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Interview: Phosphorescent


Matthew Houck is the man behind Phosphorescent and his new album Muchacho is out now. We caught up with him on the opening night of his tour to talk about his cover art, his many hats and, of course, Willie Nelson.

Interview by Kate Williams

How long has it been since you toured?
It’s been over a year. I did a couple one-off things and a few solo jaunts here and there, but a full-on, taking the whole shebang out on the road it's been a year and a half.

Does it feel good?
I’ll let you know after tonight [laughs]. No, it always does feel good, for sure. The initial ramp-up for it I had little reminders of why I thought I was maybe going to stop doing this [laughs], but it’s just me having a small attitude problem or something.

Like what little things?
Just little frustrations. I think it’s exactly like any other job. You have things you don’t want to do at a certain point during the day and they have to get done.

Which is the definition of a job, basically.
Precisely. I think there’s this romantic notion that I still hold on to that the reason you do music is because you don’t have to have a job, you know what I mean? You can hold onto the notion that you’re skipping that particular hurdle somehow but no.

How old were you when you started playing music?
I started playing guitar when I was like, 14.

How did it become something you did for a living?
I think I just did it. I was really stubborn, probably to a fault when I was young, but it didn’t seem like I wanted to do anything else. I didn’t go to college, so I was playing coffeehouses and busking on the streets and trying to do that thing. And again, it was just a silly notion you have about things. You’re young and you try it. I was just stubborn, I guess.

Do you ever have days where you imagine quitting and what you would do?
Oh yeah, all the time. I think it’d probably end up being connected to music, or writing. Those things are kind of intertwined for me.

What’s your leaving it all behind fantasy?
Probably would be something about chemistry. Or maybe zoology or something. Something where you just explore the world more as opposed to your inner psyche at all times.

Who did you listen to and what music influenced you when you were growing up?
In the early days it would be a lot of country music, early ‘80s country music, but then, same as anybody else, when I was 14 and picked up a guitar, it would have been because of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

How many hats do you own?
Not that many! What happens is I hold onto them until I lose them and then another one appears. This one is my dad’s and I got it when I was visiting over the holidays. The hat I had before this I had for a really long time and that was from a buddy in Texas. Judging by the photos that I’ve seen, apparently I wore it for like 2 years straight on tour. It was a great hat.

What kind of hat was it?
It had a net thing in the back and it was from Hawaii. It said “Hang Loose.” It was a good hat. But I did buy a cowboy hat to make the record cover of Muchacho.

Where was that cover shot? What’s the story behind the setup of it?
It was shot in New York in a hotel in the village. It was this beautiful hotel. To me something about the feeling of this record is dark stuff. The songs themselves are uncomfortably heavy to me, but I don’t feel like that’s the thrust of it. I don’t feel that it’s a downer theme, just an acceptance of some of the darker parts of life and maybe the seedier parts as well, and so I was trying to get something that showed that.

What was it like the first time you met Willie Nelson?
Amazing. The first time I met him was in New Jersey because he happened to be close by. My record [To Willie] had just come out, like it’d only been a month and a half, and I was in New York and I got a phone call from a private number so I didn’t answer it, but somehow he had tracked down my phone number. He’d heard the record and tracked me down. At the back of my mind I thought maybe he’d hear the record after a year or so, but not within a month or something. So he left a voicemail and said he was going to be in Jersey the next couple of weeks and to come say hi. It was so generous and so amazing.

What’d you guys talk about?
It’s weird, I’ve met several older institutions, like icon guys of whatever music, but especially songwriter-y country guys, and they’ve perfected a way of being super charming and super hilarious at all times, so we just bullshitted. It was utterly charming. Just a really sweet, charming, amazing dude and a towering musician.

What do you think of Willie’s hair? I think it’s amazing.
Oh, yeah! I think Willie has a style that’s continually amazing to look at. He’s never not looked good. Those pigtails are great.

Phosphorescent