pictures of them with it. It felt like a really nice celebration of the work we’ve put in.

You just released a new single, “California Winter,” which is an incredibly catchy piece of music. Now, you’ve just announced a brand new EP. Can you tell me a little more about that? 

A: Absolutely. “California Winter” is from Love Stories, which is the conclusion to the Stories trilogy. The three EPs were my attempt to reconcile my experiences in a long term, psychologically abusive relationship – living it, leaving it, and rebuilding my life in the aftermath. Each EP dealt with a different part of the timeline, and has an overarching theme. Ghost Stories was grief/sadness; War Stories was anger/fantasy; Love Stories is healing/moving forward. Not for nothing, but Eva and I (along with our amazing studio team, Jonas Vece and Rob Kemerson) are in total agreement that this is our favorite chapter so far. I don’t think either of us expected to love it the way that we do, even though we wrote the songs.

E: For me, Love Stories is a bit of a homecoming record and a very hopeful conclusion. I think Anna did a great job of illustrating the ebb and flow of being on the other side of trauma and how darkness and light can coexist. I’m really proud of the unique power we were able to capture through the entire journey but especially on Love Stories.

Anna, being so involved in the professional side of this industry as a writer for sites like Chorus.FM, do you feel that’s helped Staircase Spirits’ growth, to be able to apply the knowledge you’ve learned from being involved in the journalistic side of the industry (as well as other sides of the industry?)

A: I’m sure it’s helped – this project certainly has seen more of a response than my last band did! It’s tricky to put my finger on exactly why that is. It’s probably a combination of having my experiences in the industry to draw from – experiences I lacked when I was younger – and the music flat out being better this time around. That being said, I should mention that I don’t have the words to properly express how much I appreciate the support I’ve gotten from within the writing community since starting Staircase a year ago.

What advice do you have for other emerging artists who are just starting out and have no idea where to focus their attention?

A: Focus on the music first, and decide early on why you’re doing this. Is it just to create art? That’s beautiful. In that case, the music is the only thing you need to focus on. Do you want it to become your livelihood? That rocks too – but in that case, you need to treat it like a small business. It (probably) isn’t going to be easy. And while I’m giving advice that’s easier said than done – do your best to limit the emotional currency you spend being bummed out by the success of others. Just because someone else’s path appears easier or is different from yours doesn’t make your path any less worthy of being taken.

E: You have to believe in what you’re making and why you’re making it. There’s nothing easy about being a musician or being involved in any kind of art. Surrounding myself with people that I believe in and who also believe in me has been key to helping me stay focused and tenacious. A band is a family and a relationship and you have to want it for yourself as well as the people around you.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received in this industry—and the worst?

A: The best advice I ever received in this industry is also the first and biggest mistake I ever made in this industry: DON’T DATE YOUR BANDMATES. (In case decades of case studies of why it’s a bad idea isn’t enough for you: the events cataloged in the Stories trilogy ought to cover it.) But for those who are in this industry who may not necessarily be musicians, I’ve got another: Remember that everyone has their own motives. That isn’t a negative or a positive thing – but it is incredibly important to remember. The worst piece of advice I ever got: I was once told that lyrics in a song don’t really matter. Maybe someday I’ll write a song about that.

E: The best advice I ever received was to not be scared of taking chances. I’ve taken a lot of risks in life and so many of them have led me to being part of Staircase Spirits. Nothing is going to fall into your lap. You have to work hard for it and put yourself out there. This isn’t so much bad advice as it is poor guidance, but I had a teacher tell me I was “too passionate” about music and that I needed to let it go. I’m glad I didn’t listen.

You’ve mentioned that your hope as a band is to continually grow and challenge yourselves. To always push to be the best version of yourselves you can be. That’s something I personally really admire and also do for myself. How do you challenge yourselves on a daily basis, and in a larger sense, with your music and growth as a band?

A: It’s funny but in some ways, we almost don’t have to *try* to challenge ourselves, because the world we live in loves to throw those curveballs. But in terms of what we do control: I think the way we approach music holds us very accountable in terms of not getting too comfortable or too complacent. The only thing that’s ever predetermined is the story we’re trying to tell – everything else about how a song will sound gets decided in the room, on the spot. We also have a huge amount of musical respect for one another, so it’s rare that anybody tells anyone else how to do their job… which means we’re always having to learn from each other and bounce off of each others styles. It’s also why we just say “pop rock” for our genre – because it would get too chaotic having to rebrand our genre every time we put out a new song.

You also mention wanting to make a difference for even one person—who has that person been for you, that has made a profound difference in your life? What would you like to say to them?  

A: TW: Depression/Suicide: There have been a lot of people who have been *that person* for me at various times in my life – my family, the Staircase Spirits team, and the bands I grew up loving in the hardest parts of my life come to mind – but relating directly to Staircase, I wrote “Eight” from Ghost Stories about that person – an aunt who committed suicide when I was 20 years old. The last time I saw her, about a week before she died, she gave me a giant bear hug and told me she’d see me soon. Ever since, she’s been my angel – any time I’ve been in that place, I swear I’ve felt her smiling and shaking her head, saying “Not yet, baby girl. You can make it another day.” And that’s what’s made all the difference for me, and helped me to step off the ledge – literally and figuratively.

E: I’ve had a lot of teachers and mentors over the years but there are four people who really stick out to me as guiding forces. Gwen Parker was the first music teacher I ever had. I initially joined the school band playing the trumpet and I was astonishingly bad. I would practice for hours and just couldn’t get the hang of it. She finally called my parents and asked if she could switch me over to drums and percussion. Her decision not to give up on me is something I think about everyday and that I still have no idea how to say thank you for. A few years later I got to high school and joined marching band where David Geltch was the drumline instructor and Matt Lauritsen was captain. Both helped me build and develop the work ethic and general attitude I have about being a musician and were two of the first people who I really trusted believed I could be great and had what it takes. Flash forward again to a little over two years ago when I started studying with my current mentor Fred Dinkins. Fred helped me unlock everything I had been struggling to unlock in my playing. He’s become one of the biggest parts of my support system and I’m so grateful he took me under his wing.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: We hope to see everyone on the road very soon! In the meantime, check out “California Winter” and keep an eye out for Love Stories – we’ve got some cool stuff going along with it in the works. Thanks a million, Angela!

E: Thanks to everyone who’s let us into their speakers! We pour our hearts into these songs and all the support we’ve gotten has been incredible.

Staircase Spirits is Los Angeles two-piece Anna Acosta (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Eva Friedman (drums). They recently announced the release of their third EP, ‘Love Stories’ for release on Dec 8th. ‘Love Stories’ is the third in the ‘Stories’ collection, and evokes a wide range of deep emotions and continues their autobiographical narrative. 

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Angela Mastrogiacomo

Founder of Infectious Magazine & Muddy Paw Public Relations. Lover of passion, ice cream, and books.

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