- Big Break: Hot Hot Heat's high-strung debut landed the band a big record deal and Beck's manager.
"'Cool' audiences are boring," announces Hot Hot Heat drummer Paul Hawley, a man who should know. His heavily hyped band is at the front of the "new" new- wave revival, and in the past year, has landed both a major-label deal and big-time management. Despite all this, Hawley and company are still getting used to suddenly being a part of the in-crowd, and they haven't exactly warmed up to the kind of hipster detachment that many of-the-moment bands are greeted with. "We'd much rather see people going nuts," Hawley explains, "so we go a little nuts, in order to set the tone."
More and more folks are beginning to follow Hot Hot Heat's lead. Since the original release of the Canadian quartet's debut, Make Up the Breakdown, on Sub Pop last year, Hot Hot Heat has gotten much . . . hotter. Star manager Jim Guerinot added the band to his roster, alongside small fry such as Beck and No Doubt, while the suits at Hot Hot Heat's new label, Warner Bros./Reprise, liked Make Up the Breakdown so much, they decided to re-release it.
Hot Hot Heat is so hot, in fact, that Hawley has to squeeze in this interview while technically on a lunch break from other, more demandingly glamorous promotional activities.
"It's exciting," he says, munching his sandwich thoughtfully as he talks about the demands of being The Next Big Thing. "I think every band dreams, at least a little, about a moment like this, and if you can remember that, it takes some of the edge off the madness.
"But the other side of it is, we're sort of in the eye of the storm. We try very hard to stay grounded in the music -- and going on tour is great for that. It's hard for the hype to go to your head, when you're holed up in a bus all day and gigging every night."
This absence of bratty attitude may be surprising from a pack of 24-year-olds poised to break big, but as Hawley recalls, congeniality runs deep in the band's history.
"We all grew up around this tiny little punk scene in Victoria," he says, in reference to the band's hometown near Vancouver. "There was so much attitude for, like, no reason. It was kind of intimidating, which is ridiculous . . ." He pauses long enough to polish off the last bite of his lunch. "By the time we fired the original singer and brought Dante [DeCaro] on, we were all pretty set on making our shows fun."
The band has been doing that for close to four years now. Formed with few long-term aspirations in 1999 as a noisy synth-punk troupe whose aim it was to play parties and make racket, Hot Hot Heat quickly developed into a much more sophisticated pop combo. Keyboardist Steve Bays took over vocal duties for the departed Matt Marnik in 2001, the band enlisted guitarist DeCaro, and Hot Hot Heat issued the brash, witty EP "Knock Knock Knock" in early 2002. Snatched up by Sub Pop shortly thereafter, Hot Hot Heat's giddy, uninhibited Make Up the Breakdown followed last fall.
"I think of our music as a kind of laboratory for all our different influences and personalities to come together," Hawley says of the wild, unbounded nature of his band's music. "I mean, there are things we all agree about musically -- Zeppelin, Stones, the Contortions, Nirvana -- but, me, for example, I've probably got a hundred records in my collection that none of the other guys would be into, but I bring my taste into what we do together, and it turns into something else."
Hawley's mad-scientist metaphor is so pitch-perfect, he is promptly forced to swear -- twice -- that it's unrehearsed. Listening to Make Up, though, it's clear that his words offer more than mere hyperbole: The album is a bit like spending 32 minutes with a six-year-old on a sugar freakout -- you have to get with the energy in order to keep up. Indeed, Make Up gives you back your youth: "Oh, Goddamnit," all bouncy guitar squiggles, spastic Hammond, and Bays's nasal taunting, is the musical equivalent of bouncing around on a trampoline, and the only thing tethering "Bandages" to the ground is its growling riffs and Hawley's muscular kit-pounding.
"We were talking about how we wanted to have a sleazy sort of classic-rock song," Hawley says of "Bandages," "and Dante made up this guitar riff, and we were just laughing, because it was so Stonesy. But then Steve added the keyboard part, and it came together in this completely different way. Most of our songs happen that way -- from us thinking we did something dumb -- but it works."
Hot Hot Heat's members may come off as goofballs having fun, but in "serious" times it was probably inevitable that someone out there would take them too seriously: The band garnered free publicity in England recently when the BBC added "Bandages" to a list of censored songs because of its vague reference to bodily harm.
"It's not totally banned," Hawley explains. "Apparently, it just can't be played in close proximity to news updates -- 'bandages' must be too provocative a word for sensitive young English ears," he adds with a chuckle.
"In a weird way, it's kind of gratifying, being banned -- like, obviously, if it occurs to some radio programmer that your song might be offensive, then the music must be making an impact."
Now that's cool.