Hands Like Houses: Interview With Trenton Woodley

Hands Like Houses have spent the last few years amassing a huge following through their music, involving killer albums like Dissonants, Unimagine, and Ground Dweller, as well as relentless touring through Australia, USA, and the UK. Their post-rock sound has been adored by many, and they are now changing that up a little with their upcoming album –Anon. Wanting to know more about the new album, we had a chat with vocalist Trenton Woodley.

With the new album you guys seem to have stepped more into the rock side of things. It’s always been hard to place you guys genre-wise. Do you now feel like you’re a part of a new breed of rock bands?

Well, we’ve always seen ourselves as a rock band because it’s such a broad genre, and in certain directions that allows more for growth and evolution, and allows us to learn while still pushing ourselves within that. But for me, I feel rock music is that sense of passion, urgency, and tension. That’s what rock is to me. I think that we’ve chipped at a few different directions within that already. People try to use different sub-genres to describe us and I hate that in a way. We’re a rock band, perhaps just a different kind of rock band than a lot of others. We don’t bother with it too much. We just make songs we enjoy, regardless of sound or style. A good song’s a good song.

And that’s when music appears to work and flow at it’s best; when everyone doesn’t try to apply to anything. They just let it flow. 

Yeah, the five of us have very different tastes and always have. And there’s always overlap of course, but because we all have such different tastes and influences when we’re writing a song, if we’re all vibing it well then we run from there. Our sound is a product of the influences of five different people that can work together creatively and fluently.

“This is a collective work. We just want you to take it at face value.”

In saying that, are there any particular influences you drew from for -Anon.?

Probably not as a whole, but certainly song by song. Some songs we were listening to a lot of stuff like The 1975, The Neighbourhood. Other songs, we were listening to Beartooth. Some we were listening to Post Malone. Some were referencing Royal Blood, Violent Soho. There’s just a lot of different references in lots of different directions all over the shop. It really was just the case of: If it’s a good song, it’s a good song. 

So where did the name -Anon. come from?

I think the idea was that the word “anon” rather than “anonymous” is specifically a poetry term. Anonymous poetry has been around for hundreds of years, and the fact that it’s “anon” is kind of telling in that we don’t know who wrote it or why. All we have is the material itself. That’s what has been worth sharing, and what has been worth keeping. I guess in the modern context it’s the same as memes, for example: No one knows or cares who came up with the original content, but we still relate to it and share it. The idea came from us wanting to create something that wasn’t necessarily going to depend on the people that we are and what we do, and what we typically sound like. We wanted to just leave that all behind and say like: “This is a collective work. We just want you to take it at face value.” Who we are, and what we do, and what we’ve done before should almost be a supporting cast and a supporting element rather than being the reason to listen. It could just deepen the meaning or the substance of the song, but we wanted it to be relatable to as its own thing. 

So really broadening your horizons as well with possible fanbases in a way?

Yeah, we’re not trying to alienate anyone. We certainly haven’t said “Fuck the fans, let’s make better new ones!”. We just wanted to create something that felt organic and fun and enjoyable to us. We’ve thankfully built up a pretty good fanbase over the years, that has learnt to shift and grow and evolve with us, and we’re really excited for people to be taking it on and enjoying what we’ve brought to the table.


It’s certainly very different, but also very cool. What was the writing/recording process like?

It was good actually. So we had time, which is more than I can say for the last couple of records. Both Unimagine and Dissonants we went into the studio with a collection of ideas, but not necessarily a particular central vision or room for flexibility. We just flew by the seat of our pants with the ideas that we had, making them the best that they could be. Whereas this time around we took some time off after tour. We finished off Warped Tour August last year, and did a few sessions in the US to try out a few different producers and demo some stuff. We had time to figure out not just what songs we could write, but what songs we wanted to write: What did we want to make the album sound like as a whole? We had time to figure out a creative vision. And even though we ended up writing half the album in the studio, and dropping a bunch of the songs we’d written six months beforehand, just having that time and stability allowed us to get to know it and make it happen.

Yeah, it really came out properly. What would you say some of the themes or ideas are behind the lyrics?

From a lyrical standpoint, it was just about storytelling. I feel like the last few records I’ve had thirty plus songs to explore my perspective of the world, and my own life, and my own experiences. I wanted to separate and step out from that, and write something that felt a bit more like while I was still relating to my own personal emotional weight, and my own perspective, it was predominately lending my voice to other stories that weren’t my own. So every day in the studio between Colin [producer], myself, and a lady named Rhianna, that was helping as an extra sounding board, we would talk about people around us. We’d tell stories, and talk about our experiences and once the conversation reached a certain point it was like, “Alright well let’s see where we can take that idea”. Some days it happened, other days it didn’t, but it was just a case of trying to find a story to tell and lending our storytelling ability to stories that weren’t necessarily about us.

I guess I’ve always had this fear that if I write a song that doesn’t explicitly apply to my life, then people are going to start questioning my intention and my integrity. And even questioning my relationship. I got married in April and I’m loving life, but I still want to be able to write a song about heartbreak and have it feel personal and real without people actually questioning me, and my life and my decisions. Once I let go of that, there was this feeling of freedom to explore these different stories and ideas, and I guess that’s where the album title came from as well in a way. That inspiration process of: It doesn’t matter who wrote this, it doesn’t matter where it’s come from. What matters is that people interact with it, and something about it resonates with them at a personal level.

It’s really opening it up creatively and seeing how far you can take it I guess. Also would you mind telling me a little bit about the album artwork?

With that we were just talking about different ideas, like: What’s something that’s “anonymous?”. Something that people might not recognise. Something that people might look at differently and say “What the hell is that?”.

I live on a small property and I have a bunch of different trees around, and we found these caterpillars. Watching them transform over time they developed these crazy dragon looking heads, so I posted them on Instagram. So many people were like “What the fuck is that?”. Particularly when they went into their chrysalis. It made me realise that so many people grow up in suburbia and city environments where they don’t actually get to see these kinds of things.

So we thought with that, there’s a point where the chrysalises colours start to change and become so rich and so different. It looks like something completely alien and foreign, right before it becomes something else. That felt right with the ideas we were talking about, creatively and lyrically. So we got a friend from Canberra to source a couple of monolith butterfly chrysalises from a butterfly house in Sydney, and just took photos of them over the course of a week as it emerged. We got some amazing photos out of it, and turned that into the inspiration for the artwork. 


I guess it’s a metaphor for you guys broadening your horizons and opening yourselves up in a way?

Yeah. I mean, what we’ve been before and what we are now and where we’re headed is completely linked. It’s still the same animal. But everything happens in stages and sometimes you need to have that process of giving people a chance to adjust. People aren’t going to say to a butterfly “I liked you better as a caterpillar”. I guess for us it’s that sort of tongue in cheek separation from this idea that these are not completely different things; they’re just different stages in a life cycle.

That life cycle in a musical sense is just looking at our entire catalogue and appreciating it for what it is. Cause we’re still proud of everything we’ve made. But we want to keep growing and shifting. And the longer you do that, the more of those hardcore ‘original’ fans seem to drop off along the way, cause they can’t keep up with shifting. They just want you to make the same album six times over, and that was never something that would make us happy. We didn’t want to fuck it all off entirely, but just do something that felt natural for us and to try bring people along for the ride. 

That mentality of not changing WITH a band you like, it’s so popular and big and it’s so gross.

We all have that, I guess. I have my favourite albums from my favourite bands, like Thrice for example; Alchemy Index. Nothing’s ever going to recreate the way that I feel about that album, because it was so special for me in terms of opening my eyes up to a certain kind of music. But that said, they’ve just put out this new album Palms, which is the best thing I think they’ve created since then, and I fucking love the new album. I’ve enjoyed them, and they’re one of the bands where I have been able to keep up with them since. And I get it; you have your favourites. But I think when that favouritism gets in the way of you actually taking on something, especially when it comes to art, if that stops you from taking on art and actually relating to it, then I don’t understand that. I can get preferring something cause it made you feel a certain way. But if you’re letting it get in the way of you experiencing new things, than I think you have a lot more to question about yourself than the music.

It’s absolutely interesting to watch at the least. And just one last thing: What’s the inspiration behind all of your new music videos?

Each one’s a little bit different. We certainly wanted to do some of the coolest and most significant videos we’ve done so far, and for us it felt like they resonated a lot with the songs. Each video we’ve put out so far for “Monster” and “Overthinking” has been dramatically different, and we’ve got a third video that we’ve got up our sleeves for a bit later in the year. They’re all very different vibes. It was more about executing a simple idea well, rather than a complex idea executed poorly. The “Monster” clip for example we shot a days worth of green screen and gave it to a friend that’s an animator and said “Look, here’s some art influences”. We thought something like Hitchcock meets Warhol. A pretty crazy difference. Very different influences and styles for sure, but I think he tied it together in such a cool way.

“Overthinking” the inspiration was the house we were living in while we were in the studio. The different colour in the rooms and the different vibe you got from each room was so cool. So we just wanted to make something that was this continuous one shot. Obviously we drew a little bit from Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” clip, like the one shot continuity of that. But yeah, getting that style of video was a good balance of different references, and the other one we’ll just have to wait and see.” 

Check out Hands Like Houses new album, –Anon., from October 12. Pre-orders here: https://24hundred.net/collections/hands-like-houses

Photo of Trenton Woodley courtesy of Rowan Donohue @ Unify Gathering 2018

Josh Hockey

Melbourne based music journalist who is ridiculously passionate about music, and spends every possible moment listening to it, seeing shows, and of course wearing the merch.

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