Long before bands like The Killers and Franz Ferdinand even formed, there were Hot Hot Heat. The Vancouver-based new-wave outfit, perhaps best known for its floppy-haired lead singer and buoyant, pogo-ready rhythms, was one of the first groups to revive the now ubiquitous keyboard-based dance rock sound, paving the way for similar radio-friendly outfits such as La Roux, Shiny Toy Guns, and even MGMT.
Now, some seven years, four records, and five members out from their breakthrough release, Make Up the Breakdown, Hot Hot Heat are hitting the road in support of album number five. The recently released, impeccably titled Future Breeds may boast Hot Hot Heat’s name and lead singer Steve Bays’s signature yelpy speak-sing, but for the most part, that’s where the similarities end.
“We started this album not even calling it a Hot Hot Heat [record],” says Bays. “It was [drummer] Paul [Hawley] and I, and he and I have been the main songwriters since day one, so I thought, ‘Why don’t we just make this a two-piece side project?’ But then we kind of missed working with our guitar player [Luke Paquin], so we brought him in—but we also brought in a lot of other musicians. … There’s not really a defined arrangement anymore.”
With a newly built studio now in their clutches, the band was also able to get really experimental with sounds. Take, for example, the frenetic soon-to-be single “Goddess on the Prairie,” which kicks off with a “Turning Japanese”-style guitar solo before turning into a stop-start rock ’n’ roll thrasher. Or the clap- and chant-along “Jedidiah,” which falls somewhere in between Devo and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros in style and sound. Elsewhere, title track “Future Breeds” aims and succeeds at a slow-burning post-punk number, complete with whacked-out synth noises and guitar distortion.
“The band’s changed a lot over the years,” asserts Bays. “There are benefits to sticking with the same band for a long time, but there’s also a lot of disadvantages. Maybe someone who heard us in 1999 and didn’t think twice about it, we have to grab his or her attention again, 10 years later. You need to really switch it up a lot.”
Currently, Bays is trying to reconcile just how big Hot Hot Heat’s switch can be, explaining that the live show ultimately became the main reason for scaling Future Breeds’ instrumental cacophony back a bit. “You can take it only so far before you start to need backing tracks,” he explains. Now, with the album in the bag, Bays is trying to determine how out there everything else can get. He and the band spent the night prior to our chat out in the high desert north of Los Angeles, shooting a “really weird” video for the aforementioned “Goddess on the Prairie.” Due to the heavy amount of editing that’s planned for the vid, Bays can’t say much, though he does tell me that he and his fellow Hot Hot Heaters are playing less-than-savory characters—and that one of the leads from Rocky makes an appearance. “There’s just definitely—I don’t think I’ll get approval from my immediate family for this stuff,” he laughs.
Mom’s blessing or no, Future Breeds may be the record that reignites Hot Hot Heat’s career. It’s an idea that Bays seems both excited and cautiously anxious about—at least couched in terms of the video. “It’s all about the fine line when it comes to pushing something in a new direction out of your comfort zone, so I’m just scared to think about it.”
New Noise Santa Barbara and 92.9 KJEE present Hot Hot Heat at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) this Friday, August 20, at 8 p.m. with openers Hey Rosetta and 22-20’s. For tickets and info, call 965-8676, or visit newnoisesb.com.