Matthew Houck has put out albums under the name Phosphorescent since 2003’s “A Hundred Times or More.” But in 2013, his record “Muchacho” broke through, placing on several Billboard charts and garnering some of the best reviews (for an artist who has always been a critical darling, anyway) of Houck’s career.
In order to capitalize on that momentum, he took five years to have two kids, move from New York to Nashville, get very sick (and recover), and build his own studio — all while his fans eagerly waited for a follow-up.
“After ‘Muchacho,’ things definitely were on a different level than they were before,” he says. “It’s definitely true that I was aware — for the first time, really — that people had expectations, whereas I made, like, 10 records essentially for myself, not knowing if anybody was going to hear them at all.”
amNewYork caught up with Houck to talk about albums new — ‘C’est La Vie’ — and old in advance of his show at Brooklyn Steel.
“New Birth in New England,” the album’s lead single, has such a Paul Simon vibe to it. Was that an ode, or was it just the way it came out?
It went the way all songs do. The first thing is a sort of spark unconsciously. The guitar riff came around, the melody came around, and once I had the words and everything else I was doing, there was no way to avoid that what I was doing was going to be guided by Paul Simon, and specifically “Graceland.” I wouldn’t say it was an homage, but it was definitely one of the interesting things for that song.
The album included the quasi-title track “C’est La Vie No. 2.” What was “C’est La Vie No. 1”?
Leonard Cohen died in the making of this record and he was a part of why I included that “No. 2” at the end of “C’est La Vie No 2.” I was listening to his final record a lot during the making of this record. I’m hyper aware of the fact that these talented artists that I’ve loved aren’t going to be doing it forever. The other reason I kept it on there is that it was only the second take of the song. Most songs I record many different ways and times, but that one, “C’est La Vie No. 1” was a demo on my cellphone, and then the next day I decided to track it for real, and that ended up being the final version. So I kept it, and as I looked at it I said, “That would be fitting.”
Your first record as Phosphorescent came out 15 years ago. What would the Matthew Houck of 2018 tell the Matthew Houck of 2003?
I’d have to listen to him, because my advice right now wouldn’t be the correct advice. I would say now, “slow it down, buddy.” I nearly killed myself trying to make these records, especially in the early days, and in some ways I feel like I still have to struggle that hard to make a record. I feel like other people don’t have that sense that it has to almost kill you to make a record, that you can in fact make one in a healthy way, and not make it so damn hard. I’m trying to get better at it, but each time I still feel like I need to have that Herculean push.
IF YOU GO: Phosphorescent performs on Dec. 13 at 9 p.m. at Brooklyn Steel, 319 Frost St., Williamsburg, bowerypresents.com, $30.