Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck Talks “The Mermaid Parade,” His Ballad of a Trip to Coney Island


Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.

Brooklyn troubadour Matthew Houck, the ever-bearded frontman of Phosphorescent, has added another stellar album to his formidable roster, the slow-sailing, appropriately titled fifth full length Here’s To Taking It Easy (Dead Oceans, due May 11). Unlike indie crooners like Iron & Wine or Cat Power, Houck treats songs like starting points instead of end points: glorious excuses to create walls of reverb, interlocking whines of steel guitar, eight-minute psych meditations, and even the occasional quasi-beatboxed Middle Eastern Neil Young jammer. “The Mermaid Parade” is a quintessential New York take on a quintessentially New York event–a country-folk ballad that takes place at the annual flippers-‘n’-floppers trek down Coney Island’s Surf Ave., a colorful parade best known for its brash costumes and brazen displays of flesh. (This year’s King Neptune and Queen Mermaid? Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson!) But Houck, originally from Athens, still keeps the wide-eyed wonderment of a tourist, juxtaposing his sunny awe of seeing some naked ladies dancing next to the shore with the bummer-strummer longing of a long-distance relationship.

Phosphorescent frontman Matthew Houck on “The Mermaid Parade”

What is “The Mermaid Parade” about?

It’s basically about a day spent at the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. But the narrator’s thoughts are with something 3,000 miles away, way over on the West Coast. It was an attempt to present a full and layered narrative within the space of a few verses of song.

Have you ever been to the Mermaid Parade?

Yes, I’ve been out there two it two or three times. I remember a small dog and a large woman both leaning out and watching from a third story window; a painted glittering gold man dressed in a gold headband and gold loincloth with an absurdly large gold phallus attached to the front; a very old lady in the drizzling rain with white sweatpants and white shirt watching the parade and getting so, so excited when they would throw beads or candy from the floats; also saw her longing the whole time to cross the barriers into the parade to pick up a trinket that didn’t get thrown far enough; many gorgeous and not-so-gorgeous mermaids; many other things too.

What’s your favorite thing about Coney Island?

The Cyclone, the “scary” haunted house rides, the freak show, the boardwalk, the beach…All of it.

Whats your stance on public nudity?

We should all be publicly naked a lot more.

What’s the most you’ve ever engaged?

All the way baby! European beaches, for example, don’t get all hung up like in the States.

What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?

Hmm… Probably that fancy little place called Diner in South Williamsburg. Best gazpacho I ever had.

Phosphorescent is playing three CD release shows in the city: Monday, May 10 at Other Music; Tuesday, May 11 at Union Pool; and Thursday, May 13 at Mercury Lounge.