Q&A: Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck

ERICA RIVERA | Updated 4/17/2013

Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck on women, heartbreak and bikes.

Photo provided by Windish Agency

Phosphorescent is the aural alter ego of Matthew Houck, an Alabama-bred, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter. Phosphorescent’s latest effort, “Muchacho,” is the most sonically expansive release from the Americana outfit since its inception six albums ago. Named after a Pablo Neruda poem, the album features mournful mariachi trumpets, somber pedal steel and swelling strings.

Houck’s lyrical style on “Muchacho” is both ragged and playful, exposing a vulnerability formerly hidden beneath his urban cowboy exterior. Though the album was born out of heartache and loss, the result is an epic collection of songs that is garnering Phosphorescent much-deserved praise. With an 8.8 rating from Pitchfork and a tour that spans the United States, Europe and Scandinavia, Phosphorescent seems poised to leap into the mainstream music world’s consciousness.

We spoke to Houck ahead of his sold-out gig Friday at the Turf Club.

Q: “Song For Zula” is making the ladies swoon all over social media. You’ve said previously that you’re not ready to discuss who Zula is. Is that still true?

A: It is. Without being too obtuse, I’ll just say it’s a special song. I’ve learned a lot hearing other people’s thoughts about it.

Q: In that case, can you tell us what makes a woman song-worthy?

A: I think all women are song-worthy. 

Q: Oh, you lady killer.

A: [Laughs] No, I think it’s the other way around. You all are man killers.

Q: In “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master),” there’s a line that goes, “Oh, you’ll spin this heartache into gold.” Does writing about a breakup ever ease the sting for you?

A: No, it doesn’t. It’s still heartbreak.

Q: “The Quotidian Beasts” evokes an image of a coyote howling at the moon in the desert. When you compose a song, do you envision a geographical setting for it?

A: That’s interesting. I think I have an image when I make the music, but in the production environment, it goes to a different place. There’s a weird alchemy to it. It’s like poetry. The place that inspires it and the place that it gets produced are different.

Q: You use the word “Hej” several times on the album. What does that mean?

A: I just found myself saying “Hey” a lot and I thought that the Swedish “Hej” sounded way prettier. 

Q: The first and last songs on the new album include the words “An Invocation” and “A Koan” in their titles, respectively. Could you elaborate on what spiritual practices or beliefs influence your music?

A: To be honest, without sounding too heavy-handed, songs like those are a form of worship. They are intrinsic, spiritual works that hopefully approach a sense of otherworldliness.

Q: Suffering seems to be an ongoing theme in your music, especially in “A New Anhedonia.” Does depression provide meatier subject matter than happiness for you?

A: That’s a very astute observation. It’s not meatier, per se, but those are the emotions I end up going to and those are the emotions that happen to be the catalysts for songs. Songs are places for those kinds of emotions. I’m not opposed to writing happy songs, and I’m not seeking out the darkness. But those emotions lead me to sit down with a guitar or a piano and write.

Q: On “Ride On/Right On” to what kind of ride are you referring?

A: A motorcycle ride.


With: Strand of Oaks.

When: 9 p.m. Fri.

Where: Turf Club.

Tickets: Sold out.