Housekeys is a moniker adopted by multi-instrumentalist and composer Tiffiny Costello for her music. Launched in 2014, the project blurs the lines between ethereal genres like ambient, post-rock, and neoclassical. A wandering soul, Costello has lived in Seattle, New York City, and various cities in Colorado. After spending almost a decade moving from place to place, she’s currently based in Fort Worth, Texas, which is just north of her hometown Cedar Hill. Her shifting environments have contributed to a sound that seems to evolve with each fresh release. Across a number of meticulously crafted EPs, demos, and sprawling singles, she’s honed a formula that blurs the lines between traditional musicianship and forward-thinking production. More than anything else, though, Housekeys’ ethos is driven by emotion. By pulling from the pain and beauty in everyday life, Costello’s billowing, atmospheric work manages to unobtrusively tug on listeners’ heartstrings.
Costello started out playing the keyboard, and grew up taking piano lessons. Later in her youth, she learned bass and guitar while playing in her church’s band. She casually dabbled in music throughout her young adulthood, and gigged around Colorado’s booming underground goth scene before she launched Housekeys. (The solo project was initially called Houseplants, but Costello decided to change her alias when she realized that there was another band with the same name whose front person looked fairly similar to her.) Costello says she really found her footing with Housekeys in 2016, when she was based in Denver. She had to find ways to coexist with the constraints of living in a building where she couldn’t be too loud, so she tried plugging her pedals into a keyboard instead of a guitar. From there, Housekeys began to develop an even more distinct sonic identity.
Costello says that falling in love with artists like Grouper, Radiohead, and William Basinski is what pushed her down the ambient rabbithole. She is captivated by film scores, and gets excited talking about The Haxan Cloak’s soundtrack to Ari Aster’s 2019 film Midsommar. These aforementioned influences make sense when listening to Housekeys’ contemplative output, but she cites one touchstone that is a bit more surprising: Worship music. While she no longer practices religion, Costello sometimes draws inspiration from the music she absorbed growing up in the church. There is a soaring, heavenly quality to Housekeys’ sound that subtly evokes music of the faith. These celestial vibes shine through in Housekeys’ carefully-curated branding, too. “Your band is a brand if you’re putting content out,” Costello says. “I want uniformity because I feel like it says that I’m taking myself seriously.”
Over time, Housekeys’ sound has shifted from randomized noisiness to something more intentional and structured. “I write songs and actually play them again,” Costello says. “I’ve done a lot of improvisation and I’m doing less improvisation now.” She often employs loops generated from a Fender Rhodes electric piano to support dreamy, austere arrangements. These techniques provided an especially strong backbone for her innovative 2022 EP, exploded views. At recent shows, she’s worked a violinist into the fold and is also considering bringing a drummer on board. As a musician Costello is computer-averse, and prefers to create music live without the aid of plugins or digital technology. By translating tried-and-true songcraft to a wispy instrumental palette, Costello’s work stands out in a highly-saturated niche where many musicians have a tendency to embrace unreplicable chaos.
Housekeys’ music is generally pretty melancholy—wintry, but not without warmth. It makes sense that Costello composes when she’s in a difficult headspace. “I write when I’m not happy,” she says. She points to the use of a field recording associated with a past relationship on the track “while we were in iceland” as an example of her ability to weave intimacy into obliqueness. Costello is nearing six years sober, so Housekeys has become an outlet for productivity. Quitting drinking allowed her to follow through on executing her ideas, and has generally helped her be more confident in her art. In a society riddled with greed and scarcity, Housekeys offers Costello a way to give to others by putting something into the world without asking for anything in return.
Costello likes to stay busy, and lives a lot of lives outside of Housekeys. She’s currently in school for physics, and also has a full-time job in marketing and website design. She has drawn from these scientific interests in her music before, once releasing a track called “martian wind” that was centered on sounds collected from the InSight robot’s recordings of the wind on Mars. This piece is emblematic of Costello’s knack for creative musical world-building. “Most of the time, I’m writing apart from science. But I do like to incorporate it somehow,” she says. Costello is at her most efficient when she is operating in fast-paced chaos, so she finds the interplay between her seemingly-disparate interests motivating.
Over the years, Costello has used Housekeys to harness release through experimentation. She’s performed at galleries and forward-thinking institutions (notably Basilica Hudson’s 24 Hour Drone) across the United States. She values the celebration, joy, and camaraderie she’s found along the way. As a woman operating within a male-dominated scene, she feels compelled to aspire to things that might otherwise feel out of reach for a rising independent artist.
Costello is currently in the throes of finishing up an album that she started recording at Sigur Ros’s Sundlaugin studio in Iceland, and is patiently waiting for it to be ready for the world. She is also slated to appear as an official artist at South By Southwest later in 2023, and will be playing a resplendent PlantWave showcase alongside experimental legends Laraaji and Christopher Willits. (Housekeys also performed at SXSW in 2022, and a collection of live recordings from that year’s festival are available on Bandcamp and streaming services.) She generally hopes to do more touring – both nationally and around the globe – as well. Until then, Costello is steadily sharpening her vision. “I have this thing: I just feel like if I don’t, I will not exist,” she says. “It’s almost a compulsion—I don’t feel like it’s me. It’s just whatever causes people to create art is using me to make it.” Housekeys’ universe is a level, pure extension of Costello’s spirited intuition and well-rounded human experience