Interview with vocalist Trenton Woodley | By Natasha Van Duser
“Dissonance” is a discordance or inconsistency between two things, especially in relation to musical notes. This makes it the perfect description of the 2016 Hands Like Houses album that almost never saw its release. The aptly titled Dissonants—set to drop Feb. 26 on Rise Records—marks the third full-length release from the Australian post-hardcore group. However, after months of touring, weeks in the studio, and preparation for the 2015 Warped Tour, Hands Like Houses were forced to sit back and realize that their first run through with Dissonants was just not good enough by their standards. It even threatened to tear the group apart.
Leading up to the recording of Dissonants, things seemed to be going smoothly. The band briefly hit the studio to come up with the single “I Am.” “We wrote and recorded ‘I Am’ over five days in the studio with Erik Ron,” explains vocalist Trenton Woodley. “It was meant to be a standalone single, as a taste and transition into what would come after, as well as a chance to get back into the front of people’s minds after 18 months since [2013’s] Unimagine. But, as we sunk our teeth into the vibe of the song, the energy, and then saw the amazing response, it felt almost natural to include it on the album as an introduction to the energy and vibe of Dissonants. The line ‘I am dissonant’ was actually a cheeky allusion to the album we’d later announce, so we wanted that term to already be familiar.”
“There was a point that evening where we ceased to be Hands Like Houses as we knew it.”
Unfortunately, due to a packed touring schedule, time and preparation weren’t on Hands Like Houses’ side when they entered the studio again to begin recording their follow-up full-length. “We had a meeting with our manager a week from the end of the studio time,” says Woodley. “He pretty much came out and said exactly what had been floating around in the back of our minds: the album was sounding great, but it wasn’t ready, and it wasn’t even close. In 2015, we had 10 months of touring and recording booked, all away from home, and to have to sacrifice yet another precious month of time was hard to comprehend. The pressure, the frustration, and perhaps, even the guilt—justified or not—of not giving ourselves more time to write and prepare, it came out all at once and very nearly broke us. There was a point that evening where we ceased to be Hands Like Houses as we knew it. But we agreed to sleep on it, come back in the morning, listen to the songs, and figure out what we could do.”
Their plan of action led the Aussie band to reschedule their headlining tour to revisit the studio with a fresh approach. “We’ve always considered ourselves songwriters over musicians,” notes Woodley. “With people’s attention span being what it is these days, you can’t really recover fully from a lackluster album, in terms of your career, so there was always going to be creative pressure to not only make a great album, but one that made sense as a progression from what we’ve done.”
Much of the discord surrounding the album’s creation is reflected in its overall theme. “[The title] is a play on the word ‘dissonance,’” says Woodley. “The world we live in is more or less loosely controlled anarchy and chaos. We are all individually so different, inconsistent, and complex that it’s impossible to truly know anything outside our own perception. […] If I say ‘I am dissonant,’ I am saying that I coexist within my own freedoms and that of those around me. We are Dissonants.”
Everything seemed to fall back into place once Hands Like Houses headed back in the studio for a fresh look at their prior recordings with producer James Wisner. “James is a genius,” Woodley explains. “We had a better idea of how he works going in for round two. He has this way of getting the best out of everyone and everything by being meticulously focused and uncompromising. It can be emotionally straining, but it really does make sense when you listen to his work. […] Recording at 96khz with his very particular signal flow meant that the whole album has this open, crystal clear dynamic ‘feel,’ while still being in your face and emotionally intimate.”
The single “New Romantics” was the first real display of Wisner’s production prowess in reworking the album. Rough live versions of the song had already made their debut at earlier shows over the summer. “[‘New Romantics’] was the first song we genuinely felt was ‘finished,’” explains Woodley, “so we took it out on our Warped Tour setlist. The response was great, so it made sense to keep the rock vibe strong and put it out as soon as we were able to coordinate it with the rest of the album roll out.”
However, it is the track “Stillwater” that gets Woodley excited. “It came together more naturally and comfortably than any other track on the record,” he says. “It feels epic and intimate all at once; in a way, it’s the ‘A Fire on a Hill’ of Dissonants. We jammed it out at sound check recently and it just connects emotionally—I’m not sure what it is about it, but I love it.”
While it may have taken its toll on Woodley and his bandmates, Dissonants seems to have been well worth the work, as Hands Like Houses have taken on a much more positive outlook toward their newly revamped material. Woodley says, “Taking the extra time, pushing the album back, and getting it right over getting it done meant that we were able to walk away knowing we’d made the right call and had an album we could be proud of.” As the album gets ready for release, Hands Like Houses can finally look forward.