Going All The Way Up

Charleston City Paper | September 20, 2005
I think any time a band signs to a major label they’re making a statement to the world that they think they’re capable of doing things on a world scale,” says drummer Paul Hawley of Hot Hot Heat.

Three years and one major lineup change after making a big splash in ’02 with the album Make Up The Breakdown (Sub Pop), Canadian alternative-rock band Hot Hot Heat are reassembled, focused, and keen on causing a serious uproar across North America.

Fronted by singer-keyboardist Steve Bays, the band recently signed with Sire Records and collaborated with famed studio producer Dave Sardy (Jet, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Walkmen) in a country home studio just outside their home town of Victoria, British Columbia.

“There were never any arguments when we did what we did for the best interest of the song,” says Hawley. “All my drum parts were put together with the idea of playing the song. We all tried to think of ideas to make the songs sound as good as they possibly could, rather than overplaying our own parts. We were all on the same page with Dave Sardy, which was great because we’d never had the chance to really spend a lot of time in a studio and work with a producer like this.”

The group recorded more than two dozen songs and polished the final collection down to 12 rhythmically unpredictable, melodic new-new-wave rock tunes. The Heat finally released the collection this year under the title Elevator.

“We figured there were two ways to record a second [full-length] album,” says Steve Bays. “You can do more or less than what you did before, which works for some bands. Or, you can experiment, grow and change, which is the approach we took. What we discovered in the process was that, while we were taking huge steps forward musically, we were also coming full circle back to the style and sound that had brought us together in the first place. What we ended up with was a heightened version of what we’ve been doing from the beginning.”

Inspired by the work ethic of the more successful indie-rock bands of the Vancouver and Northwest scenes, Hot Hot Heat formed in the late ’90s. They started writing and performing a smart and witty style of power-pop — most of which was inspired by the same classic Brit punk and “new wave” acts of the late ’70s and early ’80s that touched such contemporaries as Spoon, The Strokes, and The Hives.

In front of the tight and punchy rhythm work, Steve Bays’ emotive singing style and breathy delivery propel much of the work on Elevator — from the catchy, handclapping party tracks “Running Out of Time,” “Middle of Nowhere,” and “You Owe Me an IOU” to the darker, more post-punkish “Goodnight Goodnight” and “Pickin’ It Up.”

“I think Steve sings with a lot more power and confidence than most singers I’ve seen,” says the drummer. “He lays it on the line. If you put your lyrics and your work as clearly out in the open as he does, people are either going to love it or criticize it. I think it takes a lot of guts to go out there and be so bold and he definitely takes some knocks for it.”

The band released a string of independently produced singles and EPs (Scenes One Through Thirteen and Knock Knock Knock) before working on their first major studio effort with producer Jack Endino, known best for his work with Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and other Seattle-area bands.

Bays, Hawley, bassist Dustin Hawthorne, and guitarist Dante DeCaro began working on material for the new album in Dec. 2003, immediately after a year of intensive international touring. According to Bays, the band spent five months “jamming during the day and writing new songs at night.”

Upon the session’s completion, the band said good-bye to DeCaro, welcomed guitarist Luke Paquin and focused on the release and promotion of their major label debut. Hot Hot Heat knew the major, intercontinental push by the label publicists and agents was leading them to new ground.

“We’re definitely doing more radio shows and getting more airplay. I don’t want to sound too ambitious, but we are trying to reach an audience,” says Hawley, speaking from his parent’s house in Victoria the day before the current tour kicked off. “I think we’ve managed to hang on to our older fans. When our first record came out it was a lot of sort of hipsters and stuff. They might not be so stoked on the way we’ve been moving, commercially. But I think our fans in general respect us and support us. The more you establish yourself and the better quality of the work, the more people get psyched about it.”

“I think it demonstrates that we’re more dynamic and we do things and can go places that we couldn’t before,” he adds. “We’re better players and I think we’re better writers. These songs have a different take on our world. We’re different people and we’ve grown up a bit.”��

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