Adored by fans worldwide, Australia’s Hands Like Houses are releasing a new self-titled EP today, October 23. Having grown their following with relentless touring and a kick-ass back catalog of albums, Hands Like Houses have challenged what it is to make music well and break new ground. The band, comprised of Trenton Woodley, Matt Cooper, Alex Pearson, Joel Tyrrell, and Matt Parkitny, put together this new EP under tight circumstances but came out the other side with songs that focus on breaking down communication barriers and expression as they shared the journey with us through the songs. With the debut single, “Space”, we saw not only the struggles that they had to deal with as they recorded but also our own in this pandemic time we all find ourselves in, giving a voice to what so many of us have felt. I was able to have a chat with lead vocalist, Trenton Woodley, on the music, the world, and just a little behind the scenes on the new EP.
The new EP is out today! I want to start by going back. I will admit that I had heard some Hands Like Houses before but wasn’t like a die-hard heard everything person. So when this came up I decided to go back and listen to everything from the very beginning and moving forward. What I found is that you guys always sound like you, but in every new album, one can see where you are pulling in new influences or new sounds and each one goes a little bit further into an evolution. Is that something you have wanted to do and paid attention to as you have continued with the music?
I think for us it’s been important. We have five very different people in the band with different lives, different influences, different roles. There’s always been this average of the five of us with a mixed bag of influences at different times as we move around and go different directions and have other priorities at different times.
What we’re surrounded by has also been a big part of that. It’s been nice to kind of sink back into normal life here in Australia. For a long time, we were just touring and so a lot of our influences were more what we were touring with who we were surrounded by so this has been different.
And you guys toured a lot and all over the place. Are you looking forward to getting back into that or has it just felt nice to just sit back and soak this up and use this time without having to worry about that end of it?
It’s definitely been a nice break. We all have commitments at home with different things, family relationships, etc. I think for us it’s been about getting into a steady, sustainable, more consistent way of doing things rather than just being out all the time and it’s been much happier and healthier for us individually. But we are looking forward to going out on tour again. Obviously, it’s been a big part of our presence as a band. We’re probably going to start in Australia and doing some more downsized café style shows just to kind of work back up to full touring once that starts up again. There are opportunities out there and we’re just not going to rush with all that’s going on. It’s just waiting and see and try to make the most out of it in the meantime.
In some odd kind of way, I feel like you guys as a band came at a time when the whole music industry was changing anyway. Looking back over the last 10 or 11 years from when you were starting, things have changed so much and you have learned to adapt with that so well that this seems like just one more thing.
For sure! Just seeing the shift from recorded music to streaming and from social media what it was then to what it is now, the centralization of music to the democratization of it, all of these factors have changed so rapidly. I look at all these things and hope that we’ve done most things right in that we’ve managed to survive. We try to be consistent and keep an eye out for what the opportunities are and stay on our toes with it so to speak.
To sort of go along with that, in researching you and really deep-diving into your music, it feels to me like everything from your social media to the way you make music is very thought out and deliberate. I don’t mean that in the way that there’s no fun or excitement and everything is methodical, but that every little thing is paid attention to and cared for. Thinking of the music, it’s like every little piece and beat feeds into the next one. Is that totally off the wall on my part or something that you do work at?
Certainly, over the last few months, I’ve been sort of pivoting my career a bit, not to go away from music but more like giving the music a healthier space in my life. So I was turning toward doing some more music experiences online and things in the tech and digital industry side which I have ended up thoroughly enjoying and kind of ended up analyzing things like what’s really made us work and what hasn’t and looking at the way we operate. I do try to be a lot more deliberate, especially with social media and thinking “What are we trying to communicate here? What are we trying to achieve?” A lot of what we do comes down to choices. There are always consequences to any choice and I think we’re always trying to make the best one at the moment. As you said, there’s always a sense of care and always has been. If that means being more deliberate with what we’re not including on a song or a particular record that’s what it is. When you’re intentional about something it’s easier to look at it that way rather than just being all one way or the other if that makes sense.
Yeah, that totally makes sense and I’m glad you got what I was saying there. I didn’t want that to come off in a bad way at all.
I mean it in an appreciative way that everything has its spot, down to every beat right where it’s supposed to be.
I’m glad that gets noticed. It’s not something that gets noticed a lot, those intricacies. We see simplicity as being a focus and I think some just see it as simplicity….or laziness. But it’s an intention that really makes a difference for us and I’m glad to see it recognized.
Let’s hit on the new EP! From what I understand this was a pretty intense recording session.
It was. Basically through some external circumstances, we ended up with less time in the studio than we wanted. We ended up with a week less than what we were meant to so it took away our padding and our safety I suppose. We did our best and just went for it. There was very much a conscious choice then in how we did things. With guitar, for instance, we decided what we wanted the sound like and recorded it that way instead of trying to clean things up later. Of course, we gave ourselves room to polish and clean up, but it was about making those creative choices upfront. It was the same with lyrics and writing. It was a whirlwind process and we tried to embrace the immediacy and the urgency. I think that comes through in the lyrics. I wrote very much about what I was feeling in that moment under those external circumstances. There were outside things that played into it for sure, but when you’re in that sort of stressful situation and everything feeds into each other. I kind of locked in on those different energies and vibes and senses of chaos and calm.
Finding yourself in that kind of situation where you had much less time than you were used to, how did that affect the way you work together?
Did you have to find new ways even to work together?
It was a step up or step back situation so at different times each of us had to really either step forward and take charge of a moment or step back and let someone else drive. It was really moment by moment making those decisions on the fly and trusting our producer to make some of those decisions as well on what things could be or should be and putting it all into one unit. We’re lucky to have people like our producer who can be that sixth band member holding the talking stick. Over time there’s always going to be some forms of conflict but over time it’s learning how to work through those and communicate through them.
I think that comes through in the lyrics. They’re very much centered around communication challenges and trying to communicate things that aren’t necessarily easily communicated, especially more abstract ideas like an idea in your head of how something should sound or a particular thought process and trying to explain that succinctly in a way that people understand. That was a big part of what makes the EP what it is and I think it’s a big part of our storytelling in sharing the context of what the story is about and not just the music itself.
You even took those thoughts on expression and communication into the video for “Space” with using sign language.
Was that just an idea for another form of expression in dealing with the video?
It started as a roundabout conversation that clicked full circle at the end of it. We were having a discussion around different kinds of art themes and what the band name means for different people. Hands Like Houses has this kind of unofficial vibe behind it that you hold onto things you care about. That’s a powerful form of communication to reach out and touch someone or to hold someone and be close to them. We were talking about the presence of AUSLAN through the Coronavirus and the bush fires and how we were seeing more and more sign language in different formats because it is about communicating more than just the words. If you have live press events then you have to have someone copying things down and when we speak, we often speak in a more roundabout way than it’s written. Reading something is different than hearing it spoken. Putting that into a live context means that AUSLAN can more often project that emotion and the context of what’s there. That was the core cross-talk between those ideas.
I went to college with a friend who is deaf and he taught me a little bit of AUSLAN back in the day. I’ve forgotten most of it but I thought it was a great opportunity to include it and have our cover art reference it for the single. We made a really conscious choice to avoid cultural appropriation. It was really important that we didn’t take away from the deaf community and deaf communications without actually contributing to those conversations ourselves. For us, it was a great opportunity to learn and we had some really valuable conversations about not just the language of AUSLAN, but the culture around it. I actually made it a point not to go and learn AUSLAN beyond what we needed for scenes in the video. It was more about learning The context of AUSLAN and what that means for them.
As an instance, just in using someone’s name, as a hearing person, you don’t have a sign name unless you spell it out. You can get a short form one, but only if a deaf person assigns it to you. That is quite a cool thing and we had these great conversations. It’s not just the language, but there is an identity and a culture that comes with that language and that was something we really tried to learn about. Obviously, there’s still a lot we don’t know but that’s an ongoing conversation for us personally and one that I’m making a point of continuing. I’m trying now talk to my friend and say “cool. So if I sit down and film an interview, how do we frame those questions when we need an interpreter so that we can really hold a meaningful conversation so that we can cover the context?” And that really goes back to the meaning behind the EP. If you’re not exposed to the context of the conversation, you’re only getting a fraction of the picture. That’s why it’s so significant. That’s the long answer!
No! That’s wonderful! Thank you for that because that’s so commendable that you went about it in that way when doing the video because you could have just said “Hey, we think this will look cool.”
Yeah, exactly. And the actress in the video is deaf. We exclusively auditioned deaf actors and actresses for that role so that there were authenticity and representation to it. I learned a ton of sign language for the bridge but we ended up using almost none of it because it wasn’t correct enough and we didn’t want to make mistakes in that way. There were definitely some interesting conversations and learning that we’ve had around all of that.
It’s interesting, too, that expression is really kind of the focus of the EP as a whole, especially currently with all the world events going on. I do think quite a bit of that can be contributed to all of us not communicating or expressing things correctly from people all the way to countries.
Tech has definitely played into that as well. We live in a world where everyone is talking and no one is listening and you end up with people just parroting things and not saying anything. That’s the way things are, the way it always has been throughout history. I think with the emergence of tech and the amplification of voice that comes with that now no one is listening and everyone is shouting. It makes it so nobody can hear. They can only hear the loudest thing that’s closest to them and it just leads to chaos. It’s an interesting fascination for me. I don’t know what the answers are, but it’s something I’m trying to understand better so I can make sure that the amplification I have, whether that’s a microphone or a Twitter account, can be used as an ethical, responsible, and personal voice. It takes a conscious effort.
Absolutely! I do want to touch on “The Water” as the second single because I just love that song. It really spoke to me of being in a place or even with someone that maybe isn’t necessarily bad, but is not the place or person for you. Can you tell me what the thought was behind that song?
Sure! To be honest I was just sitting on the balcony. While we were recording we were staying in an Air B & B looking out over the beach. I was watching people swim out into the ocean and thinking it was such a long way out. I would watch them swim out and swim back in and I ended up thinking about how people go out into the ocean willingly which is really kind of this big alien world to us. I ended up flipping that process mentally to imagine spending life in the ocean and then coming up to land. It was a fish out of water and kind of literalizing that cliché. If you came out of the water and into our world how strange would that be? It’s that sort of narrative of asking yourself if you really belong. It’s about acceptance as much as anything. It’s sort of saying, “Ok, I’ve seen this through, and thank you for making me so welcome, but this isn’t where I belong.” It was all playing into that thought.
Lastly, we do something called “My Four”. Since you have the new EP coming out, could you share with us four things that you would like people to know about the EP?
I’m really proud of the art and the video content we’ve been able to put out around it. It’s been able to give an identity to the music and I’m really proud of that.
We had an ongoing table tennis tournament going on during the recording process. Everyone would play each other at least once a day. I think Joel was the champion. Myself, Colin, and Matty P were kind of sitting around second and third somewhere. And Alex tried really hard. It got very competitive. We even had an action replay for some very contentious shots and significant moments.
It was all about embracing the moment and I think that’s a very important note and context for it. It was written about embracing the intensity of the moment.
Like any other piece of music, it is a photograph of a moment in time. This is especially where I was at at the moment. It is easy to see yourself tied to a release, like “this is the definitive Hands Like Houses record.” No. There’s no such thing. It just felt like this is another moment to remember who we are. This is that photograph in musical form.
And what an amazing snapshot to give us. Thank you, Trenton, for the chat and all the guys in Hands Like Houses for continuing the music. Be sure to check out their EP, out today on all the usuals!