New Music Experience: ‘Revelator’ Release Special with Phosphorescent

This week on the show we hear from Fabiana Palladino and the unlikely way she connected with collaborator Jai Paul to craft her self-titled debut. In advance of their WNXP Presents show at Drkmttr on May 17, Gustaf shares the band-name origin story and how it illuminates their “mantra.” Nashville-based, Ohio-bred band the Black Keys give us a Beck-infused “party record” and Chicago indie artist Bnny delivers one of our favorite new albums born from the Mazzy Star sonic lineage.

The majority of the show though, we spend with WNXP Nashville Artist of the Month Phosphorescent whose new album Revelator, out this week, is the second made since Matthew Houck moved to Tennessee nearly a decade ago. We were invited to his East Nashville studio to talk about the project, and while we’ll have more from that interview later in the month, here are a few of the topics we covered in the conversation.

On the influence of the 2022/2023 Full Moon Project

The Full Moon Project was in one, just kind of a way to get back into the fun of recording and making music because it is fun and it should be fun,” Houck states. “This Phosphorescent thing has a lot of pressures that goes along with it, and that can remove the enjoyment of it. So on one hand it was like just for the mental and sort of spiritual aspect of enjoying music. And on the other hand it was like having the freedom to work on sounds and work on my techniques as (an engineer) a player and a singer but without the overshadowing pressure of making a ‘Phosphorescent record.’ I think it was successful. I think I learned a lot making those songs for The Full Moon Project.”

“Recording a song every month, like on paper that doesn’t sound like that hard of a thing to do. But I care about this stuff, and it takes me a little longer. But you know, I thought I was going to make those songs and then be able to release them every month and in the meantime work on this next record, the next proper Phosphorescent record. But every month the night before the full moon I would be finalizing a mix or a master. It was a lot of work,” Houck laughs and remembers. “But I think I got better at making sounds in this room and with this gear during that time and I think also it highlighted to me that the process is the process. And I think ideally, not fighting against the process. You know what I mean? It’s really easy to get frustrated when you’re doing this stuff like you’re dealing with such small little things where the tiniest adjustment to my mind, very often, can be the difference of it being an absolute failure and exactly what you want. It’s not like it got close. It’s like it absolutely fails until you just get that right little mixture and then you’re like boom! There it is.”

On how Revelator began as something “smaller” and more intimate but grew more expansive and epic over time

“It didn’t feel like these songs warranted or were going to be that kind of a grand record but then, weirdly, I think they actually did kind of become that,” Houck says. “I say ‘weirdly’ but I mean, again, process is such a fascinating thing like when you lose yourself in in the correct way. I mean you can be really stubborn-minded about what a thing is, and sometimes you have to be that, too, but ideally you get into this state where things just start falling into place and start revealing themselves. Revealing itself is a big part of why (the album) was called Revelator. This whole thing kind of it showed itself to me almost more so than me having this thing that I was trying to do with it. It was kind of like I started kicking the ball and then it kind of just started rolling.”

On how “A Moon Behind the Clouds” brings a layer of meditative hope to an otherwise fairly dark time and record

“The chorus line is just something my boy was repeating over and over in the back seat one night. And there was a beautiful moon peeking through the clouds. This was ‘pre-talking.’ He didn’t say much yet, but he was able to piece together ‘Moon behind clouds!’ Just like over and over. And it was really like I’ll get all…” Houck stops himself before getting emotional.

“Kids, they’re amazing people. That was awesome. Yeah, it was during that time of all that (Covid etc.) but again I wasn’t really thinking of it so much topically like that. But it was just more like that image to me was just this beauty that’s just right back there. It can get so easily covered up by – you name it. And very easy to forget that there is this looming gorgeousness right behind this thin veil of whatever it is that’s keeping it hidden. For another relatively bleak (songs), to my ears it feels really hopeful. Yeah, one of the more hopeful moments on the record.”

On how his partner Jo Schornikov’s song “The World is Ending” made it on to Revelator

“She stops me from being involved in her records,” Houck laughs. “Fair enough. But I would like to be and I try to get my two cents in. She makes amazing, amazing records. I didn’t know that that song didn’t make [her] record. She nixed it. So when I saw the final track listing I was like ‘You’re going to leave off that one?’ And she’s like ‘Yeah.’ And I was like ‘Can I have it?’ And she was like ‘Yeah.’ I truly fell in love with that song the first time I heard it. I thought it was just a stunner. But she had a different relationship with it. Something that was really interesting to me was that I heard it a certain way and she heard it a different way. She was hearing it kind of like a song that was so sort of almost outrageously bleak. Like a Randy Newman type song, where you’re laying down something really wildly heavy but doing it with a bit of humor and a bit of a wink. And I guess in her mind it wasn’t landing. But I was hearing it as an absolutely straight song that was just such a gut punch. I’ve trafficked in sad tunes for my whole life I guess and this one was (almost) too much but I think it’s just such a stunner that I recorded it.”