By Kevin Longrie
The Stagecoach festival has always been able to pull big acts. This year’s country heavyweights include Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood. But the bookers have shown an interesting divergence from genre dedication in 2011 by booking Phosphorescent, a folk act headed by Matthew Houck.
Houck is no stranger to country music. He was born in Alabama and later began performing under the moniker Phosphorescent in Athens, Ga. The influence of country finds its way into much of the work he produces. But he has never quite been able to walk the straight genre line that other artists on the bill at Stagecoach have. Though most listeners would identify Phosphorescent as a folk artist, Houck resists the clear cut distinction.
“I don’t particularly subscribe to the idea that styles of music are exclusive to one another,” Houck says, commenting on his inclusion into the festival line-up. Folk and country have a long tradition of intermingling. The best artists from each category have invariably drawn from the other at some point in their career.
Phosphorescence will become one of the few artists to ever play Coachella and Stagecoach in the same year, an indication of the band’s crossover appeal.
Houck, a talented multi-instrumentalist, is able to draw crowds from various different musical preferences simply because he does not fit neatly into any one of them. He has also toured aggressively in the last decade, building a dedicated fan base. And while he has, despite the hectic tour schedule, been quite prolific, recently putting out almost an album a year, Houck is convinced he could be doing more.
“I would be a lot more productive if we didn’t tour so much,” he professes half jokingly. “If it was up to me, I would write a record every six months.” There are difficulties on the road that put a damper on his output. While he’s able to write bits and pieces on tour, he says “It’s almost impossible to flush it out into a full piece of music.” But performing sustains him. After having built the sizable audience he lacked when he was starting out, he is anxious about losing them and the feeling that comes with playing his music live for others.
“It’s interesting to see how I wrote songs six or seven years ago,” he says, “It was definitely different.” During that time, Houck was performing in small clubs around Athens and self-distributing his music. “I think knowing that people are going to hear it affects the sound. I was putting out records for years when I didn’t know if anyone was going to hear it.”
With shows booked across the country, including Stagecoach, people are hearing his music now. Phosphorescent has released three albums in the last four years under Dead Oceans Records—all with relatively high acclaim—and Houck has all the parts and pieces of a new album lined up. He just has to make time, he says, to get into the studio. But, as he is booked solid through June, that might not be for some time.
Phosphorescent at Stagecoach at the Empire Polo Club, 81-800 Avenue 51, Indio; stagecoachfestival.com, www.myspace.com/phosphorescent. Sat, April 30-Sun, May 1. $107-$157.