Other Houses channel the grief of parental loss into a powerful statement of perseverence with latest LP, Funny Papers
Losing a parent at any age is a heavy emotional experience. But there is something to be said about learning of your mom or dad passing away when you are in your twenties that carries a rather significant weight to it. You are at this age when you are just getting out in the working world and you still have an active social life, then all of a sudden its like you lose an entire wing in mid-flight.
Music has always been an incredibly healing outlet for expressing pain and grief, as records like Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night, Lou Reed’s Magic & Loss and, most recently, Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens, so evidently testifies. However, Morgan Enos–frontman and songwriter for the the New York-based rock group Other Houses–beautifully manages to capture the very essence of this particular kind of parental loss on the band’s latest LP Funny Papers. The 26-year-old Enos, who is also an established rock journalist who can currently be read at Billboard among other outlets, lost his father two years ago, getting the call about his dad’s sudden passing. On Funny Papers–which stems from the old adage his dad, Scott “Ono” Enos, used to say to him, “See you in the funny papers”–Enos transforms the sorrow he feels over this sudden loss of a beloved parent and transformed it into the kind of visceral, soulful classic rock he is so renowned for covering in the music press with a knowledge that far surpasses his age. The music is a smash of Crazy Horse-style Neil Young and the outerboros of a band he is quickly becoming a modern authoritative voice on, The Beatles, and can be checked out here.
The following is the result of an email interview with Enos that we hope will bring more light to one of the talented young bands here in North America, along with the likes of Starcrawler and The Lemon Twigs, who are ushering in a new age of true school rock ‘n’ roll faster than you can say Greta Van Who?
Funny Papers is available at BandCamp with physical copies to be made available later in 2019.
Why Funny Papers?
The title of Funny Papers means many things to me. The album is themed around the loss of my father, who always said “See you in the funny papers,” a turn-of-the-century quip meaning “goodbye.” Then, there’s Paul singing “You only give me your funny paper” on my dad’s favorite Beatles album, Abbey Road. The cover is a photo my father took of my sister as a little child, reading the funny papers upside down.
Which artist or artists do you think is the most adept at creating that balance of the heavy and the light in terms of coping with tragedy in song? Randy Newman seems to come to mind for me…
So many. Jackson Browne, John Lennon and Ian Anderson also lead the listener through turbulent stuff with humor and grace. I can’t do what they do. I’m dismissed from this class. Can I talk about David Letterman instead? I think about him daily. He lost his father around when I did, and has spent the rest of his life working out his grief and neuroses through effervescent, boyish humor and inquisitive zest for all things. I’m not even talking about TV, but his current life, in which he seems absorbed in educating himself as much as he possibly can. I love that about him.
As a regular reader of your work in Billboard, it’s always great to read of your insights into The Beatles. How deep did their music run in your family and what led you down the rabbit hole?
Calling yourself a Beatles fan can make you look like you’ve only gone in the shallow end of what’s out there. But at the risk of sounding corny, it was like they were members of my family.
Growing up, my dad and aunt had a pretty harrowing go of it. Their father was self-absorbed and absentee, their mother slid into schizophrenia, and their stepmother was a conniving piece of work. I think the Beatles were a reassuring presence to them. They wouldn’t humiliate or con you. When John sang about being lonely and wanting to die on “Yer Blues,” he was being straight with you, which made “Hey Jude,” that song’s opposite, ring that much truer about resilience.
When I got a little older, it was just like gossiping about our neighbors. The conversations mostly shifted to what kinds of people they were. George was one of the most sensual types out there, John was blessed with tremendous raw intellect, and Paul and Ringo are full of lessons about human nature and how to deal with others.
And yeah, I write about the Beatles for Billboard a lot and have some plans to dive deeper into that world professionally. I try to ignore the dead horses — India, drugs, acrimony. They were all born to fascinating parents. They had bizarre childhoods. I wonder what in their lives gave them their savviness, their wherewithal, their ability to make tough decisions and ride out the consequences with grace.
Plus, they happened to be born at the same time, in the same place, and click — and then improbably have Brian Epstein and George Martin to fully manifest them.
What’s it like for you to be on both edges of the music biz sword, the artist and the journalist? How do you balance the two in your life, or are they two halves of the same whole?
Oh, I’ve gone through the wringer of self-doubt. Making music was my be-all, end-all as a kid. When I got into music writing and went to the Billboard office for the first time, it was like the veil was dropped. All the competition I’m up against was right there.
So the questioning began. Should I be booking a tour instead of writing this piece? Will people no longer see me as the thing I ideated since childhood? Do I need to be keeping a band together? But then something clicked and I don’t care anymore. Writing an honest song or clean journalism fires up the same neurons. It’s just trying to send an accurate signal and hoping it resonates.
I was going to reveal Funny Papers in this grand unveiling until all the buildup made me sick to my stomach. I decided: keep it light. Let the album do its communicating. So far, the response has been really gratifying. People who lost friends or family reached out with heartfelt messages. That beats a blip in an editor’s spam folder any day.
You are in a long and noble lineage of rock journos who’ve also recorded and released music. What would you consider your favorite album by a rock scribe and why?
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a good one. Usually, when someone’s a musician and journalist, it means they’re really one of those and then the other outlet is hacky and perfunctory. There’s a dangerous attitude in 2019 where all musicians suddenly fancy themselves writers. Your half-baked poetry in passive voice that suddenly lapses into a nonsensical personal essay isn’t writing, it’s typing.
Not that I’m “there” by any means. I’m a deeply unpopular musician with a tiny audience as a writer. But if part of my day is spent writing a song and the other writing an article, I’m completely fulfilled and happy. And I hope I can keep getting better.
How about dudes like Ira Kaplan and Lenny Kaye?
Lifelong fans of their music. Can’t remember any of their music journalism.
Tell me the story about “Cream Played Live at the Royal Albert Hall”. How old were you when that live album came out? And how hard is it to listen to that album now?
I was 13 when Cream reunited and put out Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005. And my dad never quit playing that thing, or raving about it. It was constant. I’m sure he told me about it in the last weeks of his life. His favorite part was when drummer Ginger Baker sang his bizarre lead vocal turn, “Pressed Rat and Warthog,” with ill-fitting socks falling down his legs on the drum riser.
It soundtracked a very happy time. He felt good. He had this ridiculous lemon-yellow Jeep he would tear offroad with the top down. All my friends would be pelted with dirt and debris in the backseat, just screaming for him to stop. Royal Albert Hall was blasting. When he passed, I just wanted to talk about that.
It was the only material I brought to record Funny Papers. To set the mood, I asked everyone what they thought about dying. We hit record, I strapped on an SG, led the band through a few boneheaded chords, and what you hear on-record is what happened.
Mark Folkrod is the most emotionally intelligent drummer I’ve ever played with. Kirk MacLane, who played bass and mixed the song, is a consummate professional but knew to leave the jam with warts and all. My oldest friend, Ross Major, plays that sympathetic rhythm guitar. I’m so grateful they played with me.
Do you think rock ‘n’ roll still has the power to shake up the youth? Why or why not?
Not right now. That’s fine. Instead of making a prosaic observation about Soundcloud rap, I’ll just say that I’m aware that writing about classic rock — and making this kind of music — severely limits my public reach in almost every way. But I’m very fulfilled.
Dug your perspective of the 1979 George Harrison album in Billboard! Are there any other Beatles solo albums you feel don’t get enough appreciation or are misunderstood? Which ones and why?
I love George Harrison’s Dark Horse, because it’s mostly a disaster. (“So Sad” is the exception.) He was at the peak of his solo fame, and due to poor professional and personal choices, he blew it. The live bootlegs are just unconscionable. I love the difficult questions they raise in me. How can I bear that stuff and still love him so much?
Because he was fearless. When the press cooked him for that touring cycle, he stepped away, licked his wounds and just became this beautiful gardener who loved motor racing and going on Hawaiian vacations instead. He had the last laugh. I hang a framed Dark Horse poster in my office to remind me to enthusiastically stare failure and embarrassment in the face every day.