This Ain’t No Place for Animals: An Interview with Trenton Woodley of Hands Like Houses

It’s not hard to spot a band on the brink of a breakout at Warped Tour. The signs usually consist of a relatively large crowd on one of the side stages, an amped up atmosphere during the band’s set, and usually, newly released material that eclipses the group’s past work and gives you the sense that it has finally come into its own. One of the most logical candidates for a breakout this year has to be Hands Like Houses.

The Internet buzz has been building for the Aussie six-piece for a while now. Last year’s Ground Dweller proved to be a stellar debut, packed with experimental post-hardcore that challenged pre-conceived notions about what the genre should sound like. Certainly heavy, but captivatingly melodic, Ground Dweller set the stage for Hands Like Houses to shake up the scene.

This summer, the band emerged from the studio, where it recorded its new release Unimagine with James Paul Wisner. It’s clear from first listen that the group was able to trim the fat from its debut and magnify its strengths as Unimagine is chock full of stellar guitar work, soaring melodies, and perfectly placed programming.

Perhaps most impressive is the vocal work of Trenton Woodley, who has not-so-quietly staked his claim as one of the most promising and talented frontmen in the scene. During Warped Tour’s stop in Cincinnati, PopMatters had the chance to chat with Woodley about the band’s first run on the tour, the process of creating Unimagine, and the challenges of spending so much time so far away from home.

How’s the first trek on Warped Tour been for you?

It’s been solid, man — a lot of work, a lot of fun, and not a lot of sleep.

Anything unexpected?

We kind of had a lot of bands give us a heads up on what was going to be the tough stuff. Obviously, when we got here it was a lot of work, but we were kind of prepared already.

So your new album Unimagine came out last week. What’s the response been like so far?

Absolutely phenomenal, man. Especially our fans, but also critically it’s been good, with a few exceptions, of course. We were a bit nervous after Ground Dweller being an album that people have taken such a personal involvement in and have been so invested in. Personally, to one-up an album like that is difficult. We were nervous about how it would be received, but everyone loves it and we’re stoked.

You worked with James Paul Wisner as the producer this time around, which I’m assuming was a different process — what was that like?

Yeah, I guess when we went in for Ground Dweller, we kind of had everything written and produced ourselves. We had all of our keys more-or-less mixed already, it was a case of tracking the instruments and dropping everything in together. So Cam [Cameron Mizell] didn’t really have too much influence over structure and that sort of stuff because we were pretty much already prepared when we went in.

This time around, we were under a lot of pressure going in. We worked everything to a point where we wanted it to be before we hit the studio, but we left a lot of things open-ended so that we could change and edit and push things together to really help focus it and get input from James. James has worked on such phenomenal albums, and part of the reason we went there was to get a voice of sensibility to kind of help tie everything together and make sure everything really had its room to breathe.

Not that Ground Dweller didn’t sound like Hands Like Houses, but I really felt like he brought out some things that hadn’t happened yet, but were there — to me, it sounds like this is really the direction you wanted to go.

Yeah, we hope so. We wanted to go in and really focus everything and take everything good we did on Ground Dweller and then do it better, and maybe leave behind some of the chaotic stuff we wanted to do the first time around but wasn’t what we wanted this time.

Other than the pressure you talked about, were there any other major differences for you writing-wise this time?

I don’t think so. You know, we don’t want to think of what we’re doing as change, but more as growth. We hope that everyone who loved what we did before will love what we’re doing now and likewise, people will come across what we’re doing now and enjoy what we did before. It’s just a logical step in the journey for us.

You’ve spent a large amount of time over the past couple of years here in the States. What’s been the biggest difficulty?

Just being away from home. Myself and our drummer are both engaged and one of the other guys is in a serious relationship, so it’s definitely hard to spend this much time away, and we’re still not going to be home for another two weeks. I’m definitely looking forward to getting home. Especially towards the end of the tour, it starts getting to you a little bit. So yeah, now I think it’s just not having a solid place to call home. Home is like a holiday, which is the wrong flip when you’re away all of the time. We get to go a lot of great places and spend time with great people, but just having that personal space is probably the biggest thing I miss.

Being on tour with so many bands that have been around for a while, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten on this tour.

I think just make sure that you don’t rush yourself — pace yourself and be ready for whatever comes, because otherwise it’s too easy to burn out and get too busy trying to do what everybody expects. You may end up chasing an opportunity that’s already gone because you rush and get out there too quickly. Also, keep your head down and just be respectful to everyone that’s around you, because it goes both ways — you respect the people around you and the people above, because you get it back and it makes a difference to the way you operate as a band.

After this tour, you guys are headed back to Australia for a tour, is that right?

Yeah, we get a couple weeks off, thankfully. Then we’re hitting the road with Tonight Alive for two weeks back home. That’s as long as a tour gets in Australia [laughs]. There’s not a lot of cities. But yeah, we’re really looking forward to that and our plans for the Fall.

What’s the biggest difference between a show in the States and a show in Australia?

There’s a lot more people here than in Australia because we’ve pretty much been touring here since we released Ground Dweller. We haven’t really had a lot of opportunities to tour in Australia. A lot of support tours came through while we’ve been over here, so it’s taking a little while to get established in Australia, but we’re trying to get really focused with the new album. We got some great press in Australia now, so it’s time to start making up for lost time and we’re really looking forward to it.

When you’ve got free time during the day, what’s one band that you make an effort to see on Warped?

I love seeing letlive. They’re a hell of a show to watch. At the same time, I enjoy watching the Summer Set. They’ve been playing after us on the Tilly’s Stage quite a lot and it’s just such catchy stuff. Definitely not your typical Warped Tour band and definitely not a typical band we listen to, but they’ve got such catchy songs — it’s awesome.