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Live & Direct: Phosphorescent

Matthew Houck from the band Phosphorescent joined us for a special live session during our open house in January.

He recently spoke with WYEP's Rosemary Welsch.

The World Is Ending
C'est La Vie No 2
Song For Zula

Interviewer: Rosemary Welsch

Tom Hurley
Thomas Cipollone

Rosemary Welsch: We're here with Matthew Houck, who records as Phosphorescent, and the new album Revelator is coming out in the very near future, so we're thrilled about that. You know, opening lines can be pretty powerful: ‘I'm tired of all the sadness. Tired of all the madness. Tired of being the badass.’ Wow. You're making a statement there in this first single from this album.

Houck: Yeah. I never really know. I think what I'm doing as far as making an album until it generally takes one song. That kind of makes the path clear. And this one was that one. It's a rough one, y'all. These are not cheery little numbers, I guess, on this record, but, yeah, it's the record I made.

Welsch: What I think is interesting. If we go back, it's been, what, about five years since ‘C’est La Vie’ your last record came out? Which seemed like, as far as you are concerned, a happy record. I mean, tell us what was going on in your life, and there was a lot that was changing in your life at that time?

Houck: Yeah, yeah. It's weird. That one, it has a really happy song on there that I think was the first single. It's not happy. I don't know, it's just this, it's cheerier than most Phosphorescent stuff. So I get it. But it feels like kind of like a steady thing for me. Like it feels like one big thing of work. That record particularly was taking a look at being a dad and settling down a bit for better or worse. It's weird to say it's like about that, but then it's also a tremendously sad record. I think it feels weird to say that, I guess, but for whatever reason, this is the kind of songs that come out when I sit to write songs.

Welsch: You did ‘Muchacho,’ which was like another five years back. And you were here for that album. And ‘Muchacho’ was like that was a crazy point where you were going through all kinds of crazy stuff in New York where you were getting tossed out of your apartment or something like that?

Houck: I lost my studio. Yeah, that was a time.

Welsch: So it's not like you produce music that quickly. This is the third album's in about 10, 11 years. But I just got the new press release for the album and it said, ‘This is a reintroduction of Phosphorescent.’ Does that feel like that to you?

Houck: It does feel that way to me. Yeah. I made this record a year ago called ‘The Full Moon Project.’ I released a song every month when there was a full moon, which isn't really a record, I guess, but it felt like one to me. I don't know if during the pandemic, like everybody else thinks, there was a big period of time to sort of evaluate things, I guess. I'm really excited about this record. I feel like I'm better at making records than I ever have been. So, yeah, I'd like to make them quicker.

Welsch: I know that you moved to Nashville and you bought a warehouse or something. I read that. Is your family living in the warehouse as well as it a being a studio, or is it separate?

Houck: No. It's separate. Finally. Yeah, I lived in my studio for many, many years, but now we have a separate thing. I don't own it or anything, but it's a big warehouse that I rented. And I'm still renting that. Again, during the pandemic was able to really build it out and it's kind of like a proper place now. Whereas most of my spaces have been fairly, ramshackle, and just kind of, barely functioning, but now it's kind of like a real place.

Welsch: Well, from what I understand, you picked up some skills in doing this. Like you're doing the electrical work yourself.

Houck: All that. Yeah.

Welsch: Carpentry, all that stuff.

Houck: Yeah.

Welsch: Are you ready for a second career?

Houck: No, no. [laughs]

Welsch: Still choosing the music over all of that. But know when you have your own studio, it really gives you the time. You know, there's not that pressure. You can kind of play around and figure out what it is that you want to do.

Houck: That's right. Yeah, yeah. Maybe that is part of why it takes me a while is, yeah, I get pretty far down in the weeds in this stuff, and, you know, you can endlessly edit in, alter and mix and add and take away and sculpt. I think I'm better than I have been, so, once I started work on this record, it didn't actually take that long. I made it about six months. But yeah, you know, they're never easy. Look, the joke is that it's hard. It's hella hard work. To make it look this easy is what we make it sound easy as well.

Welsch: Do you prefer finally just being done with the songs and taking them on to the stage? Or are you one of these people? It's like the really sacred point for me is the creating of the songs in the studio.

Houck: Yeah, you know what? I like both of them. I know what you mean, I think. The sacred part is definitely in that create that sort of first bit of creation. It's weird. Then they kind of get just mulled over too much during the finalizing of that product of making that record, and then they become sacred again when you start playing them again. So it's kind of both like that. They get a new a new birth or something when you get to play them.

Welsch: Well, you're listening to 91.3 WYEP. And as part of this 50th anniversary year, we're celebrating with having live and direct sessions. We're really lucky to have Matthew Houck here, Phosphorescent. I can't wait to hear the rest of the new album, because I've heard three songs so far, and I really love them all. The new album is going to be called “Revelator,” so we can have a couple more songs, Matthew, please?

Houck: So, speaking of sad songs, I didn't write this one, which is the first time that I've had a song on a Phosphorescent album that I didn't write. My wife, Jo Schornikow wrote this song. She was making a record called “Alter,” and she played me this song, and I was like, yes.

Then she put out the record and she didn't put the song on. What's going on here? What are you doing with that song that she's like, I don't, I don't know. And I was like, well can I do it? And she said, yeah. So I said, okay. And I think it's the saddest thing I've ever heard in my life. So, it's called the world is ending.

“The World is Ending”

Welsch: You know, it's amazing when you hear these songs after they're recorded. And, you know, that's how I get them here at the radio station. We're here with Matthew Houck, otherwise known as Phosphorescent. When you hear them stripped down like this, it really gives you a really different perspective on the song itself. You could hear the lyrics, you hear the voice so clearly. I read a quote once again from the press release. It said that you write about the beautiful sadness of life, and sadness is one thing, but when you connect it to the word beautiful becomes something really different. It's like sort of an embrace of the inevitable.

Houck: Yeah, yeah. I get asked about this stuff a lot. I mean, you know, I don't mean to make this the focus of the interview, I guess, but I’ve been in this world of songs for my whole life. And I don't know what the mechanism is. I hope, I trust that it's true that, for whatever reason. I feel like they feel, you know, special and holy and hopeful somehow and comforting somehow. I don't know, it seems like it does the opposite? I don't know why it does that, but for me, it flips it. It becomes something. I just hope it does the same thing that a million songs have done for me. And to me, you know.

Welsch: Well, you know, there's a couple of really big changes that have happened in your life. Moving to Nashville — I'm wondering how much you know New York. You might say it's a music town, but it's a huge town and it's so scattered, where Nashville seems to be like it's a more focused music town. Has that been good for you? Have you been able to get out and play more or work with other people?

Houck: No. I toured a bunch right when we moved there. So it was barely there, really. Then Covid happened and then, I just kind of feel now that I'm digging into it. I mean, yes, it is an amazing town that's built on music, which is amazing. But, yeah, I've kind of really, I've been a bit of a hermit the last three or four years or so. That being said, I've met amazing people who played on this record and was able to. It's a great town where, anything you can think of, there's somebody around who can play that thing and come over and, you know, do it so well.

Welsch: So the last time that I talked to you, you were this young, single man. You weren't married yet and you didn't have a family yet. And I think I read somewhere that you were talking about. You have three kids now, right?

Houck: I have three now. Yeah.

Welsch: You're definitely a daddy now. When kids come into your life they're these little people. And they come from you, but they don't have your perspective yet. They haven't lived long enough. And then you interact with them. I mean, what are you learning? You know, from your, your kids especially.

Houck: My daughter's the oldest. I got a son right after that to her. And then a new little guy. They're amazing. I steal from them all the time. All the time. Yeah, they're amazing little, little folks.

Welsch: So are your children, are they a source of inspiration for songs?

Houck: Constantly.

Welsch: They see you on stage? And, like, that's my dad?

Houck: Yeah. They don't really care too much about all this.

Welsch: So tell us a little bit about, you know, when you're writing a song it's a really private thing and then eventually it goes out to be this very public thing. Do you have trouble writing?

Houck: I don't have trouble writing. I have trouble sharing, showing. I work collaboratively in a way, have an idea and work with other people and bring it to fruition. But, I don't tend to do that. I feel really, I think it's probably vulnerable. I’m scared to be misunderstood or just shitty.

Welsch: What about your wife?

Houck: She's harsh. She's writes better songs than me. Yeah, she'll let you know. And so with the kids. Yeah, they all are pretty, pretty harsh critics.

Welsch: Well, we're really looking forward to the album. And at some point, you're going to have to come back to Pittsburgh and perform for much longer.

Houck: I'm ready. Yeah. I love this town.

"C'est La Vie No 2"
"Song For Zula"

Rosemary Welsch has been the Afternoon Host, Program Director, and Senior Producer for 91.3 WYEP. Welsch is the longest-tenured employee at WYEP, having just celebrated her 30th anniversary as a full-time employee. She began as a volunteer D.J. during the station’s salad years in 1981.