Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
It was years and years ago now, almost ten of them, that there were high school marching bands - even in rural Iowa - that learned the arrangement for Hot Hot Heat's "Bandages," from the Canadian band's debut album, "Make Up The Breakdown." It's hard to put that into perspective, really. Here was this band on a relatively indie label, Sub Pop, with its song being played by 15 and 16 year-olds in a strictly farming community. We're not dumb enough to make a statement to suggest that this happened pre-Internet, but damn if it wasn't far off. The Internet acting as a boundless portal to everything recorded available anywhere in the world was not happening yet. You still had to hunt for things and even then, there was so much that you didn't even know existed that you could hunt for. It was definitely a different time and for Hot Hot Heat, there was an opportunity to sound different and out of the norm without there being a chance for someone to find another band arching to be just like them at the touch of the fingertips. You can go onto your computer right now and find bands that have been around for months already that were originally influenced to play in a band by groups like Grizzly Bear and Toro Y Moi, or the Black Lips and the Vivian Girls. It's as if there's some weird and often unsettling, always accelerated time warp going on that shrinks the gestation period, or makes it perfectly allowable to begin the mockingbird treatment so much earlier because even prior to the release date of an album, it was in the slimy ear buds of the computer-aholics months and months earlier.
Luckily for Hot Hot Heat, the ability to copy its sound is harder than for most. You could point to Pacific Northwest band The Thermals or fellow Canadians Tokyo Police Club as having like-minded sonics, but with lead singer Steve Bays, HHH is outfitted with a distinctive voice that, while touched at with the above-mentioned acts, is still hard to duplicate. Bays sings with an affect to his voice that makes it seem as if he's eternally getting over a sinus infection, but does so with a bite and a churling energy that feels like the kind that the Mr. T Experience, Squirtgun and the rest of the incredible Lookout! Records stable was putting out in the 1990s and early 2000s. What "Make Up The Breakdown" did was it edited that brainy, not brawny punk rock spirit and combined it with stories of nightlife and clubbing - turning its attention from something akin to puppy love, to where it gets a little trickier and messier. Even with the band's latest album, "Future Breeds," there's a feeling of the nights closing in on us and there's a new feeling that Tim Kasher has been giving to his work with Cursive for years - that of the complex doom that picks and chooses. It's a feeling of being stranded, with a head that can't stop spinning. It's something that feels a bunch less young and a ton more serious.