Hailing from the north woods of Victoria, British Colombia, Hot Hot Heat is igniting quite a spark within the indie movement. The band received a lot of attention and acclaim after the release of their full-length debut Make Up the Breakdown. With hits like "Bandages," Talk to Me, Dance With Me" and "No, Not Now" it confidently displayed it's back to roots indie rock, quirky, but intelligent pop and danceable melodies. The band toured relentlessly recruiting many rabid fans along the way. With the recent release of the infectious and highly original Elevator the band is poised to take it's place among the giants of the indie movement like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers and Modest Mouse.
Livewire's Phil Bonyata chatted with cofounder and frontman Steve Bays on Hot Hot Heat's ascent within the indie movement and music in general.
Livewire: What do you think of the label "indie rock?" Is it overused now?
Bays: What it used to mean was independently released music. What it is now is an aesthetic. I think it's legit, I mean with a band like us - we've been labeled "garage" to "disco punk" to "new wave" to "punk funk." In Australia they say we're reggae. I'll take "indie rock," that's fine.
Livewire: Hailing from Victoria, British Columbia - what is the biggest difference between Canada and the States?
Bays: In Canada you just feel taken care of a lot more. You feel safe and if you get sick someone's going to take care of you. If you get lost, someone will tell you were to go. If you wanna go to school there's a way to do it. In the U.S. it's like everyone is looking out for #1.
Livewire: Do you think that your band is part of a mini-Canadian invasion?
Bays: When I first heard that concept being thrown around it seemed a bit bizarre, but now it does kinda make sense. Canada has always been the underdogs. When we toured Europe the people brought up the fact that we were from Canada like a negative factor. It's like we come from a country that produced Alanis Morissette and Bryan Adams. There's always been a lot of corporate rock acts that have done well outside of Canada as well as a cool indie scene. I do believe that there's been a bit of a Canadian invasion right now. There has never been any pressure to succeed as far as being Canadian. Like if you're a band from L.A., I mean there are so many bands from L.A. that sell millions. There are so many bands from all the big cities, places with a history of spawning successful groups like London and New York. Those type of places there is a potential to succeed, like us, for example, coming from Victoria - no bands have actually done anything from there before. We weren't motivated by anything, but to have fun. Canadian bands are allowed a lot of time to incubate and develop. Whereas you show potential there's a manager and AR guy at your door trying to exploit it somehow. Coming back to your "indie rock" comment - "indie rock" is more of a mainstream thing right now. The "indie rock" sound which is just independent bands doing their thing are all of sudden cool in the context of current popular culture. So, there is kind of a public ear for bands like Arcade Fire or whoever, you know.
Livewire: There's this cool punk band out of Windsor, Canada called The Shrugs - their music is lean and mean and they wear monocles, berets and bow tries. They're crazy good!
Bays: Awesome! Yeah, I'm on the internet right now I'll check 'em out right after the interview - what is the website?
Livewire: theshrugs.com Man, they're a lot of fun!
Bays: Awesome! Speaking of funny Canadian websites, are you familiar with the Trailer Park Boys? It's like the biggest cult on Canadian TV probably of all time and it's slowly creeping into the U.S. and even Europe. Basically, it's about this trailer park somewhere in the northland of Ontario, Canada and it's about these guys and they grow pot and have all of these crime hijinks. It's Canadian white trash and I think they've been filming the 5th season, so it's been going on for awhile now, but go to their website trailerparkboys.com - it's pretty funny.
Livewire: Your music seems to be evolving from Make Up the Breakup to Elevator. Have you found your sound or is experimentation always in order? Even when you find that groove - do you feel the need to change for the sake of change?
Bays: No, we would never change for just change's sake. A lot of bands have that have one unique sound and I'm not opposed to that concept. There are certain things that will always be present in our music, like I don't see my voice changing too drastically. We're always going to want it to be fun and honest and exciting and we're always going to be a live band. We're always going to want the music to translate to a live concert. So within that framework I think we're always going to branch off a little bit. For the most part everything has to be catchy. That's scary for a lot of bands to do - they hide behind obscure melodies and vague lyrics with kind of cryptic messages. We want to be straightforward and honest which I find to be way more challenging.
Livewire: What or who is your muse?
Bays: On a number of songs off the album - they're love songs. For a very long time I didn't want to get close to anybody, but you find someone that inspires you to be a better person and to work harder and to be more passionate about life in general. It's a really bizarre feeling - I can't even describe it.
Livewire: It sounds like you're in love?
Bays: Yeah, I'm in a relationship. On Make Up the Breakdown I was going through this phase where I was preparing myself for a life of being on tour all the time and being out on the road and living out of a suitcase. I made a point to distance myself from everyone and relationships. A lot of
is about realizing just how unrealistic that is. I realized I needed some sort of passion and love outside of music because up until then music had been everything. So, to finally let somebody in was a big step. In a lot of ways it's made me focus on music even more. It was about meeting someone for the sake of love, but rather about passion. It made me take myself more seriously - which is cool.
Livewire: How's work on the new album going?
Bays: We actually have been doing a lot of writing on the road whereas we took a long time off the road to write Elevator. We already have four or five potential songs. I think we just want to record them while we're on the road or at least have them demo'd on the road and then we can go right into the studio when we're done touring. I don't want to take the time out on the road to record. On Elevator we literally took a year off to record. Which is bizarre to me. I mean Led Zeppelin never seemed to stop and always managed to make albums.
Livewire: You had producer Dave Sardy (The Walkmen, Oasis, The Dandy Warhols, Jet, Red Hot Chili Peppers) help make this album. How big was his influence?
Bays: He definitely had a big influence on it as far as the songs go - we already had the songs demo'd. I have a studio in my house - we just did it the way we thought we should do it and then we brought it to him. But, what he brought to the table was insane. He was always pushing us to make it better, but in a really constructive way. We're all very opinionated guys. We would work 15-16 hour days and experiment with new ideas. He got into the band and the album so heavily. This was not just another project for him. He took it as seriously as we did. He never tried to make us into something that we weren't, which is rare. A lot of producers have like a stock sound and they take your band and try to push a square through a circle.
Livewire: Maybe you can get Rick Rubin for your next album.
Bays: We actually started this record with him. We started doing preproduction with him and met with him and stuff. We do preproduction over the internet where we'd send him a demo and he'd comment on it and stuff. But, then we kind of realized that Rick is sweet and we were kind of torn between Rick and Dave, but then we realized as we got into preproduction that we needed someone who was going to be able to be in the studio from first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, whereas Rick is more like the old Motown producers where an engineer would set everything up and record it and the producer would come in like 5:00 PM and comment on it. Rick is obviously a wicked producer, but we liked the idea that Dave was still hungry to prove himself like the same way we were, ya know. We'd still like to do something with Rick in the future, but at the time we were still developing our sound and doing a lot of experimentations and we were just big fans of Dave's recent work. We wanted our drums to sound absolutely massive.
Livewire: How is former guitarist Dante De Caro's replacement Luke Paquin doing?
Bays: He's amazing! He's the kind of guy that you play him something once and he's already learned it. He's one of those guys that's been playing his whole life and technically he's great. We knew we needed more than that though. We needed someone that was also a cool singer and he has an awesome voice. A big thing too is his musical background - you know like what kind of bands he liked while growing up. He really has this insane musical knowledge. We're all about collecting new records and talking about bands and kind of just growing as music fans and he's totally on that same page. We weren't just looking for someone to fill Dante's shows - we wanted someone who would essentially play even better and be able to write with us.
Livewire: What artists rocked your boat while growing up?
Bays: A lot of them were just local musicians. I was really into the local punk scene while I was growing up. I started to promote shows just so I could get my band to play on the same bill with bands I loved from out of town. There were a bunch of local punk bands at the time that gave me what I needed. I was learning drums at that point and would watch the band with the best drummer and learn from them incessantly. When I was learning how to play bass I would watch the band with best bass player and trip on that for months. I was really kind of an obsessive kid. But then there was the music that was all around at the time - the Stones, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and Tom Petty. My parents liked a lot of the poppy stuff too which I think trickled down to me. They loved like Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel, Creedance Clearwater and since I went to the whole kind of punk scene and then I got into the artier punk movement in around Victoria, British Colombia and the Pacific Northwest after that I started to revisit all the classics and I'm still in that phase. Like, I'm revisiting Creedance Cleerwater and I'm paying attention to the arrangements, the harmonies and the thing that they're singing about. Every two years you can go back and listen to records that you thought you knew and find something completely different about it.
Livewire: iPod or vinyl?
Bays: I like people who like to have a tangible copy. It's way more fulfilling, I mean when I picked-up one of our records - like the first time I saw the Elevator vinyl it was the most fulfilling feeling. It was heavy and thick and the artwork was big. I can see being a collector and collecting vinyl, but I live out of a suitcase and if you want to have 5,000 songs at your disposal you need an iPod. Dustin our bass player carries vinyl with him on the road because he DJs sometimes, but he goes back and forth between the iPod and vinyl even then. On the other hand there are things that you can't get digitally, I mean we like old tube amps, occasionally you will find a new drumkit that sounds as good as an old drumkit, but not very often. It's not out of a pretentious way of staying pure to to be pure - it's entirely based on the sound. Sometimes I would stumble on a way to reproduce the analog sound and eventually I think digital will get to be as good as analog for like recording and film, but we're not there yet. We just shot a video for "Middle of Nowhere" and we did it all on film cameras from the early '70s and late '60s and it looked so rich and beautiful. Digital just isn't there yet, but I'm not opposed to it. Especially when we first started out, I did everything myself and I did it all on the computer. I did our artwork, our video recordings, did our website and it was just good because I was a broke student with a computer.
Livewire: What pisses you off the most?
Bays: That's a good question. Let me think. I don't like people with negative attitudes. I mean some people have every right to be negative, but I mean you gotta solve the problem. When you're trying to do anything like making music or a movie or in life offer a solution just don't point out a problem.
Livewire: If you could see any band or artist dead or broken up who would it be?
Bays: Um, who would yours be first of all?
Livewire: I mean first of all it's tough, but mine would actually be the Doors.
Bays: Oh, cool. Well, I mean it would probably be the Beatles because three out of four in our band know the most about and we can probably play their songs the most. We're just big fans of them because they documented so much about themselves through their music. Yeah, I would have to go with the Beatles even though that's kind of a generic answer. (laughs)
Livewire: What's the weirdest thing to happen to you while on the road or in the studio?
Bays: When we meet people with Hot Hot Heat tattoos. That's a weird thing. That's like extremely flattering. I think it forces us to take ourselves more seriously. Although I never want to take ourselves too seriously as to affect our music negatively. It is kind of cool knowing that it is inspiring to some people.
Livewire: What item or items do you have to bring while on the road?
Bays: My lyric book, my dictaphone and an electric guitar and an iPod. I mean the thing with the lyric book is that I used to write lyrics on scraps of paper and until I got a really nice, fancy book that I respected. I started to treat lyrics like they were more special. It's kind of nice to have a frame for your "painting." Instead of painting on a napkin. The dictaphone is very important because it might be 4:00 AM and you might be drunk and you'll hum a melody and on a whim you'll record it on the dictaphone and that'll end up being the single, you know. (laughs)
Livewire: You seem to be a good looking guy - any film aspirations?
Bays: Wow, that's nice of you to say. I don't know, possibly. I've never been asked that before. I used to make films all the time when I was younger, none of them were very good, but I love it. The video that we we did for "Middle of Nowhere" we shot it on film and the idea was for it to look like a film. So, we shot it like a film and edited it like a film. It wasn't done like a rock video with fast cuts and quick edits. Yeah, I think it's our favorite one that we've done and it has a bit of a story. Up until then we really shied away from the concept of having a narrative because it's a lot more naked to be part of a story and to actually have to act a little. This video is the first time I had to do a fair bit of acting. I loved it. It was awesome!
Livewire: Describe Hot Hot Heat in a few words.
Bays: Fun, but not dumb.
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