Hands Like Houses discuss their new album, their upcoming South Africa shows and what’s next

Australian alternative rock band Hands Like Houses are considered one of Australia’s biggest rock exports.  Having sold 100k+ record sales worldwide, the band, having been together for a decade now, have wowed crowds at home and abroad over the years.  They have been receiving praise from critics and fans alike following the release of their latest album -Anon, an album that has signaled a growth in sound for the band.  The album was released on October 12th via Hopeless Records and was produced by Colin Brittain (Papa Roach/5 Seconds Of Summer/One OK Rock).  The band has released three previous recordings, 2012’2 Ground Dweller, 2013’s Unimagine and 2016’s DissonantsThey approached the recording of -Anon a bit differently and allowed themselves the time to fully immerse themselves in the songs, giving each of the songs it’s own energy and identity. With Anonthe goal of the band was to hit reset, starting over with a clean slate while still recognizing the music they have released thus far.  The singles “Overthinking”, “Monster” and “Tilt” have been well-received, with “Monster” recently hitting #1 on SiriusXM’s Octane channel, has hit over 1 million streams on Spotify, was chosen as the official theme song for WWE’s pay-per-view “The Super Showdown” and has been played during Monday Night Football, as well.  Having just wrapped up the North American leg of their -Anon Tour with Arlington, Emarosa, Devour The Day and The Faim, the band will be embarking on the Australian leg in February and will be performing for the first time in South Africa in March.  The band is comprised of Trenton Woodley (vocals), Alexander Pearson (guitar), Joel Tyrrel (bass), Matthew Parkitny (drums) and Matt “Coops” Cooper (guitar).  Staff writer Emily May spoke recently by email with Woodley in which he discussed the new album, working with producer Colin Brittain, their upcoming South Africa shows and what’s next for the band.  You can stay up-to-date with the band and all upcoming music and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase their music via the following links.  Check out their music videos for “Monster” and “Overthinking” below.  You can also vote for “Monster” to be in Triple J’s Hottest 100 Top 100 contest HERE!  Photo credit- Megan Thompson.

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You are finishing up your -Anon. US tour with Emarosa, Devour The Day, The Faim and Arlington. What have some highlights been for you of the tour? How has the response been to hearing the new album live?

We’ve had some pretty special shows on this tour – we had three of the best shows consecutively in Boston, New York and Philly with great turnouts and it seemed like every band did well, which is super encouraging for us as ‘headliner’. We love the people in every band on the tour and we want them all to have as much to gain and grow as we do ourselves 🙂  We also got to go bowling with a few of the bands on Thanksgiving and that was a lot of fun – especially when some of the inter-band wagers we made were ‘paid up’ at the Philly show – elf costumes, shout-outs and set intros haha. Was a great time, and sad that the tour is nearing the end! As for the new album – we’ve been playing 5 songs from -Anon. and they’ve been going down really well. It’s always a little scary playing new songs when you haven’t toured in a while, but “Monster” has been going off as hard as “Colourblind”, and “Overthinking” and “Tilt” especially have also been going down a treat 🙂

Your new album -Anon. was recently released! You guys approached this album as a means of starting with a clean slate as a band. Do you feel that you achieved what you had hoped to achieve with the album? You’ve mentioned that the making of this album was the most fun you’ve had in making an album in your 10 years as a band. What was it about the process of making this record that made it so much fun?

-Anon. definitely has given us a ton of big opportunities to reach new people, so for those new fans especially, it’s a sense of ‘clean slate’ with room to grow and build our audience. I think we’ve had a pretty good response to the shift in sound – people are embracing it with an open mind and broken-down expectations and we feel like they’re recognising our musical fingerprint better by it, and developing a better appreciation of what has made us ‘us’ over the last four albums. It was a fun record to make because we had time to relax, enjoy the process and trust our instincts. We went to the beach between sessions, we would go out for dinner and drinks with Colin, Alex and our friends in the area regularly, and had a rad house to kick back in after hours, so it didn’t feel like we were totally consumed by the process. It took the pressure off and that sense of comfort and confidence 100% carried into the songs themselves.

Your approach to making this album was different from previous albums, in that you had more time to figure out your vision for the album and gave yourselves room for flexibility. Was allowing yourselves extra time for this album something you had decided on from the start?

Our last album Dissonants was a stressful album to put together, because of time constraints and time away from home with heavy touring either side of studio time. Avoiding that time crunch was the first thing we set out to do for this record, so it was definitely part of making the decision to take 12 months off the road to put it together. We’re still insanely proud of the end result for Dissonants, perhaps more so because of the hard work and strain, but the process was something we hope never to have to repeat haha.

You wrote half of the album in the studio and dropped several of the songs you had written months prior. What was your process for deciding which songs to include on the album and which songs to leave off? Were you aiming for a particular sound or theme for the album that some of your other songs didn’t fit?

As we were writing, we were just writing each song as it came, so figuring out which songs would make the album was more a process of working out how the songs fit together as a collection rather than just a compilation of individual songs. We cut, wrote and rewrote songs based on how each contributed something original or recognisably distinct in the context of an album, while still fitting together in a flow of ideas and energy. I think we tagged songs that were feeling more ‘out there’ pretty early, so we didn’t have many ‘finished’ songs that got cut, but it was a constantly evolving big picture.

With -Anon. you aimed to balance the external pressures and expectations with your own expectations for yourselves, trusting your instincts rather then trying too hard to make an album you thought other people wanted to hear from the band. What expectations did you have for yourselves going into this record? Have you felt and/or given into those external pressures in the past?

I think the expectations of ourselves that we had to put aside were based on how we saw ourselves as a band – were we a heavy radio rock band, were we a ‘post-hardcore’ band (I will forever hate that term because it is such a narrow description that almost means nothing because it’s been used to describe a certain collective of labels, more than any recognisable ‘sound’), etc. We see ourselves only as a rock band – defined only by the fact it’s loud, it’s passionate and it has a sense of urgency. But we also wanted to embrace our own personal tastes and influences more. We decided to just ‘let it happen’, rather than trying to achieve a specific purpose or reach a certain audience. I think we were guilty of ‘playing it safe’ with Dissonants – while it was a heavy and passionate record as a whole, we were trying to shape ourselves to appeal to a certain field of opportunity, while also being somewhat fearful of straying from our existing fanbase’s expectations.

For this album, you worked with producer Colin Brittain, who divided everyone into 3 different studios in the same building so that there were things happening non-stop. For your previous two records you worked with producer James Paul Wisner, who had everything done in one room by everyone individually. What was this recording experience like for you as a band? What did you enjoy the most about it and what do you think it added to the creative process? I also read that the album was recorded using vintage analog equipment. What prompted that decision and what do you feel it added to the the recording process?

Splitting up our studio time between the different rooms with different engineers meant we could effectively spend twice as long in the studio with the same amount of time ‘away’ so to speak. It meant that we could bounce back and forth with different ideas, without everyone having to wait their turn to be creatively involved. It created a great sense of creative energy, where something was always happening. From an equipment standpoint, by recording with a bunch of high quality analog gear on the front-end meant that we were making sonic decisions on the fly and committing to them, rather than trying to piece it all together later. If it sounds good, great, it’s going on the record. I feel like there was a sense of symbolism in that – it was about trusting your ears and gut as to what would work, and committing to it, and naturally Colin and Alex (Prieto – assistant engineer)’s experience helped guide those decisions to the best possible place from the outset.

You consider yourselves songwriters over musicians. How do you feel that your songwriting has changed over the years? What do you feel goes into writing a good song?

By making a distinction between songwriters and musicians, it has helped us see the way we write as a collective effort rather than a jigsaw puzzle of everyone trying to show off their own skills and abilities. Sometimes to have a strong vocal, you need a simple musical backing, and vice versa, so it means knowing when to take your moment to shine and when to put the brakes on to let someone else’s good work take the focus. Songs are a journey, a narrative and a flow of energy that guides your imagination and attention. The moments make a song recognisable, but the ability to make those moments a seamlessly flowing experience is something we’re always working on, to make a song not just recognisable but memorable.

I read that for previous tours you have made “pre-show psych-up playlists”. Do you still make these and, if so, who is on your current playlist? Who are you listening to right now?

Haha yeah we always have a playlist going before our set – at the moment it’s a bunch of Australian classics from bands like Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel, Men at Work, INXS etc. We all listen to different stuff, some new, a lot that isn’t haha. Hard to answer simply in an interview!

You and Jayson John Evans recently teamed up to do a contest that offered up to $4K worth of pre-pro sessions and social media/music branding course packs as the prize. How did you come to team up with Evans and what led you to do the contest?

Jayson Evans has been a very close friend of mine for a few years and creatively somewhat of a kindred spirit. We both have a similar approach to engaging with the world, bridging pragmatism and technological practicality with creative concepts and engaging with human behavioural constants. We are always working on several distinct projects either individually or together, and we find that our interests and experiences often overlap in ways that we can utilise that benefit both our businesses and both our worldviews 🙂  The contest was actually a means to collect some data about how people engage with music, how they grow their brands, how they view their musical journey as artists and where they most want to grow. That data is helping us tailor our individual businesses and also develop some huge collaborative projects that we think could go as far as changing the music industry altogether. It may or may not happen, but we believe in being ambitious in principle and realistic and proactive in practice 🙂

You have mentioned that you wish you could rewind and take the experiences and knowledge you have now and apply them to the creative decisions you made when you were first starting out.  How do you feel you have evolved as a musician/producer over the years and how would you have approached and executed your ideas then, knowing what you know now?

It’s tough to say how you’d do anything in retrospect, because there’s so many variables at any time. But if I could go back with what I know now, I’d definitely try and be more proactive in effectively utilising social media early on, adopting certain platforms ahead of the curve, as its’ the early adopters who always gain the most from any new platform or opportunity. That all said though, I’m hugely grateful for where we are as a band now and as much as there’s always bigger things we theoretically could be doing, I’m not sure I’d want to risk any of that by doing it any differently.

What led you to form Collisions Audio, your songwriting, pre-production, mixing and mastering studio in Australia? Have you always been interested in that side of the industry? What can you tell me about your “ear over gear” philosophy?

I’ve always been better at taking an idea and running with it than coming up with an original spark – that’s not to say I can’t come up with things myself but I feel I do my best work when I can enhance and refine what is already there. There’s only limited opportunity for that within one band, so by turning my experiences as a musician into practical knowledge as a writer and producer, I get to work with genuinely talented bands and artists and help offer perspective, alternative visions and a sense of identity and confidence in their music. In terms of ear over gear, it’s partially a budgetary exercise haha – but I believe that technology has come so far that you can achieve great results with the bare minimum of equipment, plugins and gear so I try not to see my gear as a limiting factor in what I can achieve. That said though, quality gear can add that extra sense of colour and life in the music you’re recording so it’s one less thing to think about in the creative process. I don’t want bands to book with me because I have $50k worth of vintage outboard gear – I want them to book with me because of what I can contribute to their creative vision, and I’m always trying to grow my portfolio to reflect that. The gear I do have is just part of my workflow, it’s an extension of me, and it’s always evolving, so I don’t want to attach too much importance to what I have, in case it distracts potential clients from what I do.

You guys will be performing in South Africa for the first time in March of next year, with the shows benefiting wildlife conservation and anti-poaching efforts across South Africa! What are you looking forward to the most in visiting South Africa? Have any of you ever been to South Africa before outside of the band?

Hell yeah! We’re super excited to play a new country and continent.  I don’t think any of us have been to South Africa and certainly never played a show there. A few of the guys have been to Kenya in the past but that was totally separate from HLH. We’re excited to have the time to explore – the organization that is bringing us over have hosted our friends in Our Last Night a couple of times now, and they’ve had nothing but good things to say about the experience, hospitality and perspective they’ve been shown by being on the ground and actually engaging with the people (and animals!) that are affiliated with the cause. RFR have a distinctly unique promotional strategy and it’s super cool to be able to play shows in a new place, play to new audiences, meet some beautiful animals and do it all for a worthy cause!

What else do you have coming up? How is 2019 shaping up for the band so far?

We thankfully have a couple of months to relax and recuperate over the new year – as we approach the last couple of dates of the tour that’ll make for 2 months of straight touring across Australia, UK, Europe and the US, and we’re eager to kick back haha! But that said, 2019 is looking pretty big already, with our biggest ever headline tour happening in Australia in February, South Africa in March, a handful of US festivals and sideshows in April/May, plus a couple of festivals in UK, Europe and Australia later in the year. It’s stacking up fast, so I’m equally nervous and excited, but after 10 years, to still have these opportunities and still be growing is something we could never take for granted.

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