By Alec Wooden
Now in their second decade as one of Canada’s finest musical exports, there aren’t many places Hot Hot Heat hasn’t been. International tours. Their music in movies. TV. Commercials. Video Games. Three EPs and nearly twice as many LPs. To be sure, they’ve been busy since their 1999 inception. Not that there’s any thought of slowing down; as leader Steve Bays points out, they’re probably the most comfortable they have been at any point in that stretch. Fresh off the June release of Future Breeds, the band’s latest studio album, Bays discusses the new record, his favorite Canadian artist and which song he always wishes he’d written.
Talk about Future Breeds. Are you happy with the way it came out?
This was the first time we’ve had the confidence to make an album without asking for the opinions or help of a producer, engineer or record label. This blurred the line between writing, rehearsing, experimenting and recording so it has a strange energy that I don’t hear on many records. The older I get, the more important it is to me to carve out a unique little niche in the world and create a musical identity that will stand a chance at resonating beyond just the album cycle. I need to feel like we’re doing something that represents freedom of expression and rebellion from the restrictions of the typical rock machine, and I think Future Breeds pushes us closer towards those goals.
How does it fit as the next step in your discography?
Most bands tend to steadily decline in hunger and strength, but I think this record is our most fierce. I feel like Future Breeds maintains the hunger, rebellion, anger and frustration that we haven’t forgotten from our youth, but combines the kind of ideas that we couldn’t have come up with without the confidence of time under our belt. There’s a philosophy behind the music that we take very seriously, but we still remind ourselves (and possibly more than ever now) that our main goal is still to have fun, entertain people and provide a little escapism.
Some bands prefer the “pressure” vibe in the studio – trying to cram it all into a small amount of time and making sure it gets done in a certain block. Others prefer to let it ride over a while, take their time, and let things create slowly. All external factors being equal, which do you prefer?
With music I like working with other people – but only if they have an excitable, child-like, eccentric energy. With the production side of things (like editing or mixing) and with writing lyrics, and often singing, I prefer to be left alone and work on my own clock. I think I am too polite to not consider other people’s ideas, so when I’m around people I have to be prepared to listen. When nobody is around to give me ideas, then there are no ideas to consider that might steer down a different path. I like to go down the rabbit hole because the deeper I go down (without interruption) the more likely it is that something will come out that would otherwise never be discovered. When I listen to most of the songs that make it to the album, I often can’t relate to the state of mind that went in to writing them because they usually come from a moment in time where a bolt of lightning hit for reasons unknown.
What’s the biggest difference between HHH of 2000 and that of 2010?
We still use primarily an old 80’s Juno-6 keyboard; except now, after a bunch of ’em breaking on flights, I use a keyboard that triggers samples of every key that I’ve recorded. It’s way better in my opinion because it sounds exactly the same but combine it with way more real-time effects that I play with on the fly, like tape delay and bit crusher distortion.
Having toured all over, do you prefer a certain region of the world to others?
We LOVE South America and can’t wait to return! As for the U.S., the further south the better!
What are you guys like as a band on the road? How has that changed over the years?
We definitely like to hit the town and make the most of every day and night. We make heavy party music so I think it’s our obligation to not get too soft.
What’s the biggest misconception fans have about a band’s life on the road?
At the end of the day, it’s all about the show experience. What’s the one thing you hope every fan takes away from every HHH show?
I think it’s thrilling to watch a band that has been honing their craft for many years – because it’s rare to see anyone sticking with any one thing for 10 or more years. We just did some shows with Weezer and the one thing I realized that is great about bands like them is that after a certain point the entertainment factor grows exponentially.
As a general rule, what inspires you lyrically (or is there such a thing as a general rule for that)?
People! I love people watching and there is limitless ways to translate what is happening around all of us. I tend to levitate towards otherwise unacknowledged little things that I feel should be given more appreciation.
What’s a song that, every time you hear it, makes you say “Man, I wish I’d written that”?
“Man In Me,” from New Morning, Bob Dylan.
If you had to choose between a vinyl collection or an iPod for the rest of your life, which would it be? Why?
As someone who is (sadly) rarely at home, I actually listen to way more music now thanks to the iPhone. When I had an iPod, I never thought to always take it with me, but with the phone, it’s already on me! I try to make a point of only putting a dozen albums or so on my phone so that I’m forced to actually digest them.
Who’s your favorite Canadian artist (that’s not yourself, of course)?
Ryan Dahle. That’s why we asked him to mix and master our record. He’s not really a dedicated mixer, but he pays so much attention to detail, we ended up proposing the challenge of mixing our album to him, and he bit. He mixed it like a musician, not a rock mixer, which is what I like.
The best album you’ve heard this year is ______.
A guy gave me his CD when we played Newfoundland last weekend. Turns out it’s amazing! Like early Rye Coalition meets No Means No and Jesus Lizard. Someone should sign em! Colonel Craze & The Hunch and their album is Reptilian Lipstick.
How has your outlook on your “job” changed over the years? How has it not changed at all?
You must LOVE music and find pleasure in refining your craft; because, there needs to be something beyond just glory that satisfies you about playing every night. Every time we play we treat it as practice as well; it’s important to keep improving every night – otherwise a tour seems monotonous. Also, there’s not much money to be made, so you have to be comfortable with being paid in adventure, experience and travel. Party, but not so hard you can’t explore the cities during the day. Be careful who you choose to date, but get what you gotta get outta your system… because that’s important too. The main con is that you pretty much have to devote 99 percent of your spare time, if you plan on even standing a chance. The pro is that being in a band lets you stay young at heart. That’s one of the best things. I feel like I’m 18!
Hot Hot Heat play Rock and Roll Hotel with Hey Rosetta!, September 3.