Spend any amount of time with Joe and Martina Costa, who comprise the husband/wife duo Terra Bella, and one thing is apparent: They love their “job.”
“It runs through my veins,” Joe tells Billboard. “Family and us being husband and wife is the biggest thing in my life, but right under that is country music,” he says, adding that his influences include a heavy dose of artists from his native California, such as Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. For his wife, she cites a couple legendary ladies — as well as one outlaw.
“It would have to start with Wynonna and The Judds,” she says. “It comes down to the chemistry, as well as the passion and the love behind them. That’s what inspires me – on those days where you ask yourself why am I doing this or is it going to happen, you look back to your heroes who made it work because of the love and the passion that they had for it. I think back to the talent and the stories of what a Waylon Jennings did. That really inspired me as a vocalist to bring lyrics to life – that grit and determination.”
The couple, whose first full-length album There’s A Country Song has just been released, has been performing together for close to a decade. What brought them together initially? A classic country song – in this case David Frizzell and Shelly West’s anthem “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma.”
“When we first met nine years ago, Joe would play guitar for me and I would sing,” reminisced Martina. “He would sing his own songs, and we would hang out down by the campfire at our friends’ backyard barbecues. They started telling us that we needed to sing together. They had ideas of songs, and I think Joe suggested that one.”
For Joe, it was an obvious choice. “I’ve always known about the song, and Shelly has this warm tone, which is similar to what Martina has. When we started playing it, people began to be hooked on the idea of us playing together. That’s really what started us playing.”
The couple began playing throughout the area – when they weren’t farming. “I grew up in Visalia on my family’s farm,” says Joe. ” My dad is a third-generation farmer. It was an awesome way to grow up. My only neighbor was my grandparents. I hung out with my grandpa quite a bit. If dad ever needed help on the farm, I would help,” he says, adding that “I learned what hard work and the land is all about. We would all starve if it weren’t for the farmers. I wouldn’t have had my growing up any other way.”
For Martina, life was much the same way. “I grew about an hour east from Joe in the foothills on a seven-hundred acre spread called Wonder Valley. We had to borrow our neighboring town’s zip code,” she says with a laugh. “I grew up around cattle and horses my entire life, and have shown horses. We never owned cattle or farmed a ranch ourselves because it was just my parents and me, but we were in a community that did. When high school came around, I dove head-first into the FFA, which taught me morals and values. It also gave me direction. I’ve always been spunky and wanted to share my story with the world, but I didn’t know how until the FFA. It really made me the woman I am today. We are big ‘Ag-Vocates,’ and anything we can do to promote ag[ricultural] education, we do. They are our future. We learned so much about the land, and having a work ethic, but we also learned about ourselves and who we want to be.”
After building a name for themselves in their native state, they quickly figured out who, and where, they wanted to be – Nashville.
“We started opening up for a lot of national acts, like Blake Shelton and David Nail,” says Joe. “The one who kind of changed everything for us was Lee Brice. He was really open to giving us some advice, and we became friends with some people on his crew. One of them wound up managing us for a little bit. He said ‘You guys have to come to Nashville and check it out.’ We did, and we knew we were going to move here one day.” Martina says there was no other choice.
“I felt like we needed to be present to win. To make a career out of what you know and love, you have to be present.” Joe stated that after making the move, the couple knew there was no other place they wanted to be.
“You see how many artists that there are, and you realize that being competitive doesn’t really do anything for you. The thing that I love about it here is that everyone here is so supportive of each other. It’s a creative hub that really takes your – and their – art to the next level. We all build each other up.”
Helping to do just that is co-producer/guitarist Johnny Garcia, known for his road work with Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks. Joe said that Garcia made the session workplace feel loose and fun.
“When we first started this project, I brought Johnny in a stack of lyric sheets. Every song he listened to, he had a one to ten grading system on it. He has a great insight into how much we are feeling a song. That’s the kind of person that I always want to work with. It was like two best friends hanging out, throwing a guitar part down. It didn’t feel clinical in any way. Every single person who played on it was a friend. They were lending their beautiful talents to songs we had written. It was truly a family affair. It was the least sterile kind of way to make a record I’ve ever done, and I don’t want to ever go back to doing the big studio kind of thing ever again after making this record the way we did.”
Listeners will also get a taste of their real-life relationship, says Joe.
“What’s great about it is that most of our duets are love songs, and have this positive sort of spin,” he says, offering “Love Thing” as an example. “It’s pretty early in our set, and the song is about the struggles that these two people went through before falling in love with each other. So, if we’re mad, it starts off kind of spunky, but by the middle of the song, you think ‘Awww…I just love you.’ And love cures all,” he says sincerely.