'Dissonants': 10 Questions with Hands Like Houses - Guitar World

'Dissonants': 10 Questions with Hands Like Houses

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We recently tracked down Hands Like Houses' Trenton Woodley (vocals), Matt Cooper (lead guitar) and Alex Pearson (rhythm guitar), who discussed their brand-new album, Dissonants. The disc was released today, February 26, via Rise Records.

Dissonants is out now. How'd the writing process on the record differ from previous releases?

ALEX: It definitely changed from our previous album, Unimagine, and even further from our first album, Ground Dweller. We’ve grown a lot as a band since we started, so that’s brought about more tours, with most of them being international, so we were out of our usual writing environment.

We did some writing on the road where we had time and had a few ideas floating around that we were able to consolidate and flesh out, but most of the song composing for this album happened in studios.

We hopped around LA a bit with Mike Green and Erik Ron, went to Caleb Shomo in Ohio and down to Florida with Blake Harnage and Lynn Gunn, finally arriving with James Paul Wisner to finish Dissonants. These alternative environments inspired us differently and brought out varied writing styles that ultimately really helped the album and us as songwriters. 

COOP: Alex and I spend a lot of time bouncing ideas off each other, so i think he nailed it. We got a little out of our comfort zone with writing this record, but in the end I think it was exactly what we needed to make the album as powerful as it is.

What kind of gear and guitars were used on the new album?

COOP and ALEX: Disclaimer: To do justice to a guitar mag, we should direct these sorts of questions to Trenno, as he is the truest guitar nerd of HIH, whereas Al and I genuinely just plug in and jam after he and our sound guy, Jim, have shaped our tone to something they know we'd like. Though I have to say for this album I mostly used our producer [James Paul Wisner]'s custom-built Suhr, and it is the most beautiful guitar I've played. 

TRENTON: We actually used a fairly streamlined setup for the album. James [Wisner] is an incredibly efficient producer so he goes for purity and clarity first and foremost. That gives him the freedom to shape the tone in the mix, specific to each part and each song—including EQ and effects.

We used his Suhr Modern (HSH) into his Custom Audio Electronics OD-100 head and a Bogner 4x12 cabinet mic'ed up with two Heil PR35s. Between those we had pretty much 90 percent of the album tones covered; tight high gain distortions, smooth or bite-y leads, sparkly cleans. The only real variations on that were an early Seventies Gibson Les Paul for darker sounds and a Bad Cat Hot Cat 50 for a handful of more "classic" lead tones. On the effects side, the delays were mostly using the Soundtoys plug-ins, reverbs were a combination of plug-ins and a couple that we ran through Coops' Strymon Big Sky. 

How does your studio rig differ from your live rig?

TRENTON: Our live rig changes a little depending on which continent we're touring, but typically Alex uses a Mesa Dual Rectifier Head, Orange cabinet and his pedalboard (which includes a Digitech Drop, ISP Decimator, Ibanez TS9 and an LS-2 Looper as a switchable, clean-blended FX Loop of an EQD Dispatch Master Delay/Reverb, Boss CH-1 Chorus and Boss DD-20 Delay).

Coops' rig is a little more simple, using an AxeFX for amp modeling into whatever backline head/combo we have available, along with a Drop, MicroPog, DD-20 and Strymon Bigsky on the pedalboard. Obviously we can't use James' studio plug-ins live so we rely on our pedalboards, which we're always working on slowly. Like we said earlier, we're players and songwriters rather than gear-heads, but sometimes a new sound, tone or utility helps keep the spark going. Because we travel so much, it's important to keep everything versatile so we try to keep it simple. 

How'd the guitar parts come together on your new single, "Colourblind"?

ALEX: This album and in particular this song have very much centered around having a “riff” wether it’s a rhythm riff or a lead line it always seems to start there. To begin with I only had the intro riff and then some chorus chords and rhythm. I remember sitting out the back of our trailer on Warped Tour 2016 with an acoustic and our drummer Matty P. I kept playing what I had of the song while Matty P was playing “knee drums." From there we took the idea in to the studio and it just exploded, everything fell in to place really quickly, we kept adding layers and voila “Colourblind” became the anthem it is today!

COOP: As Al said, this song came together through trailer hang jamming. I feel colourblind sets the tone for quite a few of the songs on the album; super rhythmic and punchy. This one is definitely a fist in the air and jam it track.

Are the songs on the new record arranged differently in a live setting?

ALEX: We actually tried to have the live setting in mind when we wrote this album, so we really focused on not having to change much at all. We wanted to make sure that what we were writing would captivate people and translate seamlessly into a live setting. If anything I think when we play this album it will have even more intensity and emotion as the we’ll be feeding off the crowd and them feeding back off us! We’re so excited to test it out.

COOP: Yeah, this album definitely had the live setting in mind. So we'll need to wait to see what songs that the fans are vibing and start working on the transitions. Once we start jamming them for a set there will always be little changes here and there; certain melodies and tracks can clash and its just about making sure the song is coming through balanced. 

As guitarists, how do your styles different from each other and how do they translate on the new album?

ALEX: Coops is a shredder [laughs]! But seriously I think the main difference between our styles comes from the music we write. I am predominantly playing more rhythm guitar, whether that is straight chords or a riff, while Coops adds the atmosphere or, as we like to say, “the noodles." There have been so many times late at night in the studio with Coops and I locked away in the control room just jamming different riffs or melody lines. Coops will play something, my jaw will drop and I’ll just be blown away. I’d certainly like to think we make a dynamic duo.

COOP: Easily my favorite thing about HLH is how we've grown up for so long playing together. We've learned to write in styles that in a way consolidate all our tastes. We've sort of written each album and EP leaning toward a different style. We've had quite a bit of freedom to write and experiment using a bunch of different approaches. The journey will continue into what ever we do next.

Who are some of the guitarists who've influenced your styles of playing?

ALEX: I don’t think either of us has ever idolized those classic rock guitarists or anything like that. I certainly didn’t grow up thinking, “Man, I really want to be Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page,” even though they are both bad asses. I actually started playing guitar because on of my best friends did. As a kid I loved John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He always seemed to have this slinky almost lazy vibe to his guitar playing. Ian D’Sa followed that from Billy Talent, and Dan Jacobs from Atreyu. Then way down the track when I joined Hands Like Houses it was honestly Coops that influenced and inspired me. I think both of our styles are always adapting and changing as we tour more, play more and grow more, so if you asked me in a year from now I’d probably have a bunch of new influences.  

COOP: I picked up guitar and started playing when I was introduced to Thrice back in high school. I think I learned all of their songs at some point; Teppei and the band just had such sweet interweaving melodies and ideas, and I still nerd out so hard on anything Thrice related. I still suck at playing any contemporary songs, although I'm definitely influenced/inspired by loads of guitarists. Grizzly Bear are a perfect example for the kind of quirky and unique styles of guitar playing I love. There's also been a bunch of Icelandic artists over the last few years that have influenced my playing style. I like when bands can be interesting, unique and catchy at the same time. It's mad.

How'd you get into playing the guitar and is that your only instrument?

ALEX: I got in to playing guitar when my best friend started playing it growing up. He was a total legend in my eyes and I figured if I played guitar like him, I’d be a legend too. I started playing a nylon-stringed acoustic and I hated it. I always wanted an electric and begged my parents for one for ages. I finally got one, a Cherry Red Stratocaster. No-name brand, sounded terrible and played even worse, but I was in heaven. I wish I played another instrument but guitar is all I’ve got. I keep saying I’m going to learn piano but it hasn’t happened yet.

COOP: I grew up on piano and got into playing guitar in high school. I'll have a play on whatever is laying around, but generally just guitar.

As dual guitarists, how does the dynamic work between you guys in the studio and on stage?

ALEX: In the studio we are kind of “the late night crew." We’ll spend hours late at night and in to the morning working on parts, bouncing ideas back and forth. We’ve always got so many ideas floating around our heads, so it takes a while to settle on final parts. We’ve also both tried to become more conscious of songs as a whole rather than just focusing on our guitar parts and disregarding how they play into the other instruments and vocals. As for live the dynamic, it's simple—rock out as hard as you can and make as few mistakes as you can! Playing live is simply all about the energy and having fun.

COOP: Al nailed it. The hlh dynamic is about jamming a sweet vibe and then riding that vibe on stage. 

You guys performed at the Vans Warped Tour last summer, what can fans expect on your next U.S. tour?

ALEX: Well, for starters you’ll finally hear some new songs! This album cycle will definitely be our best yet. All those songs are crowd pleasers. There’s plenty of room for the people to sing, scream and headbang while the musicians in the room can appreciate the riffs and how each instrument plays in to the next. If I had to summarize it down in to one word, it would be "riffs." We’re a rock band so let's rock!

COOP: We're at the stage now to have been lucky enough to have toured the States a few times. Our next tour with Enter Shikari is going to be nuts, so come have a rock.