Phosphorescent’s Dream-Pop Music
Matthew Houck hits music gold
Phosphorescent straddles a few different areas – psych-pop, sonic atmospherics, a strain of country music – what is at the core?
You know, it’s difficult to pinpoint. Whatever is at the centre, I felt it wasn’t there for a while before the new record. I also felt that I wouldn’t do another Phosphorescent record, and maybe just put the thing down, but I’m now aware of what happens when whatever the core is goes away – and it’s not a good feeling. I would say that what is exactly at the core seems essential to me – there’s this relation to some kind of place or feeling that I could consider as sacred and holy.
Do you find music to be the best form of self-expression?
Yes. And writing. Lyrics and poetry have always been important to me – they’re entwined in the process. But songs, yes, have been far and away the most crucial method for expression for me. During the making of Muchacho , there were moments when I thought it might not happen – or, as I say, if it did then it wouldn’t be a Phosphorescent record. During a certain period of recording, it seemed to me that the album wasn’t going to be
lyric-based, which tells me that maybe music on its own is good enough. Perhaps the mechanisms surrounding the making of records, the whole doing it for a living thing, sucked some of the joy out of it.
You mentioned poetry as being important to you – who would be your primary influences?
That changes all the time, and I’m not too learned in that area, to be honest. But the ones that have made their way to me include the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, whose work
has terrific imagery and lyrical style. He was very important in the way the new record was made – and he has continued to be a touchstone. I’ve heard he’s one of Leonard Cohen’s favourite poets, as is the Spanish poet
Federico Garcia Lorca, who I also like a lot.
Matthew Houck. Phosphorescent. They’re really indivisble, aren’t they?
Definitely. It’s all down to some kind of awareness, I suppose. Mind you, I think there’s a division, a bit of separation, even though my immediate answer to you was the word ‘definitely’. It’s essential to have some kind of distance between my personal life and what I want to do as art with Phosphorescent. I think music is the easiest of art forms in the sense that as a listener you automatically presume that if someone is singing a first-
person lyric then it’s got to be about them. That isn’t always the case, and so I have tried to retain that level of separation from who I am and what I do.
How easy is that?
Not too much, to be honest, especially if you’re being asked certain questions by certain journalists. But that’s okay – even if someone else, be they a media person or a fan,
attributes something they hear in the lyrics to part of my personal life, I know where the fiction and the facts lie. Where the protection is, so to speak. There is fiction all through my writing, which might disappoint some people. And, as you know, you can never allow facts to get in the way of a larger truth! As a writer, you – and I’m using the generic “you” here – embellish, and you flat-out lie sometimes about things because there’s a bigger truth out there that has nothing to do with you and your personal experience. As a writer and a poet, I think that’s what you’re aiming for.
Do you live in relative anonymity in Brooklyn?
Oh, yes, and I like that a lot. The notion of true fame and celebrity is a very weird thing; I can’t imagine what it would be like to step out of your house and be immediately recognised by everyone. That’s terrifying – and there seems to be no going back, or pretending it doesn’t exist. It does seem to be a bit of a prison, though, doesn’t it? You’d end up going on holiday to exclusive places where other mega- stars go to . . . Imagine that! At the same time, I haven’t gone out of my way hugely to make my face totally unknown – and with the internet anyone can now see what someone else looks like. I have friends that have experienced what it’s like to be super-recognisable, and it seems a little odd. But that’s just to me – clearly, different people cope with it in different ways.”
yyy Muchacho is released on Dead Oceans/ PIAS, March 15th. Phosphorescent plays Kilkenny’s Rhythm & Roots Festival, May 5th