There are some serious spectral forces at work on Haunt the House’s full-length debut, Jack Rabbit Jones. Some of them are the ghosts of olde time music, simple and from the gut, the kinds of things that tend to wind up exorcised by studio polish and insincerity. Others are the astrally projected souls of a Who’s Who of local heavy hitters, like Allysen Callery, Amato Zinno of Vudu Sister, and Bessie Bessin of Pier Jump. But mostly what you hear are the ghosts of one man’s love and loss.
“I got married when I was 20. I ended up getting divorced at 22. I wasn’t ready for a relationship, marriage or anything like that,” says Will Houlihan, who started Haunt the House as a solo project before putting together a band for the new record. “I was devastated about what had happened. Then I met a girl when I was about 24 or 25, and was just in the mode of trying to rebuild a family because I was so hurt about what had happened and I felt like that was what I needed again in my life. But I didn’t really give myself the time to heal, didn’t give myself the time to grow, so I remarried. We were married for about three years, something had happened and we ended up getting a divorce.”
Add to that the fact that he has a son from each marriage, and that he didn’t find his love for music until after his second divorce. “I was having a hard time making heads or tails of it. Is this even okay for me to be doing? I’ve always been the guy to go work three jobs. So I was struggling with whether or not this was acceptable to do as a father.”
Love, betrayal, regret, fear. These are the ghosts that inhabit the dusty corners of Jack Rabbit Jones and Will channels them like a chord-strumming medium. One could argue that he got two lifetimes worth of whatever it is that drives other songwriters in just one decade, but at least they drive him. He turned it into something powerful, which isn’t to say he’s not a little bit broken – after all, a man who sings like he does can’t be faking it – but he’s too humble to brag about being stronger for it, or for saying that his music hits somewhere close to where a cynic like me might think faith belongs, which isn’t surprising considering how significant a role his own beliefs play in his life and his music.
“It’s inextricable from my personality. I see it as something integral to my being an artist. If I didn’t have that, I don’t know how inspired I’d be because naturally I tend towards being miserable and brooding. I think in the last couple of years God’s provided opportunity to show me that things aren’t always bleak. It’s been reiterated over and over again, even through my bleakest times.
“Everything that has happened has been a blessing. Even the things that haven’t been good in the moment. I look back and see that those things needed to happen,” he says. “This is my opportunity to really pursue something and show them that if you believe in something you should go for it. No matter what the obstacles are you can overcome them as long as you have good intentions, a good heart and patience.”
All of that pain and trust in something bigger than himself are imbued with a heartbreaking scope and atmosphere on Jack Rabbit Jones. Accordion, mandolin, upright bass and often painfully beautiful harmonies fill out the space where Will’s voice and chords once lingered and disintegrated like sonic apparitions on his solo EP and in the intimate performances he built his reputation on.
This month, Will takes Haunt the House on the road with Bessie and Amato for a smattering of shows across New England, including a stop at Fall Fest at Misquamicut Beach on September 12.
“There’s an energy at a live show that you can’t get on a recording,” he says, and at this point whatever it is that drives him – pain, God, wanting to be something his boys will look up to – lights up his eyes. “You finish a song on stage and that moment between finishing the last chord and the applause, if there is any, is magic. It’s like you put something out there and you let it go.”
Fall Fest, September 12. Misquamicut State Beach, Westerly. 322-1026. $7 for the day.