Like faded postcards of watercolor scenes scrawled over with words of longing, Athens, Georgia's Phosphorescent maps inner and outer landscapes set to pedal steel, shambling drums and looping chorale harmonies. Songwriter Matt Houck sings like he's fresh from a tracheotomy, but his inscrutably sweet melancholy is anything but clinical. He indulged B-Sides in a diagnosis.
B-Sides: I read your bio, but those things are generally bullshit. What's the real story?
Matt Houck: Ahh, what do you mean exactly?
Did you really live out of a pickup truck and busk your way out of obscurity?
That was a long time ago. I was eighteen, pretty much a total mess. Mentally, maybe spiritually, with no clear idea of what to do. We're still pretty below the radar. I don't have any major desires for a mass audience.
You won't be devastated if you don't win the Grammy for Male Vocalist of the Year?
[Laughs] That's quite a long shot.
How would you suggest one acquire a taste for your voice?
I wouldn't. I don't want anything to do with the audience-end of this music. It's not for me to think about. The most I can do is make music the most beautiful way I can.
I've read that Phosphorescent is "minimalist" and "stripped-down folk." That's pretty dumb, given the trumpets and pedal steel.
I couldn't get my head around that. It was clear [the writer] didn't like minimalism, but there's nothing minimalist about us.
I prefer the following: "Like a seventh-grade Mensa chapter chopping and screwing [The Byrds'] Sweetheart of the Rodeo."
I'll accept that.
Don't worry, I won't write that. I was intrigued, though, that you name-checked [soul singer] Joe Tex.
That song ["Joe Tex, These Taming Blues"] was bouncing around my head when a friend gave me a mixtape with three Joe Tex songs. I hadn't heard him before. The horn arrangements on that song are heavily inspired by him.
Any other surprises on your iPod?
If I had an iPod, I don't know what I would do. I love hearing things that come out of nowhere, like field recordings. There are these Vietnamese busking bands that are just amazing. When something is new to your ears, something magical happens.
Ex-Black Flag frontman and solo artist Henry Rollins is on his "25 Years of Bullshit" spoken-word tour, and there's no stopping him. (Like we'd ever try.) Here's what the muscular man had to say during a recent interview.
B-Sides: When I searched your name on iTunes, it showed that listeners also bought Good Charlotte albums (along with discs by Ramones and the Kinks). What do you think of that?
Henry Rollins: I come from a coarser bolt of cloth, and I'm discouraged because I think young people should be making fucked-up, angry music. When I hear friendly, young-person generated music, especially in this time, with what's going on, it makes me go, 'OK...?' Because when I was that age, I was listening to the Clash and I was pissed. And I'm still listening to the Clash and I'm still pissed! There's so much ProTooling going on, you realize they perhaps spent more time on their mascara and less on getting the licks together....
Music to express outrage or to mobilize has gone away, and we've gone back to the pop paradigm of pretty boys and girls, people you cut out of magazines and put on your walls, whose records you might not play again in two years because that band no longer means anything to you. But Dylan is always going to stick to the ribs, and Led Zeppelin is always going to kill. That lasting music has gone in place of a music that is concurrent with the disposability of culture as a whole. I've said this many times: Art used to dictate the industry and the medium, and now the technology dictates the art. There will be bands who will make music in an iPod-friendly way and they're going to go, 'Why would I hang around in the studio when people only want four of my songs at a time?' Macintosh can change how music is rendered -- and that's too bad, because to me, artists should be deciding how this stuff should come out, not some guy with a computer.
Your name also came up under iMixes titled "Gay Boy Sex Songs" and "Gay As Hell." Are you aware you have a large gay fan base?
Yes. I've worked on behalf of Freedom to Marry because I'm very much in favor of same-sex marriage. It's America. If Bill wants to marry Tom, you don't have an opinion that we care about. And if you have a problem with it, then don't marry a man. That gets me going in a very angry manner; it really pisses me off that someone would presume to lord over somebody's love life. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, and if you can't handle freedom and bravery -- shit, man, get out. -- Kristyn Pomranz
Death in Stereo
As its morbid moniker implies, Murder by Death revels in the macabre. On its 2003 album Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them, a small town invites its own apocalypse by provoking a drunken devil. MBD's in-progress record, In Bocca Di Lupo, uses Dante's Inferno as its framework, dedicating a song to each damned character. B-Sides reached bassist Matt Armstrong in his Indiana studio to discuss dark matters.
B-Sides: Most of your merchandise contains unsettling imagery. Have you heard from any fans who got in trouble for wearing your stuff?
Matt Armstrong: We had these track jackets with horse skulls on the front and a horse-drawn funeral carriage that's dripping blood everywhere on the back. Some kids got a little heat from their eighth-grade history teachers. I remember wearing a Ministry T-shirt in middle school, and they made me turn it inside out. It's funny now to be that band.
What's been your scariest experience on the road?
In Orlando, we met this crazy girl at the show, and she asked us if we wanted to stay at her house. We said sure, because we didn't know anybody there. It turns out she was this former-stripper-turned-aspiring-adult-film-star, and she started dancing on the coffee table half-naked. She was so drunk we thought she was going to fall down and break her neck, and we all freaked out. A dead stripper and a rock band -- who's going down for this one? But she was fine in the morning, and she gave us a big sack of sandwiches when we left.
Showtime is using your song "Big Sleep" for Tobe Hooper's installment of its Masters of Horror series. (The episode airs November 11.) Is this your first soundtrack contribution?
Yes, and we're really excited that this is finally going to happen. A lot of times people will ask us what our musical influences are, which is fair enough, but we tell them that we're more inspired by movies, at least with the feel we try to create during the songs. -- Andrew Miller