Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Matthew Houck, aka Phosphorescent, writes deeply personal, often mysterious songs that touch the soul.
Fans have been especially captivated by Houck’s “Song for Zula,” a haunting, melancholy, country-tinged tune about lost love and inner demons from his new album, “Muchacho.” (It opens by paying homage to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”)
Music magazines have been gushing about the song since the album’s March 19 release on Dead Oceans.
“I will not open myself up this way again,” Houck sings in a cracked, warbling voice on “Song for Zula. “Nor lay my face to the soil, nor my teeth to the sand.”
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But Houck is reluctant to reveal the heartbreak that inspired the song or interpret any of the lyrics.
“I hope the song has spoken to a lot people. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about it,” he said by phone while driving to a gig in Denver last week.
“I’ve heard a lot of different interpretations, all of which seem really valid to me. So I’m pretty hesitant to nail down exactly what I meant by it.”
Houck, who performs with his five-piece band Tuesday night at Neumos, grew up in Alabama, listening to outlaw country in his dad’s pickup. Inspired by Willie Nelson, he later recorded a tribute album titled “To Willie.” Impressed by the CD, the country legend got in touch with Houck, and the two have been friends ever since.
“Some of the earliest musical memories I have are of Willie Nelson songs,” Houck said. “Some of the songs on that album have been with me my whole life.”
With the release of “Muchacho,” interest in Phosphorescent (a moniker that describes Houck as well as his band) has been growing. At the SXSW music festival last month, the band performed two shows daily for a total of six.
“Muchacho” is Houck’s seventh album since forming Phosphorescent in the early 2000s.
“I think it’s a really beautiful word. It’s evocative,” he said of Phosphorescent. “The concept of giving off light without combusting and without burning yourself up is kind of key to what I’m doing.”
The songs for “Muchacho” began coming together on a trip to Mexico.
“We had toured pretty extensively on the heels of the last record. And I was really burned out and didn’t know if I wanted to do this thing called Phosphorescent anymore,” he said.
Houck described his life as “a little bit messy” at the time.
“What I ended up doing was just kind of checking out. I went down to Mexico just to regroup myself, my spirit. But then also just to see if these songs I had been working on were worth exploring. I decided they were, and from there everything started getting exciting.”
Gene Stout: email@example.com