Since the release of their fourth full length LP Anon. in 2018, Hands like Houses has enjoyed a more balanced touring schedule and shifted their focus to creating smaller bodies of work like their latest self-titled EP. Hands Like Houses was recorded at an Airbnb by the beach about an hour and a half north of Sydney. The band spent their mornings in the ocean, their days recording, and their nights going out to dinner before returning to the grind. The rinse and repeat of this process left them with the songs we hear on Hands Like Houses, but the process didn’t quite go as expected. Their producer got held up with another commitment, and they ended up losing nearly a third of their allocated recording time.
“We ended up with this really interesting sort of cross section of both chaos and calm. It was this super intense stress of trying to make this all happen with less time than we planned. As we started working on the songs, we realized that we hadn’t actually had a proper conversation about what we wanted it to be, we just had all these different ideas with no real concept of how we were going to glue them all together,” explains frontman Trenton Woodley. “I think from a lyrical standpoint I really had to just embrace the immediacy of what I was feeling. It was such a strong thing.”
As pressure was applied, the first song to seep from the cracks was “Dangerous.” At first glance, the song is fun and arrogant, but as you get to know it you’ll pick up on an anxious energy and unshakable instability lurking just under the surface. Some of this energy was also channeled into “Stranger,” a scratching and brooding track with palpable notes of frustration. “Space” was the first track to be completed, with an arena-rock feel. “The Water” and “Wired” ended up becoming about the writing process itself and all the emotions that were bouncing off the walls of their Airbnb studio. Lyrically, the band sought to embrace their instincts, but the intensity of that period and the urgent energy in the studio ended up staining the words that came out.
A lyrical theme that has spanned Hands Like Houses’ musical career is disconnection, and the plight of trying to communicate across barriers (which obviously is further amplified by a stressful situation). The auslan (Australian sign language) on the cover serves as a metaphor for the idea of communicating across barriers.
“As I started engaging with the conversation, for me it became more important to not so much learn the language but learn about the language. Cultural appropriation is a big thing and language is a big part of culture and culture is a big part of language,” explains Woodley. “We wanted to make sure before we dived into it that we did do it in a way that was authentic, so having those conversations and learning about that culture, utilizing this aesthetic opportunity as something to actually take a deep dive into a different culture, different language, different subset of people and the way that they relate to the world and using that as an opportunity to learn put us into this cool position where we’re actually able to engage rather than exploit. That for me was really important with taking that direction and I think for me that’s what makes it feel cohesive and authentic.”
The metaphor also ties back to the unspoken meaning of the name Hands Like Houses, of holding onto things that you care about and giving them a place to belong. The idea of communicating with your hands brings the name full circle, especially on the face of a self-titled body of work.
Hands Like Houses is a continuation of the sonic shift that the band started with Anon. “As we put out Dissonance in 2016… as Warped Tour was wrapping up… there was kind of this identity crisis in the world we existed in and we started really thinking about ‘what is it we are doing this for?’” says Woodley. “I know we all have very different tastes between the five of us, but I think most of the band don’t really listen to the type of music that we were making. We’re proud of it, we enjoyed making it and playing it live, especially the heavier stuff. But I think it was a conscious choice to embrace our own influences and our own tastes and the bands we would actually listen to in the van between shows rather than the bands we would listen to backstage at the shows.”
Their playlist ranges from alt rock like Nothing But Thieves and Gang of Youths, to edgy pop like Charlie XCX and Post Malone. It’s garage rock meets 80’s meets indie, a versatile and genre-bending sound that still pays homage to their rock and metal roots. Their objective? To aim to achieve a flavor rather than merely a sound.
In addition to new music, the five-piece have just announced an Australian tour for early next year, turning their attention back to their home country after years of traveling the rest of the world. These shows will be laid-back, with reimagined songs and a different energy to fit new COVID-19 guidelines like low capacity and a seating requirement. Australia, expect a more alternative and moody take on songs both old and new.