Hot Hot Heat - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
The Strokes arguably opened the floodgate of retro indie rock bands dying to break the mainstream with equal success. The NYC quarter’s massive breakthrough album, Is This It? (2001 RCA) not only heralded a new age of mainstream acceptance for independent (or indie sounding) music but of a specific movement where the aping of past indie/alternative genres was the mission statement of the day. The Strokes fixation with sounding like The Velvet Underground certainly didn’t go unnoticed nor did Interpol’s obsession with Joy Division and Gang of Four or The Hives fetish for Iggy and the Stooges. Indie rock in the early 00’s was littered with bands spinning a modern take on the past, so it came as no big surprise when Hot Hot Heat took XTC’s post-punk meets New Wave formula to new heights of commercial success. Before the British Columbia based quartet had even released their debut full length they were already touted as the next big thing. When Make Up The Breakdown (Sub Pop) finally appeared in 2002, the band’s infectious pop energy and Steve Bays spastic Anglophile vocals easily won over a mainstream audience already turned on by the likes of The Strokes or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or The Vines, etc. The problem with this formula for success was the original genres this new breed of bands heavily emulated were short lived to begin with. The post punk movement of the late 70’s only lasted a few years, as did New Wave after it. By the time Hot Hot Heat delivered their sophomore effort, Elevator (Sire) in 2005 their style had already been supplanted by the epic stadium rock of The Killers and Coldplay. As was the case with most of the New Wave artists they imitated, Hot Hot Heat fell out of favor as soon as their genre did.
An early incarnation of Hot Hot Heat formed in 1999 as a synth based punk band with Steve Bays on keyboards and vocalist Matthew Marnik’s abrasive screaming acting as their signature sound. Marnik soon exited the group and Bays took over vocal duties with guitarist Dante DeCaro finalizing the line-up. The band shifted their sound toward hyper kinetic pop with a rhythm section comprised of drummer Paul Hawley and bassist Dustin Hawthorne throwing an infectious post punk backbone into the mix. Hot Hot Heat quickly made a name for themselves by relentlessly touring Canada and the Pacific Northwest with likeminded indie artists like The French Kicks and Radio 4, which brought them to the attention of the legendary indie label Sub Pop Records. Partially produced by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, the debut EP, Knock Knock Knock (2002 Sub Pop), established Hot Hot Heat as one of the more buzz worthy bands of the year. Utilizing highly melodic New Wave synthesizers and jagged post punk guitars the debut full length, Make Up The Break Down was an instant hit spawning the MTV and rock radio hits “Bandages” and “Talk To Me, Dance With Me”. In support of the album the band made a memorable in-store performance at Amoeba San Francisco on January 28, 2003. Having achieved a semblance of overnight success and on the cusp of becoming an internationally renowned act, the pressure was on to deliver an even better follow up. After switching over to major label, Sire Records, the band unfortunately spent an erroneous three years crafting it.
In an ill advised attempting at satiating their fans during the extended interim between albums, Hot Hot Heat released a collection of early recordings made when Marnik was lead vocalist. The noisy scream-fest of Scenes One Through Thirteen (2002 Ohev) ostensibly confused the band’s fanbase as the sound of the album wasn’t indicative of their current incarnation. Two years later a little band from Las Vegas called The Killers stole some of Hot Hot Heat’s thunder by blending their synth-based post punk sound with anthemic U2 style arena rock. The Killers debut album, Hot Fuzz (2004 Island) was an instant worldwide phenomenon that brought Hot Hot Heat’s relevance into serious doubt. The band suffered another blow when guitarist Dante DeCaro announced his departure from the group as soon as the new album was completed. Where their debut was infused with focused and palpable energy, Elevator (2005 Sire) suffered from too much schizophrenic ambition. DeCaro amicably left the group prior to the album’s release with replacement guitarist Luke Paquin taking over in time for a subsequent world tour. In April of 2005 the band managed to take time out to stop by both Amoeba San Francisco and Amoeba Hollywood for a pair of energetic in-store performances. Happiness Ltd. (2007 Sire) attempted to get back to the sound of Make Up The Breakdown while continuing with the needless and overblown stadium rock of Elevator. Suffering from mixed reviews and a dwindling fanbase, Hot Hot Heat nonetheless hit the road supporting Snow Patrol in the summer of 2007 with a headlining tour of Europe and North America following that fall.