After a year and a half of touring and a couple of spins through the hype machine, Hot Hot Heat have finally returned home to Victoria BC; definitely bigger, most likely better and excited for the next leg of their musical adventure. We've allowed the band to get a few vacation days under their belts, and now it's time for Soul Shine Magazine to figure out what makes Hot Hot Heat so…um…hot.
Throughout their marathon 19-month tour in support of Make Up The Breakdown, Hot Hot Heat has been delighting and confusing critics and fans alike. How to pigeon-hole Hot Hot Heat into a neat little record store section? Twitchy old-school organs scream "Hey, we're new wave!" while teeter-totter vocal riffs and skittish drumming suggest post-punk influences. But then how to explain the dance-ability of every single album track? Can we really call Hot Hot Heat an emo band? And since when could a bunch of Canadians garner so much attention across the border, and across the pond, without relying on a goofy sense of humour or ridiculous fashion accessories?
The band's reluctance to pinpoint specific influences makes categorizing Hot Hot Heat's sound a difficult task. And considering that their melodies are the result of four brains working together, not one, and we can only conclude that Hot Hot Heat are a wonderfully ambiguous disco-rock/emo/post-punk/new-wave/no core/math rock band...or whatever.
Bassist Dustin Hawthorne says a song is born "One of two ways. Either a riff or a skeleton of a song is brought in to practice. By the time it's been through the Hot Hot Heat sieve it usually comes out completely different. The other way is made up spontaneously on the spot."
"A train wreck of sorts. Nervously eccentric. White guy funk."
So for all the debate, you'll probably find Make Up The Breakdown in the rock section of a record store. And about the Canadian thing?
"It makes me laugh. Apparently Canada has a reputation for producing bad bands. What comes to my mind is, sure Canada gave the world Nickleback and Rush but who gave us Creed and Styx? The U.S.A.?...Hmmm."
Though the band is doing well there now, Americans didn't exactly warmly embrace Hot Hot Heat - initially. Early concert dates in Boise, and Salt Lake City were, shall we say, not well attended. However, with an album steadily climbing the college music charts to back them up, Hot Hot Heat's fortunes changed. Their newest dilemma became figuring out how to make the ever-expanding crowd unleash their inner groove thang and give in to the urge to dance. Hawthorne confesses he's not entirely sure whether or not the band was entirely successful in that department:
"It's hard to say. It really depends on what city we play in. Some towns/cities are spectacular where as others suck shit. Lately we seem to attract a diverse crowd of people. The hipsters are the ones that tend to hang out in the back, arms crossed. I'm guilty of that one definitely. "
Judging by the audience reaction at their second-to-last show in Toronto last December, the hipsters have loosened up a bit. Towards the end of their set, only a few wall-clingers remained at the back of the Opera House. Everyone else succumbed to hedonistic gyrations of the over-caffeinated variety; limbs twisting and flailing around in a giant sweaty pit of bodies. In other words, the hipsters danced.
With an exhausting tour behind him now, Hawthorne reflects on the ups and downs of life on the road for such a long period of time;
"The worst part (was) feeling like a human jukebox, not being able to write new music, the fatigue that comes with touring for 19 months." He says.
"Best part: going to cities and countries that I would have never gone to other wise. Meeting nice people, being exposed to great bands."
And now comfortably back home in Victoria, Hawthorne and company are looking forward to recording a new album, conscious of the sometimes career-ending "H-word" – hype – and at the same time totally indifferent to it.
"When we wrote Make Up The Break Down we were four punks writing songs to gratify no one but ourselves. There was no media surrounding us, no hype whatsoever. I'll possess the same attitude when writing the next record and embarking on the next tour." Hawthorne says.
And they're not wasting any time either. In a posting on the band's official website www.hothotheat.com, drummer Paul Hawley says;
"HHH started rehearsing a couple of weeks ago and things are getting better all the time. We've completed writing seven new songs. That's including the two we were playing while on tour, "You're Making Such a Mess" and the other untitled little ditty. What I'm really trying to say is, we're all pretty excited with these new songs and hope you feel that way about hearing them."
Surely getting Hot Hot Heat fans excited about new material won't be that hard to do. Especially since reminders of their current success abound. Among other accolades, the band may have to interrupt their rehearsal schedule in March to accept The Indies' "Favourite Album" award at this year's Canadian Music Week. Hot Hot Heat has been nominated along with The Hidden Cameras, The Constantines, Manitoba and Broken Social Scene, which isn't bad company to keep.
So far, no official dates have been set for a new album release, and the details of the next tour are still in early planning stages. With a new-found level of success, Hawthorne isn't sure whether future tours will be as ambitious as the last one.
"I certainly hope we never have to tour as much as we did in the past two years. I almost went crazy a couple of times. But at the same time I have the attitude that hard work leads to success. We'll see, ask me in a year and maybe I'll sing a different tune."
As long as it'll make the hipsters dance, sing away.
Writer: Erica Basnicki