“Muchacho,” the latest release from Matthew Houck’s project Phosphorescent, almost didn’t happen.
Exhausted and uninspired from touring, the Alabama-raised, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based songwriter needed a break.
“At that time, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make another record, at least not as Phosphorescent,” Houck said. “I’ve written a lot of songs and I’ve been touring for a long time. Maybe I was just too tired of hearing my own voice and my own words. It was a little bit of feeling not too inspired about anything that I would have to say.”
Coming back to the bustle of New York City did not help his creative process either. Houck needed to get away, so he grabbed the “closest flight” to “somewhere that wasn’t New York.” He took his impromptu trip to Tulum, Mexico, where he was able to find relief.
“(I needed to be) somewhere that was going to be a little bit secluded so I could have some time to myself,” he said. “The most important thing I think was just getting out of New York for a minute.”
The coastal town’s roughly 1,600-mile distance from New York and overall opposition to the city’s environment provided the stimulus necessary for Houck to start writing songs again. The songs he wrote there would be the ones that assemble “Muchacho,” the album Phosphorescent is promoting in its scheduled stop in Columbus on Thursday.
“(Tulum’s) not on the power and water grids, so things run on generators. At sundown, basically, or probably about 8 o’clock, the water cuts off and there’s no lights,” Houck said. “It was very interesting (getting) back in touch with a natural rhythm. In New York, it’s really easy to end up staying up all night and not being in touch with a natural day and night.”
The solitude Tulum gave Houck could have been replicated anywhere, he said, but “Muchacho” holds the distinctive influence of Mexico in a broader sense.
“In general, I definitely think wherever you are, you’re affected by everything around you in ways that are subtle and in ways that are really concrete,” Houck said. “There’s no way (Mexico) didn’t affect me.”
Additionally, Phosphorescent’s newest album probably would not have received its Spanish name, which means young man, if it weren’t for a trip to Mexico, Houck said.
Shifting locations kick-started Houck’s desire to write, but it ultimately did not affect his actual songwriting process. He said the songs on “Muchacho” are best representative of Phosphorescent as it stands today as a result of his growth as a recording artist.
“I don’t think it’s very much different from the way I’ve made all of my prior records,” Houck said. “It’s a very similar process. I think the real difference is that I think I’m a little better at it now, so it seems like a more fully fleshed-out idea in the final product.”
An occasional theme in Houck’s lyrics references his performance name, Phosphorescent. Although Houck said the band name is in place largely to separate his personal name from his art, the name is not meaningless.
The word phosphorescent “means to omit light without combusting,” Houck said. “I think that’s a really comforting notion, and maybe a sort of mantra to try and remember: not to self-destruct, not to burn yourself out.”
Houck’s lyrics resonate with some fans, including Tom Wright, a fifth-year in photography.
“(Phosphorescent’s) got some good lyrics,” Wright said. “They’re really well thought-out, really poetic lyrics.”
Jasmine Yetts, a second-year in history of art, said she appreciates the happier side of Houck’s lyrics, equating them to those by similar artists.
“(His) sound is folky, happy-go-lucky, which is what I’m most attracted (to),” Yetts said. “They remind me a lot of Edward Sharpe (and the Magnetic Zeros).”
After his current tour as Phosphorescent, Houck said he might need some time off again, but his desire to write will be undeterred. He plans to get some writing done and see what “sounds he can come up with” in the studio soon enough.
“At this point, I’m definitely excited about making another Phosphorescent record,” Houck said. “That’s different, and that’s a good feeling.”
Phosphorescent is slated to play A&R Music Bar, located at 391 Neil Ave., with doors opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17 in advance, $19 day of the show. Caveman is set to open.