Has Phosphorescent Left New York for Good?
Photo by Steve Gullick
"My career would be over if anyone were to get their hands on what's going on in the house these days," laughs Matthew Houck. The man behind Phosphorescent hasn't eschewed his previous six records of often ethereal, smart, country/folk-tinged musical musings for death metal or hardcore rap. Rather, he's got baby brain, and recent aural endeavors entail singing "the stupidest" songs to his eight-month-old daughter. That said, like his normal audience, she's "transfixed" by Houck's vocalizing.
It's not the only change in the musician's life. Phosphorescent's most recent bio cites the singer-songwriter's journey from Alabama to Athens, Georgia, to Brooklyn. When Houck answers his 718 number, however, he confesses that in the last several weeks he's relocated to Nashville. "I don't think I'm gone gone," he says of the move. "But I stepped out of town for a little while. It's an interesting thing to be out of New York. I'm excited to have more space and put a studio back together."
His last record, 2013's Muchacho, was lyrically inspired by tumultuous events that followed a tour for 2010's Here's To Taking It Easy, including being forced out of his studio in Brooklyn's Navy Yards, plus personal debacles. In short, he says, "I lost the place, lost the girl, and lost my mind."
Late 2014 finds his mind seemingly back, along with his place and two girls -- albeit one not yet walking. Houck's speaking voice, like his singing timbre, is mellifluous and kind, and he's at once flummoxed and overjoyed about his daughter, emotions that will likely make it into the next record. Maybe. "It doesn't make for good copy, but I honestly am a blank slate about what the next record is going to be," he admits.
Thanks to his little one, "the last eight months have been a really exciting and weirdly different time," he says, explaining that the move to Nashville wasn't a musical decision: "It was, you know, family," he says. "The music is still very much at the forefront, but it's a complete mystery right now. Having a baby rearranges how your mind works." And your sleep.
The pain and pathos (and trip to Mexico) that inspired Muchacho were very much a snapshot of that time in his life, and now, Burpie cloths and diapers aside, Houck notes, "I'm definitely itching to get back into the creative headspace. I miss it." He speaks of trusting a "muse," noting that "I have to believe in something like that -- only so much can be craft. It's interesting to start with nothing. Once the kernel is planted then it's easy to build on that with skill, but that initial thing is still very much a mystery to me."
That experimental openness and mystery is a through-line in his music, and while Phosphorescent essentially consists of Houck, he notes, "This current lineup is so fantastic, and I do think I'll be heavily calling on them for this next thing." That said, he adds, "I'll always default to the material, so it depends what direction this thing takes."
As for a possible return to Brooklyn? That's another open door: "I'm not at all done with New York. I'm treating this as a sabbatical to make a record."
Phosphorescent play the Knitting Factory on Thursday, November 20, 9 p.m., $25.
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