The Daily Swarm Q+A: Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent on Creative Rebirth, Touring, and Writing That One Magic Song...
Matthew Houck, the mastermind behind the musical entity known as Phosphorescent, has become one of the most individual purveyors of roots-based music – so much so that the roots aspect gets subsumed by whatever fresh, odd angle he might be pursuing. Phosphorescent has proven indie and idiosyncratic enough to garner a “Best New Music” from Pitchfork yet accessible enough to recently complete a summer tour with Mumford & Sons (Phosphorescent gets back on the road this Saturday, September 14, in Detroit – see current dates for the band’s ongoing world tour here, which includes a triumvirate of shows this December at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg).
In conversation, Houck proves surprisingly candid – discussing his bounce back to creative pursuits, the success of his new album, Muchacho, selling out tours, and more. Here, he openly lays out his emotional journey back to making music, explores where he finds creative insight, and his hopefulness towards the future.
The Daily Swarm: Allegedly there were some setbacks when recording your latest album, Muchacho, and things had to be moved around. Can you tell us what happened?
Matthew Houck: Yeah, I had to move studios before starting on this record. So the actual making of the record was not fraught with difficulties, but the months before starting the work were. I’d been on the road for a long time, and had just gotten back to New York; I couldn’t work out a way to renew the studio lease with my landlord, and the vibe was getting weird there, with my personal life being a bit messy. I ended up having to move, and couldn’t find a place at first. But that’s New York. It can be tough.
The Daily Swarm: What was the inspiration behind Muchacho?
Matthew Houck: I was just feeling thankful and sort of glad to be free of some things that had been hanging on me for a while. I think I was mainly excited to be working on music itself again. I’d put it down for about a year, and was not feeling very good about making another record.
The Daily Swarm: The track “Sing For Zula” had a particularly high reception when you performed it at this year’s Pitchfork Fest, and at recent live shows. Can you tell us what that’s about?
Matthew Houck: I’ve been really touched by the way that people have taken that song in. I can’t tell you a whole lot about it. Not to be obtuse or anything, but to be perfectly honest, there is something special about that song that surprised me when people started hearing it. When you write a song, sometimes it doesn’t matter what you are writing about. Hopefully the thing itself becomes something bigger.
The Daily Swarm: What has it been like to release with that most excellent of indie labels, Dead Oceans?
Matthew Houck: It’s been great. I think Phosphorescent and Dead Oceans have both experienced a similar, simultaneous kind of growth: as Phosphorescent got bigger, so did Dead Oceans. You hear about artists having to make concessions because of their labels, but they’ve been really supportive.
The Daily Swarm: What are your current touring plans?
Matthew Houck: We’ll be on the road for a while. The shows have gotten bigger, and they’re selling out in Europe and the States, which is a new experience this year. For a decade, that certainly wasn’t the case, so I’m excited to see where it goes.
The Daily Swarm: Muchacho came about after a significant break. Do you see another major pause in the future, or have you found a way to make Phosphorescent a healthy ongoing concern?
Matthew Houck: I guess what I meant about putting Phosphorescent away was an idea of struggling a bit with the definition of what it was. I hope that I’ve built something that can show whatever it is that I’m working on or feeling, and not have it be too confusing.