The Canadian foursome Hot Hot Heat burst onto the indie rock scene in 2002 with the terrific Make Up the Breakdown, following it up three years later with the more sophisticated Elevator. Last week, Hot Hot Heat released Happiness LTD, which signifies the band's continued growth. Bullz-Eye spoke with bassist Dustin Hawthorne about the new album, what it's like touring with Snow Patrol, and which Hot Hot Heat song he wishes was never written.
Bullz-Eye: Where are you right now?
Dustin Hawthorne: I'm sitting in the Warner Brothers office in Burbank, California -- North Hollywood. Very shitty place. Don't ever come here if you don't have to.
BE: Getting ready for your tour this week, aren't you?
DH: You betcha. Well, we're kind of in the midst of a tour. We just ended up in L.A. for a little while for the record release. We've got four or five days here, something like that.
BE: How do you decide if you're going to do a club tour or open at bigger venues?
DH: It depends on what they put on our plate. If you get a co-headlining tour that is undeniably a really good opportunity to get new fans, you got to take it. It's really stupid not to. So that's usually what it is. We haven't done our own headlining tour in the U.S. for a while, so we're going to do that, coming up.
BE: Which do you prefer?
DH: It really depends on what band you're teamed up with. We went out with Snow Patrol and that's kind of a weird match, like in terms of musical styles or whatever. Those guys are actually really cool guys, which is pretty awesome. That made it definitely worthwhile. But the crowds were a little on the tough side to win over. But, I think, all in all, it was definitely a good thing because we made fans out of people who have never necessarily heard of us before. Even if it's like 15 people in the crowd are like, "That was a cool band," you know, 15 people times 10 or 15 shows, you make 300 or 400 new fans. Every night was a fight. I would go up there and pretend that the crowd wasn't there and that I was having the time of my life.
BE: All right, so you have a new album coming out tomorrow. After Make Up the Breakdown, it took you almost three years to release Elevator, but just over two to release this one. How did you shave off those months?
DH: I think a lot of it had to do with making songs while we were on tour, taking the time during sound checks to write songs. When we came back from Make Up the Breakdown, we didn't write any songs at all, so after [the tour] was finished it was like we were starting from square one and we had to make a record in a set amount of time. Also, the recording process seemed to take a little longer for Elevator. There are also delays and a bunch of bureaucratic bullshit, which is involved with the music industry itself. It's just difficult. It happens, it's not like it's anyone's fault. So when we did Happiness LTD, we had almost half of it written.
BE: Are you planning to write on this tour?
DH: We haven't started yet, but I'm assuming it's probably going to take place in the near future. You know, being prolific, creative people, it's bound to happen at some point.
BE: I just watched your "making of" videos on YouTube.
DH: Ah, cool.
BE: It seems like the group has a good creative friction going.
BE: How did the writing process go this time?
DH: It's never easy when you've got four ego-driven assholes trying to make songs together, trying to outshine each other. It's definitely trying, but the fruition, in my opinion, comes from the friction, so to speak, to quote you.
BE: It seems like Elevator was viewed as an expansion of the band's sound. What are you going for with Happiness LTD?
DH: I guess to expand it even further, I don't know. There are a bunch of grandiose strings all over the place. It was kind of like that but it was also like we kind of wanted to go back to being that upbeat -- not necessarily punk -- band we were. I guess we were trying to mix Elevator with Make Up the Breakdown, but not trying to go back or regress. We tried to progress. The general idea was trying to make more of an upbeat, rocking record.
BE: It's upbeat definitely, but it seems a little darker, lyrically. Why do you think that is?
DH: Yeah, Steve (Bays, singer) got fucked over by a chick. That's why.
BE: How do you decide which tracks make the album? Is it a democracy, is it a monarchy -- how does it work?
DH: That's tough, because there are songs on the record that I didn't want at all, but they ended up making their way on there. The thing is, you've got so many cooks in the kitchen, you've got people at the label, you've got management, you've got the band and then you've got your friends' opinions, and it just gets to be a little messy. But I think, all in all, it's more leans towards a democracy. Majority rules is basically how it works.
BE: So how many tracks do you typically write for an album? I know that there are 11 that made it.
DH: Oh, man, we had two records recorded. I think it was verging on 30 at one point.
BE: Do you anticipate going back to any of those tracks?
DH: Maybe at some point if it works out, maybe we'll release a full B-sides record with a bunch of crap that didn't quite make it. There are a lot of really cool songs that we made that didn't make the record, but we'd definitely like to release at some point.
BE: If you don't mind I'd like to throw out the names of a few of your tracks and maybe you can comment about any memories you have about writing the song or what it's like to play live.
BE: "This Town."
DH: We usually play that as the first song in the encore. It's got kind of a Led Zeppelin "D'yer Maker" chorus in it, that kind of slight reggae sounding song that they have off of Houses of the Holy.
BE: "Oh Godamnit."
DH: That started when Steve got his first Macintosh computer. He got a crack copy of Cubase with it, and started to fuck around, recording stuff with it. And he recorded the verse -- the lyrics are actually the same from when he recorded it. And then we thought it was a cool little song, so we put it together, and I wrote that super-bouncy bass line to it, which I think kind of made the song into what it was. We don't play it live anymore.
BE: Well, you should!
DH: I know. You know, at some point we probably will. You're eight months into a tour and you're bored with all the songs, so you start playing other songs just to kind of keep it fresh.
BE: "Middle of Nowhere."
DH: I hate that song and I wish it was never written.
DH: I can't deny that it definitely did something good for our career, for sure. But, to me, it's adult contemporary. And it's kind of funny to me, because I grew up playing punk and here I am playing this jackass-sounding song. (Laughs)
BE: How about "Dirty Mouth"? Do you like that one?
DH: I do, actually. That's a lot of fun, because it's four on the floor, driving the whole way through.
BE: Steve emailed me after I reviewed Elevator and he said he always regretted putting it on side two. He thought it didn't get enough props.
DH: It's fun. It's a highlight for sure. It's one of the songs on Elevator that to this day, I still really enjoy playing. We actually have a touring musician with us now, so he plays the acoustic guitar intro, so it sounds a lot like the record, which is pretty cool.
BE: "Happiness LTD"
DH: We've yet to play that live, so I can't comment on that. But the end of it, when it stops and then it breaks. Like, it's got a really cool piano sweep and then it just breaks. That took place in the studio that we recorded at in Vancouver, and the idea behind it was that it was the last night we had the studio and we just bought, like, 20 kegs of beer and invited all of our friends down. We got them to stand in the main live room. Everybody was just drunk and partying and having a good time. Everybody just chanted and sang it. Like there are 30 or 40 people singing that part.
BE: That track has a great opening bass line.
DH: Oh, thanks.
BE: What's your favorite track on the new album?
DH: I like "My Best Fiend." That's my favorite one.
BE: That's about all I have. Thank you for your time and good luck with the tour.
DH: Thank you.