On their long-awaited fourth album – the monstrously loud and conceptually vivid -Anon. – Canberra fivesome Hands Like Houses have kicked the riffs up a few notches and fully embraced their mosh-ready inclinations. It was a long time coming; the band have always had a knack for a good pit-brewer, but the poppier side of them would inevitably take over... Well, until now, that is. They still revel in massive, fist-in-the-air choruses and hooks so catchy they'll wind up glued to your brain for weeks after that first playthrough, but it's undeniable that -Anon. is also delightfully crunchy.
A few months on from the album's release, Hands Like Houses are taking -Anon. out for a grandiose six-date theatre run with fellow scene stars Ocean Grove and Redhook (both of whom are set to drop new records in 2019). Ahead of the tour's kick-off in Canberra next week, we caught up with rhythm guitarist Alex Pearson to dig a little deeper into what makes -Anon. click, and what fans can expect when Hands Like Houses take to their local stage.
First things first: the new video for “Sick” is f***ing unreal. Massive effort.
We're so stoked that everyone is having the same reaction we did! It was probably our favourite experience with making a video – we just said we wanted to go full “rock dawgs” and have a joyride through the desert in an old convertible. The rest of the storyline just fell into place – it’s more about the vibe, after all. We made it in the Mojave desert in a place called The Graveyard, so we definitely felt pretty wild the whole time we were out there.
Obviously, the album in general is a massive leap in a new direction for Hands Like Houses. How did the concept – and more broadly, the new sound – come together?
I think we really cemented heading in a new direction when we wrote "Sick", which was one of the first songs we had written for the album. It took on this new side of us – more '90s, more grunge and more aggression, without needing breakdowns; more tongue-in-cheek as well. Each song started taking on its own personality, and they were all pretty different, so we thought of the concept of calling the album -Anon. as a way to encourage whoever was listening to, in a sense, forget who wrote the song and just take it at face value. Just sink into each song without needing to have "Hands Like Houses" burning in your brain.
Was there much of a learning curve in figuring out how to move forward after Dissonants, or did it all come together pretty naturally?
We started off pretty safe with our early demos, and it was sounding solid, but very much the same vein as Dissonants. Our producer Colin Brittain was extremely encouraging of us to push our boundaries. He inspired changes and told us to take chances rather than just writing the same album as before. I remember sending him some demos, and he just kept saying, "Good, now write another,” and we kept that up until we had a huge stockpile of material. It was the most comfortable and honest we’ve felt in a very long time.
How is this LP the best representation of Hands Like Houses, and what you stand for as a band, in 2019?
I think it’s a great reflection of where we’re all at personally, and a great combination of the music we listen to outside of the band, and then combining it with the career and sound we’ve built. It’s also felt like a breath of fresh air and inspired us to keep pushing how far the band's sound can evolve.
How did you want to build on your techniques as a guitarist with this album?
I always view myself as more of a songwriter than a guitarist, but I was probably getting a little too comfortable with certain riff patterns and styles. For this album, I took more inspiration from guitarists like Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl or Billy Corgan. I feel like they all focus on songwriting as well as playing. You don’t always have to be the fastest player, or play the jazziest chords to have a song or guitar part resonate with someone. So I think I focused on that more that grinding my fingers to the bone and learning to sweep and melt faces [laughs].
What was the creative dynamic like between the five of you this time around?
With this album, we all got into making our own demos. We all learnt Logic so that each person could create their own idea and see the song through as they envisioned it. Then that idea would be taken to the group, and we’d all work through it together. Sometimes it felt like you were in a Colosseum, waiting for your thumbs up or down verdict for the song. We’re also pretty spread out, so we had to adapt to working remotely, then when we all met up in the studio there was something about LA this time that reached us. We were so laid back that each song just flowed naturally. I can’t say enough how amazing the writing and recording experience was this time around!
How have the new songs been working in the live set so far? Do you have any favourites to whip out, or any cuts that get the crowd especially frothy?
So far, the frothy fellas and the juicy boys on the album have been "Sick", "Monster" and "Overthinking". I’m really excited to get out on tour to test out some more of them. With the feedback we’ve been getting from fans, it seems like they’d be happy if we just played -Anon. front-to-back, which is so exciting and inspiring for us moving forward!
Did you have the live show in mind when you were writing this record?
We’ve grown to always write with the stage in mind – or at least some kind of crowd. For this album, we were aiming for a bit of a festival vibe – we wanted songs that people could easily enjoy and then be singing along with by the time the second chorus rolls around!
Seeing as this is the biggest Hands Like Houses tour to date, what do you have instore for these shows in terms of the setlist and production?
We are going full send mode on this next tour – nothing is being held back. We’ve tried to make the set as engaging as possible and gone all out on production. I think people are going to be blown away with what we’re bringing to the table. We’ve always wanted to reach this level and play venues this size. The fact that it’s about to happen is incredible. We’re ready to go epic!
Run us through your live rig for this tour – what are you all jamming out on?
We’ve joined the digital age [laughs]. With this album we’ve changed over to Kempers, which has opened a lot of doors for us – we have an infinite amount of pedals and amps to mix and match between. There's been a bit of a learning curve, but with everything being so customisable, it’s pretty hard to not be blown away by the technology. My main amps are a blended Diezel and Naylor for my heavy tone, which sounds monstrous, and for my clean I can’t go past using an Orange Rockerverb with plenty of vintage chorus and huge hall reverbs. Being able to easily switch between these so quickly, along with so many other variant amps, and have them all be ready with the tap of a foot switch has me in heaven.
Do you have a favourite guitar to bust out?
I have come to absolutely love Strats! I literally can’t play anything else, because they just feel so amazing and play so well. Kiesel have been gracious enough to make me two custom builds, which have both been beautiful to play. To write a lot of the album, I started a number of songs on acoustic, so last year I bought a Maton EBG808 Nashville which has been a joy to play when I’m relaxing off tour, or bouncing around ideas in my head.
Hands Like Houses
Friday 8 February – UC Refectory, Canberra ACT
Saturday 9 February – Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
Friday 15 February – The Tivoli, Brisbane QLD
Saturday 16 February – The Forum, Melbourne VIC
Friday 22 February – HQ Complex, Adelaide SA
Saturday 23 February – Astor Theatre, Perth WA