The 4/20 interviews: Phosphorescent
For 2019, April 20 brings an embarrassment of musical riches to Asheville area venues. Among the notable shows are Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass, Love Canon, John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, and KNOWER at Pisgah Brewing Co., Rising Appalachia at Salvage Station, The Wild Reeds at The Mothlight, Southern Culture on the Skids at The Grey Eagle, and local singer-songwriter Brie Capone’s Farewell to Asheville show at Isis.
Also in the mix is Nashville-based experimental rocker Matthew Houck, better known as Phosphorescent. In town to play The Orange Peel and what he’s pretty sure is his first proper local show as Phosphorescent, Houck spoke with Asheville Stages about the bigger sound of his October 2018 release C’est La Vie, the restlessness of being on and off the road, and getting nerdy with sampling.
…on the cinematic intros to Muchacho and C’est La Vie
It’s been a good way to include those kinds of pieces. Every Phosphorescent record has, at some point, an extended, not-lyric-based, or at least not explicitly lyric-based piece. I really do love them as framing devices and it’s kind of just a way to utilize those kind of things. At some point, I do feel like I’d like to make a wordless Phosphorescent album, but I don’t know if Phosphorescent as an entity — for right now it still feels like lyrics needs to be involved [laughs] in making a record that’s called Phosphorescent. But I really do like that it sort of ushers you into a world and then you do the work in that world and then having something that kind of eases you out of that world as well. It makes them work for myself as well to be able to lock in to what they are for that 45 minutes or an hour that you’re in the record.
…on how time away from touring from 2015-2017 impacted his life
Uncountable ways, I would say. I think being on the road in a longterm way, it’s a totally different lifestyle. For better and worse, it has its ups and downs. As it turns out, so does the life of staying still. [Laughs] So, it was good to be off the road. I mean, I was never really not working on this record or building the studio. Life stayed busy, but I’m really glad to be having the opportunity to be back on the road. It’s kind of like a “grass is always greener” thing. When you’re on the road, sometimes all you want to do is be able to sit still. Then you sit still for too long and you get antsy to get moving again.
…on reconsidering his live show while off the road
The biggest way is sort of concentrating more on achieving the sound of the record live as opposed to, in past, allowing the songs to morph and become sometimes radically new things live. There’s still an element of that, but having the time and resources to really consider how to bring the record to a live environment was maybe the first time that I really overhauled the live setup with more instruments, more synthesizers, and stuff like that. And just trying to make it bigger and more pro, I guess. [Laughs]
…on the most challenging aspects of C’est La Vie to translate to the stage
I don’t know how technical you want to get. So, you know, sampling, you can sample the sounds that are actually — the exact Wurlitzer, for example, or the exact Hammond organ that’s on the record, or the exact vocoders for a song like “Christmas Down Under.” Rather than bringing all those separate little pieces of gear, you can make basically a sample of those things and you can play them back — not as a playback, but as an instrument. You can trigger the sounds via keyboard. So it’s actually playing the real sounds as opposed to just one keyboard that sort of sounds like it, you know what I mean?
So, a lot of that stuff, at least for me, can be fairly complex as far as how to wire it all up and make sure it works every night without it being a disaster [laughs] or a train wreck or something failing. But I think probably compared to a lot of productions, it’s really not all that crazy what I’m doing. But for me, it’s just a level of technical complexity.
…on there being such a, well, high number of shows in Asheville on 4/20
Are we going to be there on 4/20? Is that our date? Nice! I think we’ll raise to the occasion. [Laughs]
..on the pros and cons of having so many appealing musical options at the same time
On the pro: if you’re lucky to be in a place where there’s a wealth of interesting things going on, I think there’s nothing more important than that. On the con: Come to the Phosy show, you know? Come to that one. [Laughs]
IF YOU GO
Who: Phosphorescent with Jo Schornikow
When: Saturday, April 20, 9 p.m.
Where: The Orange Peel, 101 Biltmore Ave., theorangepeel.net
Tickets: $20 advaance/$25 day of show
(Photos courtesy of the artist)