Interview: Hot Hot Heat
If you find yourself surprised to hear that Hot Hot Heat not only still exists, but also recently released a new album, you’re in good company.
The Canadian quartet’s fourth studio album and first in nearly three years, “Future Breeds,” was released in early June, albeit in a fashion that was much less hyped-up than releases of prior years.
And this intentional step back from convention is evident in every aspect of the album, beginning with the nuanced fact that it’s entirely self-produced, all the way to the realization that the band has evolved both its sound and presentation.
“The whole concept behind this album was just trying to treat it like we’re a new band,” said Steve Bays, founding member and vocalist of the group, known for his raw, yelp-infused command of the microphone.
One of the primary catalysts for Hot Hot Heat’s sabbatical was the creation of a studio, which they built over the course of the past few years. Bays said they ended up buying recording gear and learning to use it all in an effort to better understand not just music, but themselves.
“Once I kind of figured out what I was doing, we just really started to experiment a lot with music,” he said. “Nobody had anything to do with this album other than us and I think it shows. The music feels like an expression of freedom and rebellion.”
This is apparent on first listen of “Future Breeds,” which dismisses any sort of expectations the listener might have by throwing down loud, infectious tracks with an avant-garde edge. The current lineup also includes original drummer Paul Hawley on drums, and guitarist Luke Paquin, who joined the band after Dante DeCaro joined Wolf Parade in 2005. Louis Hearn is the newest member, rounding out the foursome on bass.
However, the group’s new approach to writing and recording music didn’t align with the vision that former label Sire Records had for it. While Hot Hot Heat was contractually bound to putting out another album, the members wanted to go the route of self-recording and made a decision to not release or promote specific singles.
“I think that kind of freaked [Sire] out,” Bay admitted.
Instead, the band asked to leave and Sire agreed to terminate the contract.
With performance expectations out of the way, the band was able to control every aspect of the album, which features not only songs written and recorded by the members, but also makes use of talented friends, who have contributed to the artwork and the making of videos for the songs.
“it’s not just about one thing,” Bays said. “It’s about the band as, like, a whole entity.”
Bays insisted the band never bought into the idea of releasing singles, with the band’s manager even referring to them as “focus tracks” in hopes of skirting the aversion toward the word single. But now, even polite euphemisms won’t even be an issue, with the band choosing to place an equal amount of emphasis on each and every track.
“When you’re on a major label it seems like everything is all about the single,” Bays explained. “I wasn’t really a fan of [that].”
And while the band has managed to maintain a fairly recognizable and trademark sound in spite of various lineup changes, the members are always working to ensure that each song is different from the songs that came before.
“We always thought our strength was that we would try and reinvent our sound in almost every song,” Bays said. “By that logic, no songs should really be the single.”
Another way of underlining this idea is to shoot videos for every track on “Future Breeds,” which the band is working on with friends, the most recent being “Goddess on the Prairie,” which they filmed earlier this month. The band also regularly posts videos of them traveling and hanging out as unofficial music videos, all of which are available on their website.
Once the album was nearly complete but before it was released, the group decided to do touring a different way. Instead of immediately piling into a van and hitting the road, Hot Hot Heat went the route of residences in two major cities.
“It always felt like we were rushed onto a big tour before we had quite even figured out what we were going to do with the songs,” Bays said.
But the advantage of playing in Brooklyn, New York, at Public Assembly during the month of May, and Los Angeles at Bootleg Theater during the month of June is that the band was able to not only see how audiences reacted to the music, but also watch as the songs themselves evolved and took on lives of their own.
“We’ve been playing these songs live since February now,” Bays shared. “[They’re] starting to get really good.”
The band’s national tour to promote the album begins today, although earlier this month, they opened for Weezer. At this performance, which was for the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, Calif., they played to a crowd of 25,000 people - an experience Bays described as “weird,” namely because he prefers to perform at smaller venues “where I can see the people are getting what we’re doing.”
“I don’t think I could go my whole life playing those kinds of shows,” he said. “It’s crazy because I don’t picture us being able to hold that many peoples’ attention. The fact that we can play to a large audience…is a bonus, [but it’s] not necessarily what I want to be doing all the time.”
Bays admitted he still becomes slightly anxious when he hits the stage, even after more than a decade of performing with Hot Hot Heat. He still tends to feel uncertain up until the first few songs have been played, which is when the ice begins to break, for him. But that nervousness is just part of what makes him a bit less rock star and a bit more real.
“I like being nervous. I think it helps keep me on my toes,” he said. “[And] we’re lucky because we’ve got a good fan base. People appreciate the fact that it’s weird crazy music.”
Additionally, he and the other members strive to be approachable and down-to-earth. He said he prefers when musicians “show all their flaws” and are “willing to expose themselves,” because it enables the fans to feel like they have a connection with the artists.
“It seems like people want to see the sex, drugs, rock and roll stuff, but I actually prefer more in-depth behind the scenes,” he said.