My friend and neighbor Will Schaff - a brilliant and prolific artist who once called me "a pretty neat lady" #claimtofame! - likes to have house concerts in his art studio. A few months back he sent word of a show featuring a local musician he felt was particularly talented, a guy going by the mysterious name Haunt the House. Will was right. Haunt the House (a.k.a. Will Houlihan) is particularly talented. In fact, I'm convinced he'll be known far and wide in the not-so-distant future.
His music makes you feel like you've been to church, like your soul has expanded beyond its usual limitations.
Listen to Haunt the House's insanely beautiful music right here, while you take in his truly poetic and insightful words below.
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How would you define "creativity"? That's a tough one. Creativity, I think, in my most humble opinion, is whatever inspiration is out there in the ether that some fortunate and unsuspecting members of this humanity have discovered they can attract and funnel for a limited amount of blissfully controlled time to overcome a quandary or befuddling puzzle. To write a song, or paint a picture, or write a poem, or build a sculpture, or devise a law, or fix an automobile, or figure out how to best change the diaper on their newborn without getting re-christened.
When do you feel most open to your creativity, or at your creative peak? Ironically, when I'm nowhere near a pen or a guitar. I'm driving, or working, or in the middle of an interesting debate. It rarely ever happens that I'm struck while working. I work because it strikes and I keep myself open as much as I can. It's a brain exercise for me. A lot of my creativity lately has been outside myself, based around other people's stories. I haven't exhausted my own yet, but I'm enjoying exploring others' experiences and concocting stories around them. In short, I try to keep my brain actively imagining in an otherwise dull 24 hours. The only downside to that is the plague of my absentmindedness. I still haven't mastered multitasking. I don't think we are meant to. At least not me.
Where does inspiration come from? My short answer might be, "I don't know." But then I reckon if I think hard enough it would be an answer more like, "Life." As silly and as general as that may sound, I believe it. It is simple. We are all given this gift. All my songs stem from this beautiful and tragically short, brutal span of time. More specifically, inspiration, for me, is the fallout of just a small swarm of minutes in which souls and bodies interact with each other. It's the lingering effect of a happening, emotionally, visually, audibly, poetically, phonetically, politically, what have you. It's there as a residue for us to collect and create with. A good friend of mine told me of an event that he experienced surrounding a hot summer night, camping, forests, swimming and naked people emerging from a moonlit wood. He wrote a song, and drew a picture, but his retelling of it stuck with me. The last time I saw him I asked him for permission to also write a song based on the image he created for me. Inspiration is contagious and powerful, like a scepter or a baton in a relay race.
Tell me about writing your lyrics vs. developing melodies? Melody, for me, is wrought from emotion. If I don't feel a harmony, (pun intended) between the rise and fall of a melody, I'll move on. If it doesn't move me to some imagery, to some memory or feeling of a sort, it is not worth saying. Maybe I'll set it aside for later, but not likely. If it's dead, I leave it. Lyrics come after melody. Most of the time, there can be exceptions, of course, when that ethereal inspiration we spoke of is too strong to follow forms and guides. Melody gives me guidelines that I desperately need. I feel it helps me hone my writing skills. I love free form poetry, but that doesn't often fit with the simplicity of my songs. I love simplicity, so within that structure I try to fit a living thing. My hope is that it works. That's all I really want.
You've written about tough things that have happened in your life. What is the relationship between music and those life events? I don't want to sound redundant, however all the songs I've written, without exception, even the material that I consciously step outside myself to write, is tethered to my own experiences in one way or another. I can't ever really escape it. If I ever write an untethered song, and I mean completely untethered, it just doesn't set well with me. To me, an untethered song is an imposter. It's a failure, or a falling short of honesty. It is a flat-out lie. Semantics, we can discuss that later.
When do you know a song is finished? Good question. A large majority of my songs are unfinished, or at least they seem that way until at such a point they cease to be. Sometimes they are finished within minutes. Sometimes they get rewritten and rearranged until they birth at a performance. It could be the thirty-forth time I've played it, but it blossoms then. It's always changing. I think that's the beauty of music, it's ever-changing. It allows for a certain margin of error. It says ,"I'm poetry. It's ok. Let me go. I'll finish the rest. You raised me right, now trust your abilities as a parent."
Favorite artists or influences? Artists that don't give up. Bruce Springsteen, who still gives eight-hour performances. Tom Waits, whom I admire most and has been a consistent role model for me in terms of artistry. Jeremy Enigk, who infused such spirituality into his work. My own father, for whom the same tenacity applies. He has always been a constant bastion of the hard work ethic for me. It's stubbornness serving purpose. It's emotional resolve. My brother, for teaching me how to conquer. I wish he was still here to slap my shoulder every now and then.
Do you have any daily or weekly habits and practices? I am naturally scatterbrained as I've alluded to already, but I've been getting much better. It all comes down to discipline. I realized recently I have very little of it. I set aside time now to write, inspiration present or not. It helps me wrangle what might be floating around up there in that echoing canyon I like to refer to as my mind. I have days now that I've designated to write just lyrics or melodies. It has to be done that way for me, as I would just ignore the actual work until that inspiration happens upon me with a hammer.
What's the best advice you ever received about being an artist in this world? "An artist does." Work, work, work, and when you're done, work again. I want to die writing a song.
What are you working on now? Too much! I've taken on the daunting task of assembling a band and a choir, and writing a ridiculously involved concept album. I mostly write solo, so I'm in over my head, but I'm enjoying it immensely. It may be sculpted down into something a bit more manageable, but I hope not!
Haunt the House is the stage name of songwriter Will Houlihan. He delivers poignant stories of spiritual lament and loss with conviction and sincerity. His beautiful music can be heard HERE. You can connect with him on Facebook too.