“It’s better to get it right than to get it done” — Hands Like Houses talk new album and Warped YouTubers

Trenton Woodley of Hands Like Houses
photo: Heather Glock

When Australian progressive-rock quintet Hands Like Houses rolled through Cleveland earlier this month, we sat down with frontman Trenton Woodley and guitarist Alex Pearson and asked about the band’s new album Dissonants—specifically, where the heck is ittheir U.K. tour and Woodley’s post about YouTubers on Warped.

Why start the U.S. portion of the tour before Dissonants comes out?
TRENTON WOODLEY: The idea was, I guess we’re kind of forced to stick with Plan A even though the album didn’t come together with enough time to release it in a way that made sense professionally. So we pushed the album back to give us the best chance to do what we can with it, get all the press and the media to ring it all together rather than try rushing it. I think that’d be the worst thing for the fans is to compromise that opportunity. [We want] it [to be] the best that it can be as touring and release goes.

You announced that you’re pushing back your U.K. tour in order to accommodate the album release. Do you feel the U.S. is missing out since they don’t have Dissonants yet?
WOODLEY: Not overly. We’re playing new songs on the tour and obviously we’d love to take that to the U.K. and keep it the same, but didn’t make sense overall.
ALEX PEARSON: I think the U.K. is the one that misses out, because we don’t go and tour there at all. Like, we don’t go over there and play any new songs until we have the actual album out. We’ll come back and do the U.S. at the same time. No one’s really missing out.
WOODLEY: We’d love it if we could play the new songs before in the U.K., because we’re trying them out on the road and kind of seeing how they sit with people. People seem to be really enjoying them. It’s always fun when people sing songs back and you kind of have that energy of familiarity that comes with it. I wouldn’t say that anyone is explicitly missing out on much. The shows have been great, having a great time and they’re really selling. [We’re] certainly happy and don’t feel like anything’s lost. With the time frame and everything, it felt like it made the most sense for us to recharge after the U.S. tour before going back there. We came in pretty fresh to the U.S. tour, relatively speaking.

Why push the release date of Dissonants back?
WOODLEY: It’s a complex sort of thing. You got to get it right at the end of the day. By the time it was finished and we could get the release plan together, we would be putting it out around Thanksgiving or Christmas which is a really difficult time to put out a record in terms of getting radio traction because everybody’s switching off for the holidays. Getting preorder stuff out when there’s so much going on with Black Friday sales and holiday sales and everyone’s thinking of how they’re saving and spending for Christmas [is difficult]. It is a silly season and it didn’t make sense to try to put it out during that time period, especially for Australia where we just signed to UNFD Records there, who will be doing exciting some stuff for us back home. But with them and their campaign, it really didn’t make sense at all. In the U.S., it wouldn’t be the ideal time, but in Australia, if we put it out, it would just disappear. We want to keep working on back home. Globally speaking, it made the most sense to give ourselves time to get it all right, in terms of sending it out to the right press places [and] getting the touring support organized without having to kind of wait for that to come together because that always takes time. So we could either rush a release plan or get it right and that’s been our biggest thing this year. It’s better to get it right than to get it done. We took a breath and said, “We only have one shot at a time. It’s music, it’s a pretty cutthroat industry and we want to make sure we take the best opportunities we can with it.”

Why title the album Dissonants when it means lacking harmony?
WOODLEY: The idea of Dissonants is more of a human reflection rather than a musical reflection. It’s kind of a continuation of what we started with Unimagined. Unimagined is about those polar opposites in between happiness and sadness, between rage and laughter and all these differing things. It’s about exploring the end of the world within our own minds musically. This is about that infinite middle ground. Each one of us has all these kind of threads that makeup what we are, a crazy sequence of chance after chance after chance. Different influences and environmental things that impact who we are in the way that we grow up, the way that we see the world, what we believe, what is important to us and that’s constantly changing and those things don’t always make sense and the thing about being human is that there’s so much room for individuality in a finite space and that’s what Dissonants is about. It’s about these disconnected things that don’t make sense unless you knew who that person was. It’s about the things that make me me, for example wouldn’t necessarily make sense if you put it on paper, but the more you get to know me, the more you get to understand why they fit together and how they came together. It’s about that familiarity, respect and commonality that things don’t always connect until you actually explore them. That’s what makes an individual an individual, that’s what makes anything unique and original.

Do you feel the album portrays that feeling the way you want it to?
WOODLEY: I think so. The concept of the album actually came out of looking at the songs I had started and written and kind of seeing what kind of story they told as a whole rather than toddling the album and then writing everything within that, because that can be quite limiting. In a way it was writing the songs with [an] open mind and freedom to write whatever felt powerful. The thing came together after four or five songs. At the end of the day, our music is reflective of us as individuals, about our lives and lyrically that’s always important because lyrics are more specific than music in terms of the emotional reaction. The stories you can tell are less abstract, so that kind of becomes the first point of recognition with someone. The first point of familiarity is with the lyrics. What we do is always reflective of us and that’s kind of how the concept came to be is the way that each individual’s perspective is about something. That collective and reflective of myself because I pour myself into what I write and that’s what makes our lyrics connected because I try to look for the common threads of what is rather than telling a story, why the story is important. Which is how we’ve chosen to reflect ourselves in our music.

I’ve noticed a lot of bands have not only been putting on a show musically, but also production-wise, and it appears you guys are doing the same thing on this tour. Why go that route? Do you feel it adds another element to the show?
WOODLEY: I think lighting is another part of the experience of live shows, especially as YouTube and livestreaming stuff has become more and more apparent, there’s something about being in a room with that key, first-hand experience that is so cool. For us to be able to bring lights on this, even if it’s very minimal, and having Phil [Goodwin], who is our lighting guy for this tour [and] he’s a friend from home, [is important]. Phil’s fantastic. He knows our stuff, he’s worked with us for a while [and] he knows the shit inside out, so being able to integrate that visual side with the musical side, it’s in sync with the music, the colors are representative of the songs themselves and it adds another dimension. It takes a little bit of pressure off of us to be throwing ourselves around the stage. It means we can really get the music right. The lighting takes a little bit of that pressure off so we can give that extra 10 percent in the way that we actually play the music and perform the music.

You received a lot of attention when you wrote a rant about YouTubers on Warped Tour earlier this summer. Do you feel the same way about them now?
WOODLEY: It wasn’t really a rant. I really tried to be respectful about it because it was something that hadn’t really been said, but I had so many conversations with different people, all with different roles and perspectives on the situation which was a particular group of people on Warped, and how that impacted the social side of Warped from both sides of the barricade. Even then, it was almost a point of leverage into a larger conversation. It’s the larger conversation that is more important to me. We have this culture of celebrity worship and it’s become more and more apparent with the internet and social media making everyone immediately available. We attach value to fame and we attach value to recognition. With so much noise in our lives with what we take in, we attach too much value to recognizing and being recognized and I think the reason for that success is part of that cultural shift we’ve had the last few years.

For me, it was a chance to talk about [how] people put too much value on the messages of musicians and too much value on the number of followers, likes, subscribers or views that something has. That becomes value when it’s not necessarily representative of the content. I honestly have nothing against them personally. I think it’s great that young people are able to create a new avenue for themselves in a new media where nothing existed before. I don’t get it and that’s a personal thing. I’m not going to pretend that I have some high-and-mighty authority to say what is and isn’t good quality content. It was a chance to talk about the way that we view people and make people think twice about who they look up to and who they idolize because we’re creating role models on the fact that we recognize someone.

There’s so much pressure on musicians, particularly [singers], to be this shiny light on humanity. At the end of the day, we’re just musicians. Some of the most impactful music has come from some of the most fucked up people. I don’t think that being a musician or being famous is any sort of character judgment. It’s just something that we do, something that’s been successful and impacted people and that’s great, but that shouldn’t be the point of why it’s important. The cool thing is most people were pretty respectful. They went in all fired up, ready to start ranting in all caps and then were like, “I kind of get what he’s saying. Fair enough. I kind of disagree, but that’s cool,” and that was the goal of writing what I did, to make them think about it and discuss it. That within itself is more important than the drama wrapped all around it because I’m not a drama person. I hate when people get up in arms about stuff unnecessarily when there’s so much more important things in the world to care about. To fight for whether or not someone likes something that you like on the internet, who cares?

Do you think that if they put YouTubers who solely focus on music on the tour, it would be a nice element?
WOODLEY: Personally, I would see that as being more beneficial to the tour and the festival environment. I see it as being more credible, but at the same time, it’s nothing against the media. There are people like Jarrod Alonge, who was working for Fearless [Records] and Tori Kravitz, her YouTube channel is her primary outlet at the moment, and her being great at what she did got her a job as the Monster Pit Reporter for Warped and she did a great job of it. Even Patty [Walters] from As It Is turned his notoriety as a YouTuber and he actually started making music as his primary focus and they did really well on Warped. I think the initial idea of having them on the tour was to have a crossover-type thing. They are essentially part of the same music culture because some of them are musicians, a lot of them interview the bands that are headlining or have headlined in the past and I think the initial idea was that they would cover the tour and reach the tour out to more people, but it kind of felt that in practice, it became more about the meet-and-greets with them. The way they carried themselves around the tour, it seemed to me that they were there for them and not necessarily as part of the tour. That’s one personal perspective.