Joshua Tree, California: a trail of dust escaping from the ground beneath him, Matthew Houck is speeding down a paved road in a vintage 1983 Honda CM450A. The date is September 30, 2013, meaning that he’ll be performing under nom de plume Phosphorescent to a full house in Los Angeles’s the following day. But for now, Houck, 34, is lost in the moment. The weather is perfect—anchored in the low 80s—and the Alabama-born, New York-based troubadour, surrounded by the raw, painstaking beauty of the Mojave Desert, is feeling inspired. There’s a melody in his head.
“I have come up with little pieces of things while riding,” Houck says, “but I don’t stop to write anything down. Generally, it’ll stick around in the head if it’s any good.”
As a recording artist, Houck pens the sort of music that evokes America’s long, winding highways. Consider his 2003 debut A Hundred Times or More, where the wanderlust spirit looms large, right down to the cover art depicting a boy and his horse, poised and ready for adventure. In the decade that Houck has spent blurring the lines between pastoral folk, Blues revival, and howling Americana, one image has remained constant in all things Phosphorescent: the unyielding promise of the open road.
It should come as no surprise that a motorcycle eventually entered the picture. A gift from Houck to himself for finishing 2013’s enthusiastically received Muchacho, the 1983 Honda CM450 served as a capstone for years of difficulty: in 2011, he was evicted from his Brooklyn home and recording studio, forcing an unplanned relocation to Greenpoint, and shortly thereafter, a devastating breakup. In the years between 2010’s Here’s to Taking It Easy and Muchacho, Houck wondered if he would continue recording at all.
Solace came in the form of a Craigslist post. The Honda, used and with only 7,000 miles to its name, called out. “No real romantic story,” Houck says, “but probably the best 600 bucks I ever spent.” When asked what led him to purchase a motorcycle in his 30s, he offers dryly, “All the clichés. They’re all true.” Sons of Anarchy? “Never seen it,” he admits, “but I am curious.”
ON HIS 1983 HONDA CM450A SINGER-SONGWRITER MATTHEW HOUCK CHANNELS THE TRAVELER’S SPIRIT THAT PERMEATES MUCH OF HIS CATALOG.
“I love riding around NYC,” Houck adds. “I’ve mostly done that and not many country trips.” Passionately, he mentions outings spent in the hills of Montana, the plains of Joshua Tree, and San Francisco. “The Golden Gate Bridge,” he says. “I mean, come on.”
Houck, who has since found love again and now has a child, sounds more than content. And, before hitting the road for a second tour in support of Muchacho, a ride is in order. “It’s been a long winter this year,” he says, “but spring, it seems, is finally here.”