Interview: Hands Like Houses

“We’ve always tried to keep a mentality of keeping things fresh every album, so we’re always trying to take a step forward.”

While many of their post-hardcore contemporaries have declined in profile and quality, Canberra’s Hands Like Houses have persevered, toured relentlessly and continuously expanded their sound and have begun to reap the rewards in 2016. Their third album ‘Dissonants’ being released to widespread acclaim in February, and has brought them extensive touring opportunities including a successful run of UK headline dates and run of American shows supporting the almighty Enter Shikari.

Singer Trenton Woodley and guitarist Matt “Coops” Cooper can be found in the compact dressing room of Glasgow’s 2,500 capacity O2 Academy. Coops is noodling away on an acoustic guitar competing with the sounds coming from the main room where tonight’s headliners, Of Mice & Men, are soundchecking. “We’ve had some really great opportunities over the years,” Trenton states, thinking of how fortunate his band has been to get to the position they are now. “It’s still pretty wild, moreso just by being somewhere else every day and just travelling as much as we do and being recognised has a cool factor, but as for the whole ‘living the dream’ thing, it’s easy to get caught up in all the day-to-day stuff. We’ve gotten past that, but we’re still very lucky to do what we do and you still have those little moments here and there where you stop and think ‘wait, what am I doing here?’”

“Touring with Enter Shikari made us feel that way,” Coops responds. “They’re a band we grew up listening to pretty heavily in high school and after going on that tour, I went to my mates back home and showed them the photos. Moments like that make you step back and say ‘Yeah, this is pretty sick.’”

Packed with tight riffs and melodies which make for instantly catchy choruses and memorable lyricism, ‘Dissonants’ feels like their most ambitious record that demands to stand out among its peers. It’s an impressive triumph, when four years before, Hands Like Houses were another name in an expanding mass of pop-infused metalcore bands that seemed set to implode within itself. Trenton acknowledges the importance of keeping their sound up-to-date; “We’ve always tried to keep a mentality of keeping things fresh every album, so we’re always trying to take a step forward. We’ve seen a lot of bands around us that came around at that time just repeat themselves, and it might work for a couple of albums, then it just drops off a bit and they just end up staying at the same level, then people begin to gradually lose interest.

For us, it certainly comes with its own challenges because people will have their own expectation, so it’s always a gamble of whether you’re going to exceed people’s expectations or at least challenge them enough and if they’re going to enjoy what you do. It keeps you on your toes, and I think we’ve approached it the right way and I don’t think any record is better or worse than the last, we’ve just expanded our sound along the way.”

Despite coming from a metalcore background, to call ‘Dissonants’ a metalcore album would only scratch the surface of it’s crisply produced sound. “We’re five very different dudes with different influences and as the writing process comes together, I think those influences come through”, Trenton remarks when considering where their songwriting ideas came from. “We just listen to what’s around and what’s fun to play live and it eventuates into what we have.

We definitely think about those sorts of things and we consciously write songs or parts of songs for those sorts of things, like ‘let’s put in a jumpy part”, Coops comments, before Trenton expands on his point; “If we’re lucky enough, we’ll be able to combine all of the above into the one song, so it’s almost like creating an experience as much as it is a piece of music.”

Creating an experience for listeners is every bit at the heart of Hands Like Houses’ intentions with ‘Dissonants’, with many of the lyrics intended to resonate with their fans, particularly as the band take an understanding between current and past generations and the realisation that those haven’t been blessed with the same advantages as those before. “Our generation’s inheriting a pretty interesting set of challenges in terms of other generations not wanting to let go of control and not caring about the future so much, and a lot of it comes out of not knowing how to do that, and our generation isn’t too sure how to pick up the reigns.” Trenton ponders while considering the rallying cry heard towards the end of the album’s closer ‘Bloodlines’; ‘If I’m the bastard child of best intentions, If I’m the bitter voice of discontent, If I’m the broken hope of indecision, At least my future’s in my hands.’

“That first line ‘If I’m the bastard child of best intentions’ comes from the idea that we’re a generation raised on optimism and hope and a lot of that isn’t necessarily realistic, so we’re finding our own place in the present where we’re trying to piece together our own future. I guess the discontent is also part of that. While being the broken hope of decisions is about trying to make that future out of the present and figure it out on our own, which I guess is a pretty poignant challenge for us individually.”

“Without trying to get too metaphysical, I feel like a lot of it does come from being raised with that expectation,“ Trenton continues, "but we’re also raised with this Disney mindset that you can do anything – and there’s truth to both, you could be a hero and that everyone’s special, but that was more of a mindset for our generation, but now we see generations under us that are becoming our fans who have a completely different set of challenges where you need to make your own way, but where unity is also an important factor.”

It’s crazy to think that these little things that we do can have such a huge impact on how people see themselves and the world around them.

“It’s like a friend of mine once said ‘the moment you start believing that you are special, you start to believe that someone else isn’t,’” Coops quickly interjects.

“We’re all in this as a whole, and I think it’s more important that we see the whole rather than the individual”, Trenton expands. “We all have special traits to ourselves rather than simply being special, and the entire concept behind the album was just to say that we are dissonant threads, as part of a bigger picture. It’s important that we explore the different parts that don’t always make sense together, but that’s what an individual is, it’s these crazy contradictions, belief systems and nature and nurture combined into this single entity. It’s important than to see that as a single part of a bigger community, or species or whatever physical existence there is beyond what we understand.”

When considering the fact that ‘Dissonants’ might help more listeners, particularly of a younger age, understand their ideas of unity, Trenton looks at the way fans that tell them how they relate to their lyrics, to the extent that they could get them tattooed on them, as dedication to the mindset that they share. “Significance is so relative for those people, that tiny line that, for me, was just something that fit a melody and was a cool idea, that becomes their mantra for their entire life for a period of time, or long enough for them to tattoo it. It’s impossible to measure significance beyond our own individual relationship to it. It means there’s a big sense of responsibility for us. I always try and make sure there’s a sense of ambiguity to whatever I write lyrically, just so there is that point of contact that people can take away for themselves because that’s more important than writing lyrics specific to only me.”

In an instant Trenton Woodley looks up, struck by the weight of his own words. “You know, there probably is that crazy ‘living the dream’ moment, not in a ‘we’ve got it good’ way, but more how it’s crazy to think that these little things that we do can have such a huge impact on how people see themselves and the world around them.”

’Dissonants’ by Hands Like Houses is out now via Rise Records/UNFD.

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Words by Andy Davidson (@AndyrfDavidson)


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