There are two paths a band can take: The one that adheres to convention or one that denies it. Hot Hot Heat has always taken the latter, breaking new ground in what is sonically possible throughout their storied career. When the band formed in 1999 in Victoria, British Columbia, the musicians were interested in rebelling against the norm and in creating songs that would generate excitement and energy while invoking an edgy pop sensibility. The result was fervent dance rock, the sort of music that impels you to move along with it, and Hot Hot Heat was at the forefront of what became a massive musical movement in the early ‘00s.
Hot Hot Heat’s new self-titled album, their fifth full-length, punctuates that career. It’s the final release from a band that has innovated and explored, reminding the listener of what they’ve built since the group unveiled their debut album Make Up The Breakdown in 2002. Written between 2011 and 2014, the band moved away from the experimental sensibility they investigated on 2010’s Future Breeds and looked back toward their first two albums for inspiration. The idea was to be as natural as possible and get in touch with their inherent skill for songwriting. After penning a batch of songs, the band gathered in 2014 to record the ten best with Canadian musician and producer Ryan Dahle, who worked on Future Breeds, in frontman Steve Bays and Ryan’s adjoining studios.
“We wanted it to feel cohesive and representative of the aesthetic we were into at that point,” says Steve, who co-produced the album with Ryan. “We wanted it to feel like it was all the same album even though it had been written over several years. The songs are the ten songs we were the most excited about in the moment. The idea behind the album was: If you want to try and do something great, it can only be when the inspiration hits.”
Hot Hot Heat’s signature style pervades the songs, rousing and bursting with infectious energy. “Kid Who Stays in the Picture,” a song Steve penned about parting ways with a best friend, is a propulsive, angular indie rock number, while “Pulling Levers” meditates on a similar subject, reflecting on how you can become so different from someone you’ve known. “Modern Mind,” a brash, swaggering dance rock song, asks questions about the concept of the future and presents itself as an ode to art and technology. “Bobby Jones Sex Tape,” a post-punk track filled with swirling synths and a hand-clapped beat, gives the album a sense of boisterous momentum, particularly in its buoyant, hook-laden chorus, while “Magnitude” draws on the band’s simpler tendencies, creating what Steve calls a “sentimental, pretty song.” “The older I get, the more I like music that is pretty and music that shows vulnerability,” the singer notes. “I think you can hear that throughout these songs.”
It’s the sort of final album you’d expect from Hot Hot Heat, one that is as pop hook-heavy as it is edgy and unpredictable. It bookends the band’s career in a way that makes you want to revisit the entirety of their back catalogue, a reminder of their contribution to the indie rock music scene that emerged in the early ‘00s and continues today. The musicians, who have been pursuing other projects for the past few years, will always make music and always invest in creativity, even if it’s not in this venue. Their career is one that the members of Hot Hot Heat will always remember as deeply fulfilling.
“To be able to tour from 1999 to 2014 and play hundreds of shows a year was amazing,” Steve says. “It changed all of our lives. It was the greatest experience I could ever imagine. I can relate to our fans and I respect our fans. They are the kind of people I’d hang out with. I’m proud of every single record, and of finding the ground between making it challenging and fresh, but also not being afraid to be entertaining and put on a crazy show. Every show we ever did was just a total high energy spectacle and that’s a great legacy to have.”