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"Victoria's kind of strange," DeCaro says. "It's got its own independent scene going on that isn't as much influenced from the outside world as a lot of other places." Because of Victoria's small population, the town's promising musicians often move across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver, or to other metropolitan Canadian cities.
Hot Hot Heat credits the lack of external stimuli for shaping the band's blend of stylistics.
"We picked and chose what we listened to a bit more independently, and I think our influences aren't as common in other places," DeCaro says. The band's influences are as subtle as their hairstyles, and every blurb about them references the same names -- the Cure, XTC, U2 . . . and so on. While these influences may not be as uncommon as DeCaro thinks, no other contemporary band tries as hard to blend them.
Hot Hot Heat congealed in 1999 with a different lineup, playing anti-melodic math-rock on the band's 2001 release Scenes One Through Thirteen. Shortly after its release, the band ditched its singer, moved keyboardist Bays to the microphone and recruited DeCaro. The switch in focus to ass-wiggling, sneering intensity propelled Hot Hot Heat into the Northwest's buzzing spotlight.
While contemplating their next release, the band queried a number of American indie labels.
"We're better received in the States anyway. There's a lot more kids who seem like they get it," DeCaro says. With a near cold-call simplicity, the group was asked by Sub Pop to come to Seattle and play for label personnel. Suitably impressed, the label signed the band and put the guys in the studio with Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla. There, they kicked out the five-song Knock Knock Knock. Weeks after its release, the foursome returned to the studio, this time with Jack Endino, who produced Nirvana's Bleach and nearly every other important pre-grunge-explosion record for Sub Pop. The resulting LP, Make Up the Breakdown, brought the major labels out before it was even released.
Hot Hot Heat's potential as -- to exhaust a term -- the Canadian Strokes is all too evident on Breakdown. Combine the right danceable rock with the right fashion sense and indie credibility, courtesy of Sub Pop, and Hot Hot Heat becomes a valuable commodity. Warner Bros. recognized this and offered the band an ideal proposition.
"They said, Give us a proposal of whatever you guys would like,'" Bays explains. "So we put together what we considered to be the perfect record deal, and they basically okayed everything." While the major-label debut isn't due for at least a year, Warner Bros. is picking up some of the promotional costs for Make Up the Breakdown, according to band management.
If it weren't for the omnipresent Stateside press reminders, it might be difficult to tell that Hot Hot Heat is a Canadian band. But these lads are patriots -- "I pledge my allegiance to the queen," DeCaro remarks without irony, as he should; Hot Hot Heat is due to receive five-digit grant checks from the Canadian government, which subsidizes artists and pays for health care. In this case, the money might also buy the country some garage-level legitimacy.