PHOSPHORESCENT has had bad luck with tour vans. As I'm talking on the phone to Matthew Houck, frontman and leader for the Brooklyn band, he's waiting in a restaurant for a flat tire to be fixed. "It's no big deal," he says. And going by their track record, it isn't: In March 2008, Phosphorescent's van broke down completely in San Francisco, necessitating a scramble to find a replacement rental van. Houck was forced to leave his bandmates behind and jump on a plane to make the show here in Portland. It wasn't meant to be a solo show; it just turned out that way. What's worse, at the airport he reached in his pocket and realized he'd taken the only keys to the rental van.
That's nothing compared to what they went through in Brooklyn earlier this month: The van, along with all their equipment, was outright stolen. Reading the list of missing equipment was heartbreaking—1955 Gibson ES-125, 1973 Fender Twin Reverb, and so on—but good fortune smiled a few days later, when police recovered the van with all the gear intact.
It's a fitting way for Phosphorescent to kick off what should be their most triumphant tour to date; like Houck's songs, the sadness and sourness gives way to a release of ecstasy, a hard-earned warmth that recognizes the struggles of day-to-day life and finds a way to rise above it. The new Phosphorescent album, Here's to Taking it Easy, comes after a fantastic Willie Nelson covers album, To Willie, which placed the band in a higher musical stratosphere than before. Taking it Easy takes those advances and puts Houck's songwriting in the same assured hands.
"This one was specifically an attempt to kind of make what I would consider a straightforward kind of classic-sounding rock record," says Houck. "From the beginning, writing and knowing that I had these five guys—I mean, these guys are all really world-class musicians, some of the best alive, in my opinion. With how everybody plays and what we could all bring to the table, I realized that we could make a record that was really sort of classic and as straightforward I think as Phosphorescent is capable of."