Sian: Hey, is this Trenton from Hands Like Houses?
Trenton: It is.
Sian: Hi, I’m Sian from Culture Eater. Good time to chat?
Trenton: Yeah yeah.
Sian: Sweet, perfect.
Trenton: Give me one second, sorry.
Running [some] network cables. All fun and games *laughter*
Trenton: Right, all good.
Sian: Sweet, alrighty. Firstly, just going to ask some basics. What’s the story behind your album name, –Anon.?
Trenton: Umm, it’s kinda something that I was trying…
I met up with the guys a couple of weeks into the recording process. I got married in April and had been on my honeymoon for the first few weeks that they were out there so I got in a couple of weeks later.
I was sitting on the plane kind of putting together a bunch of ideas ’cause I knew that there were a handful of new songs they’d written in the studio that I was gonna have to write for.
So I was just putting together a bunch of ideas and kind of trying to get my head around how these songs linked together.
Trenton: They’d written a handful of demos already. About four or five songs at that point that ended up on the record. Just trying to look for different parallels.
I think for me the idea was just to like…
…I was very much feeling like “My story’s told. I’ve had three albums to kind of tell my story and share life”, and I think [I was] trying to separate I guess from my sense of self.
I think it became about trying to tell stories and obviously tell them with my own voice but at the same time it’s also trying to tell other stories and I think that idea of –Anon. came from that separation of self.
I think we’re all separating from our own perspective on who we are and what we expect from ourselves and what we sound like and what we stand for and I think it was a chance to kind of trying to recreate that sense of starting over. Not so much for ourselves, but we’ve always wanted our fans to kind of approach our music with an open mind and enjoy it as it is.
We’ve always tried to shift what we sound like every record. There’s still that kind of core identity of who we are and how we write songs and melodies and have the different parts, but I think that for us we were just trying to create that sense of separation.
I think –Anon. just kind of… it’s a poetry term. We have anonymously-penned poetry from decades, even centuries ago that we don’t know who wrote them and we don’t know why they wrote them. All we have is kind of the subject matter to engage with.
The fact that it still exists is because it’s something worth talking about, worth sharing and something meaningful to people, even in the modern day and I think that it was something we were trying to catch, was that idea that who we are and we’ve done before doesn’t have to… that’s not required reading for this album to be enjoyed and embraced as it is.
So I think it was kind of, I guess symbolic, clean slate to be able to say “hey, this is a record that stands on its own, regardless of whether or not you know who we are or what we’ve done before. None of that really matters for what this album is and I think that’s where that thought process came from and kind of helped shape the writing after that point.
Sian: That’s really cool. I really like that.
So, I guess following on from that, –Anon. shows a lot of growth from your past releases. How was the process in creating the record [different] from the last albums?
Trenton: Super chill. Umm… (laughter).
Trenton: The last few records… The last one in particular, Dissonants, was a very stressful album to put together. We had such a heavy touring schedule at the end of the year we recorded and wrote that, so we had very minimal time to actually write the songs in between touring and really kind of spend the time with the songs to put it together.
We were stoked on the final product, but it was very stressful. Kind of forcing ourselves to really lock in what this album was, what we were trying to do with it.
As proud as we are of the songs and as much as we love playing them live, something about the process just kind of coloured that experience for us, so it was kind of… this time around we really set out to give ourselves the time and opportunity to actually write songs.
After Warped tour  we went home in August. Kind of gave ourselves pretty much off touring with the exception of Unify and a handful of acoustic shows at the beginning of last year.
We gave ourselves twelve months more or less off the road to to write and record the album and by having that time to actually write songs without them having to be “Okay this is a song that goes on the record”. We could just write a bunch of songs and just see where that was taking us.
I think we wrote about six or seven in the latter half of 2017. Most of it didn’t actually end up on the record but we had a couple of little songs that were starting to feel like “Okay, these are the stronger songs and they have a certain kind of energy and personality to them that we want to embrace and take forward”.
We had Colin, our producer fly out to Australia for a couple of weeks and we sent up a tent in my backyard. I’ve got a music studio in my house as well, so between live studio and a tent outside with a handful of… a couple of speakers and the guys set up with their guitars and interfaces and just kind of jamming ideas.
We’d just go back and forth. We wrote a song – “Sick” – completely within that space and we’d actually recorded vocals here in my studio that ended up going on the record and… yeah. It was just a really comfortable process, and that song felt like the catalyst for like “Hey, this is a song we can build an album around”.
A handful of the old demos we just kind of “remixed” and revisited within that context and from that viewpoint and we wrote a bunch of new songs after that point that just kind of…
…Having all that time and all that space to be creative and figure out what the album was; that meant we were way more relaxed going into the studio. We were way more comfortable.
We had a great house that we were staying in. It’s the house that we were using for the music video for “Overthinking. We were staying in that house for the duration of the studio time. It was a lovely house to stay in, in a good area of Hollywood. There was always stuff we could do.
We ate well (laughter), hung out, went to a handful of bars after the studio. It was just really comfortable and relaxed for us. It made such a big difference and I think it carried through the record.
[It’s] not necessarily a happier record, but it’s certainly a lot more confident. It’s certainly a lot more… I guess a lot less pissed off because we were in such a good headspace, and so having that time and space to just be creative really shaped the album and made it what it was.
Sian: Yeah. Awesome.
Speaking of Colin, was that your first time working with him, and what was it like?
Trenton: Yeah, it was. We kind of worked very much with a small group of people over the last couple of records and loved working with them and if we wanted to kind of do another Dissonents v2 we could’ve have very easily done that with the people we did, but we kind of wanted to break out [and] change that structure just to bring something fresh to the table.
There were a handful of record producers our record label suggested around LA in particular. We met up with a bunch of them after the Warped tour and we had a meeting with Colin. Dropped into the studio and just talked about life, about music, about [the] recording process and all that stuff just for an afternoon and just got a really good vibe off him. He had this enthusiasm and excitement and energy – not just for music, but for our music in particular. He had a really clear vision of… “This is what I hear in you guys and this is what I want to embrace with it and this is really exciting”.
When someone is as excited to work with you as you are to them, that’s always such a good starting point.
We booked in a writing session with him before we came back to Australia in 2017 [and] just after the Warped tour just to try something out. That song didn’t end up making the record but just working with him made him feel like he was the man for the job, so really just kind of bouncing ideas back and forth over the next six months. It all came good.
Colin is just such a workhorse of a producer. He is a producer in that sense that he’s a Gandalf. He put us together; a team of people. He had Alex Prieto engineering the majority of the record. We had a lady there helping us co-writing vocals especially because we had a handful of songs to write in a very short amount of time when I get there.
Just being able to bounce ideas off each other and bounce back and forth between the two studios at opposite ends of the same building. It just was such a… There was always something happening and so it kept us really engaged and on our toes and enthusiastic about what we were doing so he was definitely the perfect man for the job.
Sian: Seeing as this was your first release on Hopeless records, did the change in label kind of give you a bit more freedom and… not like a clean slate, but more kind you felt more relaxed in what you were creating?
Trenton: I think, yeah. It was a very different process, but again, it was more confident. We had a lot of freedom under our previous record label, Rise, in that they trusted us to do our thing, but they’re a much smaller – not necessarily a small label in terms of their catalog and the records they put out. They’re a much smaller label in terms of the number of people at the office. They outsource a lot of stuff so it all comes to a couple of people in particular and with the number of bands that they have, it wasn’t always an easy thing to kind of get things done.
We did have a lot of relative freedom in that we basically did it and then ask for, you know… better to ask than [get] permission in a lot of our dealings. With hopeless, they have an amazing team of people, each with very clear, defined goals.
So it’s like rather than going to one person who will then pass on to the next person, If we’re talking about music videos we have our friend Megan there. If we need to talk about placement stuff, radio, Spotify, digital and satellite radio placements… The WWE thing came about because of a guy there, Josh.
Erin does a whole of the management side of things in terms of from a label perspective.
We always know that “If I have a question about this, I know who to go to”. We’re able to keep a bunch of current conversations going rather than have one person who is coordinating everything on how behalf.
It’s just really nice and engaged and that has [instilled] a certain confidence.
[The studio was] 20 minutes down the road from the Hopeless office, so we had a handful kind of pop through the studios to hear things. Even the label manager, one of my favourite people in the world. He’s always just got such a good vibe about him.
It was just nice and refreshing. Not because it was more freedom or less freedom, but just it’s a different approach. I guess it was a lot more involved in a way that made us feel more warmth and so that itself turned into that confidence.
It meant we had a constant conversation going of what we were trying to do with it. It wasn’t “Okay here’s the record. What are we going to do with it”. It was “This is what we’re going to do with the record. How can we make sure that these different elements in the songwriting process are making sure that we are 100% set up to chase those opportunities that come about with the WWE placement?”. With Monster and with the follow up through Fox 8 for the DC Universe spot that they had running through October?
The radio opportunities – particularly American satellite radio has been really, really encouraging, so yeah. Great people to work with.
Sian: Awesome. You’ve noted listening to a lot of The Neighborhood, The 1975 [and] Post Malone during the creation of this record. Do you have any future plans to head in that kind of musical direction, or (is it) merely a source of inspiration?
Trenton: I think it’s a source of inspiration. We break down stuff not necessarily because that’s what we want to sound like, but it’s always good to look at…
For example, Post Malone especially last year was one of the biggest acts in the world.
Trying to analyse the song structures and the melody cadence and the way that choruses and verses interact with each other… there’s so much to draw from pop music.
I think we’ve always tried to draw on varied influences to create. We do make rock music because rock music for us is powerful. It’s urgent, it’s passionate. There’s a sense of urgency to it that no other genre has.
That’s why we love making rock music, but I think rock music is such a broad definition of things and there’s so much you can take from pop. You can take from RnB. You can take from gospel. You can take from hip hop. You can take from literally any genre and kind of meld it together into something that is about songwriting first and foremost.
So reference songs: [it’s] what have they done in this song and why does it work? Why do people resonate with this song other than just being bombarded with it on the radio? There is a certain part of the craft that we’re always trying to draw influence.
As far as looking ahead to where we’re going? I don’t know. We try not to have a specific thing in mind. It’s always an ongoing conversation. I think that once we start looking at writing songs again we’ll definitely see where music is at as a whole and always kind of find our place in that.
I think for us certainly, probably more likely to go more pop influences than heavy metal influences. We may one day but I don’t think we’re necessarily going to go down that heavy, heavy road again, but that’s certainly a part of where we’ve come from and it’s always gonna be an element – that sense of heaviness and that sense of power and urgency coming through – that’s always gonna be part of what we do, so, yeah.
We always like to keep ourselves on our toes and see what happens. We’ve always let the music take the drivers seat so to speak. We’re along for the ride and giving directions the best we can from the passengers seat (laughter).
Sian: Yeah. Speaking of heavy though, you have tracks like “Black” on the album that are quite a bit heavier than, say “Overthinking”, and they have very different vibes. How do you decide what tracks are going to make it on the album or even get played live?
Trenton: I think it’s always just kind of putting songs next to each other. Listening to this song then that song in order. If they sound like a little bit of a jarring thing – for example, if “Overthinking” went straight into “Black” it might be a bit [jarring].
But I think the transition of songs that we have… it’s always looking at an album as a whole piece. Each song plays into each other the same way that verses and choruses play into each other on an individual song. You kind of play a whole album like verses and choruses. The choruses might be the most memorable parts, but the verses are a springboard to giving that chorus a chance to shine.
It’s the same way with your track listing. You want to make the memorable songs have the best opportunity to do their thing, but for those songs to be memorable you also need that support cast and you need those extra songs that kind of fill out and diversify the record as a whole to make it an interesting listen from start to finish. Otherwise people switch off after four or five songs. They think “Yep, cool, I’ve heard this album already”, and that’s very easy to do, so I think we always try and make the journey so that there’s always something to take from.
We put up a few Facebook posts and social posts just going like “Hey, what’s your favourite song from…”. We probably get ten different answers for every album.
Sian: Do you have any songs off the new album that have any cool stories or any that you’re really just excited to play live for Australia on this upcoming tour?
Trenton: We’re definitely keen – There’s a handful of songs that we’re “keen as custard”; for example “Through Glass” and “Half-hearted” that we’re trying to work into the set. Obviously singles kind of take priority, but I think we’re trying to… we’re really excited to try out a couple of new ones that we haven’t played yet.
We got a chance to road test them late last year and some of the new ones and they’ve gone down really well. I’m really looking forward to… “Sick” I’d say is our favourite song off the record and that’s one that hasn’t been released as a single as yet, but we’re trying to push that out I guess more aggressively and that’s one we’re really looking forward – not so much to playing live but to have ready to have people be a lot more familiar with it.
It’s such a fun song for us. It’s groovy. It’s kind of sarcastic and it’s got a little bit of a dark edge to it that we really enjoy so I’m really looking forward to doing that one live.
“Half-hearted” is one of my favourites. It’s such a cool grungy grounded love song and I’m looking forward to playing that one myself ’cause that’s definitely my second favourite on the record, so yeah. It will be fun.
Sian: And finally, correct me if I’m wrong, but your upcoming tour is one of your biggest Australian headline shows to date. Do you have anything special planned for these upcoming shows?
Trenton: We do. We’re planning a bunch of production and stage set up kind of stuff. Enhance the live show. We do what we do with basically the house lights on and still pull off hopefully the show. I think that all those lighting and sound enhancements that you can bring, especially when you’re doing bigger venues… we’ve always kind of wanted to do some cool shit, but we haven’t necessarily had the budget for the venue capacity to be able to do a lot of things, so this is our first chance to really step out and actually do some cool shit.
We’re really lucky to have some good friends of the band who do work in lighting and sound just on a day to day, so some of the stuff we have access to is maybe more than our typical budget would allow if we weren’t working with friends.
We’re really excited to bring that and bring a different take on the setlist as to what we’ve done the last few tours.
Yeah, just all in all just really excited to play these big rooms and fill them out and do some cool shit with the extra bits and pieces to take the show from just a concert to an experience. That’s something we’re very, very excited to do.
Sian: Thank you for chatting to me. I’m really excited to see you guys in February.
Trenton: No worries, thank you very much.
Hands Like Houses’ -Anon. is out now.
They’re currently touring Australia at the following venues:
Feb 15th: The Tivoli Brisbane
Feb 16th: Forum Melbourne
Feb 22nd: HQ Complex Adelaide
Feb 23rd: The Astor Theatre Perth