Perfect Sound Forever

Hot Hot Heat

band photo
photo by by Brian Tamborello, courtesy of Subpop

by Kortney Jmaeff (January 2003)

They've been described as "Victoria's best kept secret" and "a mixture of '60's garage, '70's prog, and '80's new wave." They've recently worked with producer Jack Endino, of Nirvana's Bleach fame, for their latest release now available on Subpop. They are currently on their first major North American tour that started in September. Who are these 4 shaggy lads calling themselves Hot Hot Heat? Yours truly provides the answer with reports and an eyewitness interview.

Hot Hot Heat hail from picturesque Victoria, located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The quartet features Steve Bays on vocals and keyboards and Paul Hawley fills the drum seat. Dustin Hawthorne takes care of bass duties as Dante DeCaro wields the guitar.

The band claims they have no mentors in their seaside town of 75,000 people. Dissatisfied with the music scene they heard locally, HHH began as a jam band. The eve of HHH featured all the current members, minus Dante Decaro, plus previous singer Matthew Marnick. Early Hot Hot Heat was less melodic and less structured than the current pop hook driven Heat, described as guitarless keyboard-led math-rock. They had their virgin live performance in the summer of 1999, playing at an all ages Victoria event entitled Surfoberfest.

The first couple years of HHH are preserved with home studio recordings, a 7" record, and a split 12" with Vancouver peers Red Light Sting. Marnik left the group after Scenes One Through Thirteen was released, which left Bays to multitask as lead vocalist and keyboardist. Dante DeCaro, inspired by his guitar favorites Steve Cropper (of Stax Records) and Andy Partridge of XTC, was snapped up as axeman on the previously guitarless combo, allowing Steve to focus on his new duties. In 2001, the quartet signed to SubPop records, and have just released a full length Make up the Breakdown on October 8th.

In my circle of friends, the word around the campfire was that the original singer, Mark Marnick, was forced out of the band due to orders from SubPop when they signed to the label. Bays informed me differently: "We kind of parted ways with him probably about a year before we signed to Subpop. It was mainly was because we wanted to have melodic vocals, and he couldn't do that, and I was doing that on my own time, we just combined and mixed it with the old Heat. Subpop signed us because they liked our demo, which we made after Matt had left the band."

Victoria is a very beautiful, distinctive place, having visited there in my younger days. This has influenced the Heat's sound, image and how they look at things as a band. Bays relates: "Victoria is a really creative place and were use to a lot of effort put into architecture and art. I think the that were isolated by being on an island, it meant that we didn't have a lot of access to the same influences as other people, there were really no other bands that could pose as mentors for the kind of music we were doing. It gave us an opportunity to carve our own path." Dustin Hawthorne, on bass, felt much the same way: "Being from Victoria, it's distinct, right? Because we're on an island, we're a bit isolated, and there's not a ton of outside influence."

Obviously, like all bands today, the Heat have their fair share of influences. XTC, U2, The Cure and the Clash are commonly cited as HHH's roots. Each member was influenced by listening to tunes at an early age and presently groove to other various styles and tastes. "Really, we listen to everything" explains Bays, "anything that had good pop hooks, whether it was Billy Joel or Michael Jackson, or Elvis Costello, or the Beatles, or the Stones. Those were the major ones." Paul Hawlsey, HHH's skin basher, took a trip down memory lane as a music lover :"My first real love was show tunes when I was 7 to 10. Then I started playing guitar and drums when I was 10 or 11, and it was basically rock after that. I've always liked classic rock, for a while I drummed in a metal band, played guitar, bass in funk bands, bad rock bands, punk bands. What am I listening to now? We were listening to Eminem earlier, his new album, I think he raised the bar for hip hop." "When I was a kid, my parents had an extensive record collection," remembers Dustin Hawthorne. "They listened to mostly rock, like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and AC/DC, driving rock. When I got to the age of 10 or so, I was really into skateboarding, I decided that I wanted to get into music more seriously, and I didn't know what to listen to, so Thrasher magazine influenced me, I would open it up and see ads for Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, it got me into punk rock. Now I'm pretty eclective, mind you, I think I probably hate more then I do like. Right now, I listen to a lot of hip-hop, avant-garde hip hop, anything on the SubRock label. I like metal, like Slayer. I like post-rock/post-punk, like Gang of Four, the Contortions. It's totally all over the place." Dante Decaro, on six-string, is in agreement: "I mean we listened to punk, we listened to hardcore, and that's where we come from, that whole kind of the world. We still listen to a lot of the same stuff, we listen to a lot of other stuff, too, we have a wider range of musical influences and those are our roots."

Music is best heard, not described, yet something in me made me ask member of HHH a very valuable question on everybody's minds: "How would you describe your music to your grandmother?" "I describe it to her all the time, she always forgets" retorts Steve Bays. "I think I just say its pop/rock music, or something. I either try to water it down, or I make it seem like its just thrash noise. She actually came and saw our band play when we played with Sloan in Ontario and she just complained that she couldn't hear the lyrics." Dustin Hawthorne tackled the monster of a question with humor: "(laughs) Just Rock. Rock n' Roll. That's the easiest thing for her to grasp. I could be like, well, you kind of take things from XTC, and mix it in with... It's like Rock, and she's like, "Oh, OK, Rock n'Roll, I know." She's more concerned about what I'm doing after the show than with the music."

You can tell a lot about a person by his musical preferences, so I had to find out more about the personalities of HHH, judging by my homemade test. Steve and Dante prefer the Beatles to the Stones, although Dustin felt strongly about his Stones pride: "I Haaate the Beatles! That'll probably cause a riot somewhere. (laughs) THE ROLLING STONES!" Paul and Dante both would rather hear a Bowie tune over a Lou Reed diddy. Paul and Dante prefer Strummer's deep Clash bellow to Rotan's rasping razor Pistol edge, which appealed more to Dustin. Paul chose the Strokes while Dustin and Dante fancied the sounds of the good ole' Swedish stomp of the Hives. Dustin and Dante favored the punk style over mod wear, and Paul was undecided. Judging by the evidence, Hot Hot Heat don't listen to enough Motorhead or the Stooges, as Paul was an Iggy fan, Dustin only chose Lemmy because he witnessed Motorhead in concert, and Dante didn't know enough to answer. Back in black was the final preference; the choice was Sabbath or Flag. Paul and Dante chose Ozzy, while Dante, usually the odd man out, preferred Rollins howl. The different tastes of HHH are apparent in Bays' love of the Beatles to bassist Dustin Hawthorne's disgust of them. Each member of Hot Hot Heat are all very different, in tastes and personalities, much like the Who, with its tornado of contradicting personas.

The Canadian music scene is a different world than the American music scene; it receives far less praise and recognition than the American scene on a worldwide basis. This could cause embarrassment among Canadian artists. "Canada in general kinda has a bad rep in general", explains Bays. "We were just watching the South Park movie and the whole thing is like kinda poking fun at Canadians. As far as the Canadian music scene goes, some of the bands are a little behind the times- the US and the UK seem to be the trend setting countries. The main problem is that it takes a long time to get from city to city." Paul optimistically shares "I feel positive about the way that things are getting better now. I think there's a lot of cool rock bands, punk bands. Its kind of a new generation of kids who, grew up with s***** Canadian rock (ala Kim Mitchell) and Glass Tiger, who never took Canada seriously. I think there's a good contingent of people across this land that represent a new way of thinking. Music is a global thing, I've never thought of it as a Canadian thing. Also, The fact that in the States, nobody acknowledges it, to think there are so many bands working the Canadian circuit and on MuchMusic, and they only ever do anything in Canada. They might receive quite a bit of praise, and might make a good living, but it's embarrassing to think that what there doing is only in Canada." Dustin adds: "There are a lot of bands that are really embarrassing. But I think that one of the main things that's embarrassing is bands that never make it out of Canada, that never go south of the border or to Europe, it's called Canadiana. There's a lot of bands, like the Tea Party. You go down south, even in Seattle, this girl that we know, we ask her if she's ever heard of the Tea Party and she's like "What? Who?" But I guess they make a good enough living doing it in Canada, so all the more power to them." Dante DeCaro, curt as usual, feels the most embarrassing aspect of the Canadian music scene is "the guy from Moist." Truly, Hot Hot Heat are positive, yet realistic, about the challenges of being Canadian artists.

Hot Hot Heat have toured across Canada and the United States, in part, and are slated to travel most of North America presently. The Heat have seen firsthand the differences between the Great White North and its Yankee neighbor. Steve recounts: "A lot of people refer to Canada as a big California in terms of how many people there are. In the US, you can play a lot more shows in a shorter amount of time, and there's just more kids in general. But as far as the intelligence of the indie music fans, the Canadians are just as smart as the Americans, if not smarter, in a lot of ways. Canadian music fans have an advantage because they have to seek out the music they want to hear, it makes them more eclectic music fans." "One big thing is that in the States," transmits Dante, "they have a lot of all ages bars, because the drinking age is 21, more than in Canada, which is really interesting, the all ages atmosphere, in a bar or club. I really like those shows."

Hot Hot Heat's Make up the Breakdown and is now currently listed at 10th place on CMJ New Music charts, quite an accomplishment. Dustin and Dante had a blast working with the famous Jack Endino. "The coolest thing was hearing the Kurt and Courtney stories," explains Dustin. "He's a perfectionist, very meticulous. He would make us redo songs like 10 times, cause we thought it was the perfect take, but he'd say 'no, its not,' but the final product was great. He's a legend, and he's really good at his craft." Dante was in agreement, "He's an incredibly intelligent person, and he got really good performances out of us."

Subpop is a label with much history and hype. The Heat really like it at Subpop and feel a sense of belonging. "Subpop's great," relates Dustin, "and in terms of Subpop, the roster is incredibly eclectic, they have bands from alt-country to Mudhoney, they are across the spectrum in terms of the music they put out, and they've been nothing but great to us."

Hot Hot Heat have there own style of dress, such as shaggy hair and old school vintage wear. In the world of indie rock, this has become more acceptable lately, I asked them what they wear and what they see the populace sporting. Steve describes, "We like to be creative. I don't think there are any rules, like if you listen to this kind of music then you should pay attention. I just don't like to think that punk rock is about wearing the same safety pins as everyone else, or the same Sex Pistols shirt, its 2002, and things are always changing, were taking a bit from the past but were also doing our own thing. I'd like to think that people can experiment without saying that there starting a new trend." Dante is a bit more shameless in his fashion escapades: "A lot of our clothes are from old standard thrift stores, but some of it, we buy girls jeans, big secret."

A visit to Hot Hot Heat's website will provide you with a links section to other peer bands like fellow Canadians Hawksley Workman (profiled elsewhere in PSF this month), Red Light Sting and the Liars, just to name a few. HHH have mixed feelings regarding other bands having the same vision as them. "I like to think that every band has its own vision," explains Paul. "Every band would like to see themselves somewhere. We haven't actually played with the Pattern, but we thought we'd throw them just because we were touring with them. The Liars are great- the Liars show and their disc is great. I like Hawksley, too, but we never played with Hawksley. I think we have kind of a freaky vision, a lot of people are kind of shocked by it." Dustin relates: "We toured with 3 Inches of Blood and they are absolutely stellar in terms of the people and the band, there absolutely great, there pretty much at the same level as we are in terms of us in what they want to do, the goal." Dante had similar thoughts, "We really like the Walkmen, and the Liars. There's something that's similar with all those bands, a similar mindset... I think were on the same wavelength."

Having seen HHH perform three times in the last quarter year, I can safely say that the energy and melody of these four young Victorians makes you want to dance. The only complaints that I have are that some keyboard parts are at times too embellished, a minor complaint at best. Hot Hot Heat are a solid live band. Check out the Heat in your hometown. If the frigid autumn weather is giving you the blues, a dose of some Hot Hot Heat could be the cure.

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