Artist in Focus: Haunt the House

Hope you’re all amped for Folk fest this weekend. As part of our Artist in Focus series we interviewed Will Houlihan of Haunt The House. Make sure you check him and others out at the festival this Saturday, April 25th.

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How did you get started in music?

That’s a long, involved question. I guess I’ll start at the very beginning… my earliest memory of being involved in music is when my sister was getting piano lessons. I remember watching her play… she was into it, but not interested enough to pursue it. And so, I had been really moved by the song she had played at the time. I had grown up in a very sheltered community so I didn’t really have much in the way of music exposure until high school. I had traditional style music, like only hymns, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a musician until I was 20. I remember sitting in my truck listening to a band and thinking, I want to be a part of this. I want to make other people feel the way this is making me feel…I really started writing after my second divorce, I would force myself to go to open mics and write songs that could stand alone with just a guitar.

How did you come up with the name Haunt the House?

It’s both a play on words, a description, and a spiritual reference. When I started writing music, I really wanted to focus on saying something. At the time, I was going through a really difficult period in my life and I had a lot of hurt and anxiety and a lot of loss. So, I just needed to express that. When I first started playing music, people would come up to me after my set and say “that was so haunting” so it kind of stuck with me. And then, I was thinking about the spiritual aspect of it. I have a very strong foundation in Christianity and that’s something I base a lot of my work out of. I was thinking about the idea that the Holy Spirit inhabits your body, and your body is the temple of the Lord… and then temple transferred to house to make Haunt the House. And it just stuck.

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What does your songwriting process look like?

It’s always different! I haven’t really been able to put my finger on a formula as of yet. But with my first EP was a solo endeavor and those were songs that I had had in my repertoire forever. For Rhode Island, I wanted to write a tribute to my brother.. he had passed away in 2012. I wanted to make every song a memoriam to him while also honoring my admiration for him- the way he led his family, the way he conducted his life. I wanted it also to be a comfort to anyone in my family that knew that it was about him and knew that it was about loss. So, I felt the emotions first, and I just thought, “what would he say to all of us?” So that’s how I wrote that song, I approached that with emotions first of all, and the lyrics come later. As far as Jack Rabbit Jones I wanted to do something different…I wanted to tell a story. So, I ended up writing my own story about two characters that are married, and one has a serious, debilitating split personality. So, the album became a dialogue between those three personalities and each song is from a different point of view.

So, you’re also a visual artist. How does your art interact with your music creatively?

As far as my artwork is concerned with my music, at this point, they are wholly separate and totally different animals. I think they cross over every once in a while when I have ideas for settings for my music and it’s storylines…. I’m doing a lot of crossovers for this next album.

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If you had to characterize your music with a few words or sum up what your sound is, how would you characterize it?

I can give you all types of different genres that it might sound like. Obviously, folk and roots… but when I approach a song I just want it to communicate with people. So, if I were to categorize it, it might be one thing today but I hope it’s something completely different tomorrow. Not that I would reject the idea of a label…but I’m not trying to fit under a category. It is what it is.

So, you’re playing the Newport Folk Festival. Are you planning for it now?

Yeah! We’re very excited. It’s very surreal.. going into a festival like that, the more I learn about the history of that place and who’s played there, I just am overwhelmed with the humility and honor of being considered to play. Seeing that, I know there are so many other artists that I feel are much more qualified to play if they had to toss a coin. It’s a very big honor and we really want to do it justice. Whatever stage they put us on, we’re just really honored to be a part of that community and we really want to do right by the festival.

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Thanks to Will for talking with us! You can see him, and all of Haunt the House, this Saturday on Lincoln Field. Don’t forget to buy your Friday tickets here while you’re at it!