Hot Hot Heat Lets The Going Get Weird – And Likes It

Saturday, 31 July 2010

When a band first breaks into the big time, everyone gets excited – including the band. It's a big deal; breaking out of the underground and scoring a bunch of additional exposure is a validation of a band's efforts to that point because, in effect, they've sold that record label they just signed with on their capabilities and they've sold listeners on their sound as being something new, unique and great. Of course it's exciting to get that kind of attention – every band hopes for it, but it isn't easy to manage. The catch after getting noticed by the public at large becomes how responsible and insecure a band might feel after the shine of getting noticed starts to come off.

That moment represents a significant crossroads for every band – that's when they either begin to push their own boundaries and challenge both themselves and their audience, or begin a decent that will find them worriedly making same-y records and pandering to an audience that may get sick of 'the same old thing' anyway. It was the crossroads that Hot Hot Heat found itself at shortly before the making of Future Breeds began, according to singer Steve Bays. “When even the idea of making Future Breeds came up, we didn't even know what was happening with the band,” confesses Bays candidly, recalling  the events that led up to the Future Breeds sessions. “I knew I had to build a studio regardless, but Paul [drummer Paul Hawley –ed] and I were making this music thinking that Future Breeds might be a side project. As we went along with it, we started to think, 'Wouldn't it be cool if this was the sound of the next Hot Hot Heat record?' We thought it would be funny and we called Luke [guitarist Luke Paquin –ed] and he joined the project again and we just started going super hard with it.

“We had all these words written down that we wanted it to be; like 'If we're going to do another Hot Hot Heat record, what do we want it to be?'” continues the singer. “The main thing was that it had to be weird. We didn't know what exactly that meant, but “Future Breeds” was one of the songs and, even from early on, I thought of the album as Future Breeds. I just liked the idea of each generation getting progressively more bizarre than the last and we thought that, if the music we were making before was one generation, this new stuff should be a whole lot different. Not that any of us thinks it sounds futuristic or anything like that, just that we didn't want it to sound like anything we had done before or another band had done before. At the same time, we were drawing from a lot of things from the Sixties and Seventies and Eighties and we were mixing and matching that into something that was totally new and fresh for us.”

At that point, two things happened: the band had its' epiphany and threw the rule book it had been playing by since forming in 1999 out the window – and the band felt liberated. Hot Hot Heat began to relish in the notion that they only had themselves to please and, because they only had themselves to please, the band members began trying every idea they'd ever wanted to try during the recording sessions. “I know it's not for everyone, but it was the first record we've ever done where, after it came out, I didn't feel like I was at the mercy of everyone's opinion,” beams Bays. “Like, if they liked it or if they didn't, I wasn't too worried because I knew in my heart that the two years we took making was probably the most fun I've ever had. To make a record that sort of tickles you in a way that you've never been tickled before is a daunting task if you say it out loud, but that's the good thing about building your own studio; you're able to play and play around until you get tickled in that way and you don't have to over-analyse it. [Making Future Breeds] was a couple of years in total, but part of that was because we were learning and making mistakes. We kept some of those mistakes, but we really had to go over them.

“We took the time and did exactly what we wanted, but it is a weird record [laughing]. Weird things come out when nobody's looking over your shoulder; weird things come out of your brain when there are no restrictions.”

Bays' stance on the record may be a little self-critical because, in listening to Future Breeds, the first thought about every moment that registers with the average listener may be one of shock, but it won't be one of revulsion. In fact, it could be said that, just as one man's “trash” is another man's “treasure,” one man's “weird” is another man's “genius.” That impression begins to manifest immediately as “YVR” blasts the record open like a cannon and knocks listeners right off their feet. Fans will be shocked; never before has guitarist Luke Paquin played with such ferocity or abandon while new recruit Parker Bosley's bass roars right out of the gate and Bays' keyboards set fire to eardrums, and the results are an infectious wonder from note one. Anyone within earshot will be asking the same question: “What got into Hot Hot Heat that prompted this?” The answer isn't exactly clear here, but there's no doubting that Hot Hot Heat has decided to step up to the plate and everything just fell into place at the same time. Songs including “Times A Thousand,” “Implosionatic,” “Zero Results,” “JFK's LSD” and “What Is Rational?” all brim with a cocksure and confrontational air as Paul Hawley's drums seem to bark and call listeners to attention before Paquin's guitars sail right past their ears and keyboards press power drills to temples to make a point. The effect of the band's single, solid attack is is exhilarating like a rollercoaster which is to say that while listeners are always able to see what's coming around every corner of Future Breeds' dozen tracks, they still feel compelled to scream in excitement when the adrenaline does hit them on a great big build or sobering synth squeal (as is the case in songs like “21@12” and “Implosionatic”). If those moments only came on occasion, they'd end up being the color that gives the record just a little extra push to keep listeners engaged but, because the thrills seem to come every fifteen to thirty seconds and really put the moments when Hot Hot Heat changes sounds dramatically (the squeal at both the beginning and end of “21@12” seems to command that listeners notice the far more organic sounds in between) into relief, the record gets launched clean over the top and will have listeners reaching for repeat plays. Long-time fans probably knew that the band had something like this in them, but never expected that such an album might ever surface because it is a pretty significant step out; for the first time Hot Hot Heat sounds genuinely urgent and lyrically captivating on Future Breeds. In discussion with the singer, it quickly becomes apparent that he feels the exact same way about the final product; he will hesitantly admit that what Hot Hot Heat has done on Future Breeds is create a sound and new paradigm that he's confident will sustain the band for a while. “We took about two years to make the record, but we did experiment a lot and a lot of that experimenting will also go into making future records and making them sound how we want them to sound,” says Bays. “We were just trying to figure out what our identity was and, because I was learning to both produce and engineer on this album, I needed to make sure that it was at least as good as our earlier stuff. I thought I could beat it and a lot of my favorite contemporary records have these really unique and rich sounds and I just wanted this to be that good so the bar was pretty high. It's not hard for us to come up with ideas, but I just wanted to present them in a way that was exciting and new. The really cool part of it has been how well it has been received. We just did a month in New York and a month in Los Angeles and I think they were all pretty much sold out shows and it feels like the new songs are actually going over better than the old songs which is really cool because it has given us the opportunity to do a lot more new stuff; normally, when you put out a new record, you only want to play, like, three or four new songs because people like the old ones but it seems like the new songs are going over really well on this one.”

As Future Breeds continues to exceed everyone's expectation in both sales and reception, so has Hot Hot Heat's concert schedule continued to grow; the band is currently staring down the barrel of an itinerary that stretches into the early winter months of 2010 and includes dates in Canada, the US and Europe, with talk of further touring to begin in early 2011. Even as all of that continues to take shape though, Bays says that the process of making Future Breeds has remained an inspiration and the band is already making plans for a follow-up release. “Nothing's set in stone just yet, but we definitely want to get back into our studio again,” says Bays excitedly. “There are a bunch of unfinished songs from the Future Breeds sessions that we thought were too weird to put out there but, now when I hear them, I'm kind of warming up to them. I mean, we've sort of accepted that we're a bunch of pretty weird guys that have weird ideas and, as long as it's fun, then it's cool. We don't ever want people to take the band too seriously because we want to be allowed to make music that doesn't need to make sense. You don't always need meaning; there are some lyrics on Future Breeds that might mean something to me, but I don't require people to think that we're saying some grandiose statement. At the end of the day, I just want it to be fun for people. We might start looking at some of those other songs that got left off of Future Breeds, but then we also might just start writing a whole new bunch of songs; we never really know before we start. It'll be exciting though, because I feel like not only do I know how to record a bit, but we all know what we're capable of now. A lot of the sound of Future Breeds was us trying to figure shit out so I think the next one will be a bit more confident, but I'm really not sure what shape it might take. We take what we do seriously but, at the same time, I don't think we ever know exactly what we're doing. The big thing about Future Breeds was that we wanted to present a lot of ideas and we wanted the thorns left on the rose – so every time it looked like it might get a little too polished or sound a little too nice, we'd go out of our way to keep the accidents, keep it weird and keep the mistakes. I think we're going to keep to that idea because we all really like how it turned out this time.”



Hot Hot Heat – “Goddess On The Prairie” – Future Breeds

Further Reading:

Future Breeds album review on Ground Control.

Future Breeds is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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