Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Brad Kopplin
When Richard Brautigan, the most underrated beat writer of all-time, writes in Rommel Drives On Deep Into Egypt -- a collection of poetry that you can read cover-to-cover in twenty minutes, "Drinking wine this afternoon/I realize the days are getting longer," there's an imagery and a place associated with the words that is precisely what Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck operates with on the regular. We shouldn't say precisely because nothing Houck does is necessarily precise. It's ambiguous and quite enigmatic and it can call many father as well as calling many more mother. There are roundabouts and tender circuitry involved in each one of his stark songs.
The Brautigan image can be taken completely literally and seen as a man sitting on his sagging porch, looking out over a lawn in need of a trim with a sudden realization that it's 7:30 p.m. and the sun's just now trying to set, turning the horizon a deep oriole orange. It's as if time's gotten away from him and suddenly, what does he know? It's spring and it's warmer (though he doesn't likely realize that he's not wearing sleeves anymore) and it's much later than he expected it to be. It's like he's woken up in a new place, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and feeling comfortable almost instantaneously. Maybe he'll just recline back in his chair a tad more, holding that wine bottle to his lips and see if he can match his insides with the color of that horizon way off into the distance.
One other reoccurring trick that Brautigan and Houck use in their writing is allowing us to feel at home in the center of their living room or bedroom - wherever they make the majority of their observations - amongst the clutter and the lonesomeness and knee-deep in the air that's getting heavier by the second, having not circulated for weeks. Brautigan was famous for letting his libido make him sound pathetic in love - there was always a feeling of desperation in his thoughts, as if the great plot was working against him and he was still willing to seek out the attractiveness in the disastrous advances. He made you feel poor and barefoot, as if you needed a shower, had dirt hanging out at the ends of your fingernails, were oily, but thinking and needed companionship more than anyone could ever possibly understand.
Houck works more slyly, using his majestic, cracking voice to make everything feel like the close of a day - where you think you'll find resolutions, but just find more inoperable questions instead. It sounds like the art that gets made by a person who dreams big dreams about small things. It's leisurely and it's dogged, emitting a dual personality that can only be afforded to someone who would be able to deal with being the last man in a ghost town. The torture of singularity would be corrosive, but the ability to harness it could provide enough energy to light Las Vegas for a year.
The Daytrotter interview:
*You don't live in Athens anymore do you? Why did you move?*
Matthew Houck: I live in New York now, out in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. Life was getting' too easy down in Georgia. Rent was so cheap and I had a whole little house to myself way out in the country. I was getting too hermit-y, too isolated out there. Needed some bustle.
*It sounds like your house is a wonderful place to make music. Who all do you live with and what would you liken the atmosphere to? Whose room's next to yours? Who does the dishes and takes out the trash?*
MH: Yeah, it's a very musical house. Everybody has a band or project going so there's lots of sound bleeding through the walls most of the time. Three of us (Phosphorescent, Castanets, and Dirty Projectors) had albums we were finishing up in this last month so we have all been very attuned to our own things and not much cross-pollinating going on. But occasionally being pulled in to somebody's room by some particularly sweet sounds to pace and nod and say "Dude, that is killer."
*How did you get your beard so Christ-like these days?*
MH: Snap peas. Calisthenics. Beer. Cake.
*When we've talked in the past, you've had a tough time explaining your art. Do you choose not to do that for fear of ruining a good muse? Betraying her maybe?*
MH: Yeah that's true. Definitely had worries about betraying the muse. Outing her charms maybe. But I'm much better at talking about it now. (Though many journalists might disagree...)
*What do you feed off of creatively?*
MH: That feeling. You know the one.
*What does Aw Come Aw Wry mean?*
MH: Aw. Come. Aw. Wry.
*Other than songwriting, what do you do best in your life?*
MH: I'm real good at solving. Fixing. Also breaking. Constructing and de-constructing. And I can dance like nobody's business but it's just exactly that.
*Your music makes me want to move to the country and forget that computers and everything else exists. Is that a natural feeling do you think? Would you like people to feel that way?*
MH: Does it really? Then sure! It's natural! You of course are free to feel however you do. I don't have any desires in terms of wanting people to feel any certain way when hearing these songs. It's just not my place. They seem thoroughly modern to me, computers and everything else included. I heard a song the other day that I thought was great and it mentioned "e-mail" directly in the lyrics. Robyn Hitchcock I think it was.
*What's the best gift you've received this year?*
MH: I really shouldn't tell about that here.
*Have you recorded any rain storms -- like the one at the end of the last record -- lately? What do you like doing during a hard rain?*
MH: No, haven't made any field recordings yet since being in NYC. During a hard rain, I like to keep doing whatever it is I'm already doing. Just let all that extra electricity and wet motion add to the proceedings.
*When can we expect a new record and what are you writing about these days?*
MH: The new record is finished. It's coming out the first week of October. I am wildly proud of it.
*Did you chew that It's a Girl bubble gum cigar?*
MH: No! I don't know where it went. Our van broke down a few days after we came through the Daytrotter studio and we were stranded in Kentucky for a few days... I think probably during those lean days and nights one of the other guys ate it and didn't tell.