Canberra rock band Hands Like Houses have been blessing the music scene with their soulful, honest, and atmospheric stadium rock for more than a decade. With 2 x Top 10 ARIA successes, a Triple J feature album and multiple sold-out tours; the five best friends have been gaining momentum in Australia and around the world. Praised with critical acclaim, their Britrock inspired sounds are gritty and anthemic while also being painfully intimate and heartfelt. We sat down with bassist Joel Tyrrell to chat about their upcoming show this Friday 30th July at the UC Refectory and their self-titled EP, released amidst the madness of last year’s lockdown.
You’re about to play one of your biggest shows here in Canberra in over two years, and you’ll be joined by some other awesome Canberra artists. How excited are you guys to get back into it?
‘Excited’ is an understatement. When we had Download Festival cancelled at the start of last year, we didn’t realize what the impact of COVID was going to be on us and the entire industry. I think the fact that we’re at the stage of putting on a show next Friday is so exciting. We miss being able to perform live and after we had so many shows and tours cancelled, it’s going to be a big highlight. We’ve got an extra special Canberra line-up planned with Citizen Kay, Hope Wilkins and Parklands.
Your self-titled five track EP came out last year. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
We were lucky to get an EP out in the middle of COVID. For the first time in our career, we had already planned ahead and recorded it with plans to roll it out over a specific time period during 2021 and tour it as well. As soon as COVID kicked in we had to change plans and couldn’t tour it overseas. We had a lot of back-and-forth conversations, wondering if we should just hold it until COVID finished. We ended up getting to the point of deciding to just put it out because there wasn’t a whole lot else that we could do. It was the first set of recordings that we’ve done in Australia so that was nice too.
What kind of artists were you listening to while creating the EP?
Probably the two biggest influences on this record for us were Nothing But Thieves and Royal Blood, so a lot of UK Britrock. It was music that we all listen to quite a lot, and we really like the sounds from Britrock bands that have come out over the last four or five years.
Your tracks are full of feeling and emotion. What kind of emotions come through in this new EP?
We’ve made four albums and an EP prior to this, so we’ve played with where we want the sound to go. Trenton, our lyricist puts a lot of work into different lyrical contexts with emotions that relate to him personally – themes of anxiety and experiences that he’s had throughout his life. With this EP, we wanted to have an anthemic, big rock sound and bring in some different lyrical content. It takes a different approach by touching on some powerful emotions that are more common and widespread. The feelings can be digested a lot more easily by everyone.
It opens up the floor to say, ‘This isn’t just about what I’m feeling, this is about what everyone is feeling’.
How has the dynamic between the five of you evolved over the last decade and how did you maintain your well-known sound while also exploring some new sounds in the EP?
We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well so we know when we need to step back and give each other space. On tour, we’d be living together for two or three months at a time. During lockdown we learned to work in a different capacity – we did more writing via correspondence, sending our ideas back and forth to each other as opposed to fleshing out ideas in the studio. Even though we’ve been together for ten years, we’re still trying to get better at accepting the ideas that we send each other and moving forward in a way that’s constructive. I don’t think any of us find it easy. It’s a lot harder to give that direct feedback when you’re not physically in the same room together.
Last year you had a huge tour of America, UK/Europe, Asia, South Africa and Australia planned. How did it feel when those plans couldn’t go ahead because of COVID-19?
The cancellation of Download Festival last year was such a bummer for us. After a month or two into lockdown when we realised we weren’t going to be doing any shows we had to cancel everything that we had booked. The band was our full-time job and our only source of income, and we went from having a huge year of touring, with 70 shows booked on our tour, to next to nothing. It was really hard. It gave us more time to spend with family and friends, but it also meant we had to find different sources of income. We’re still grateful for our successes with the EP and some sports partnerships but it was still heartbreaking to lose the momentum that we’ve been building for the past ten years.
This is our job; this is our life. It’s what we’ve been working towards for a decade. But it’s not the end, it’s just a new challenge that every other artist is facing too.
How was the process of creating the EP effected by the lockdown?
It’s hard because we write the most music when we can travel to new cities, be inspired creatively by the things around us, and test ideas out at live shows. In lockdown, that outside influence was stripped away and there wasn’t as much creative freedom. It made it hard to get back into that creative space.
Last year you covered Fuel’s ‘Shimmer’ last year for Triple J’s Like A Version. How was that experience?
The experience was really great for us. We did our first Like A Version, ‘Don’t Speak’ by No Doubt in 2016. We did that one the day after we just got home from a three-month tour overseas. We were jet lagged and definitely under rehearsed – Trenton actually had lyrics printed out in front of him. I think we learned our lesson though, so this time we rehearsed more, and it was a much more positive experience overall. We didn’t really know how well-known the song was, but it went down well, and we got some great feedback.
Who are some other Canberra artists that you admire?
We’re so fortunate to be here in Canberra because there’s a big wealth of amazing artists. SAFIA is quite a standout act that has always inspired us – they’re great writers and have put a lot of effort into their music. They’re a band that you can listen to on different speakers or headphones and hear something different in the mix every time – it keeps on giving and giving. I’m also excited to play with Parklands. Citizen Kay is obviously Canberra royalty… he has a special energy and there’s no doubt everyone will be blown away by how he performs. I think he’s one of the best performers I’ve ever seen. It’ll be an honour to play alongside him and we’re working on a couple of special things with him too.
What are some of your other favourite venues to play around Canberra?
One of the shows that I really did enjoy was our show at The Polo. It was so special for us to do a really intimate show there. Like a lot of people, I wish there were more venues in Canberra to play at. Playing at the UC refectory has been really nice. We’re still dreaming of the AIS Arena – to play there would be a dream come true. I also really enjoy watching shows Gang Gang and Blackbird, they’re both such cool little hubs for musicians and it’s such a supportive community.
What can expect in the near future?
We’re trying to squeeze in another Canberra show at a venue that we haven’t played before, but I can’t reveal any details yet. Hopefully, we’ll release some new music coming in the later half of the year. I’m so excited, it still just doesn’t seem real yet because it’s been so long. We’re in a nice flow and a nice zone right now. Part of me is thinking ‘Don’t psych yourself up too much because there might be a case and the plans will be cancelled’. Fingers crossed things get under control and we can start bringing bands back to Canberra.
Listen to Hands Like Houses’ new self-titled EP on all streaming platforms now.
You can get tickets for their UC Refectory show this Friday here.