Back in 1995, Steve Bays, a British Columbian with a curly mop of a hairdo and a dream, started a rock and roll act with dance influences. Bays somehow ended up playing a synthesizer with the new group and a friend of the band sang the vocals. Eventually, they dumped the friend, added Dante DeCaro (now with Wolf Parade) to add his jagged take on the guitar, and moved Bay over to the role of singer. The band, called Hot Hot Heat, played around with some heavier post-hardcore type stuff, but eventually settled into a synth lead-heavy version of post punk, touring with Canadian alt-gods Sloan and eventually finding themselves signed to Seattle's Sub Pop.
While this was an amazing opportunity, any realist is aware that just because a few Sub Pop acts broke and some in an amazing fashion, there are a number of Ponds for every Postal Service. Hot Hot Heat were given the mixed blessing of an opportunity, recording the five song Knock Knock Knock in 2002 with the help of Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla. Any band welcomes the chance to have their music heard, but how many famous EPs can you think of? The Pixies, Jeff Buckley and REM (among others) might have notable debut EPs in their discographies but generally, it's more a sign that your label wants to test the waters before sinking cash into the expense of a full length.
Sure, it's no Signals, Calls, and Marches, but Knock Knock Knock opens with a burst of Gang of Four inspired energy, angst ridden nervous vocals from Bays and rapid fire, skittish rhythms reminding listeners of the early Cure albums somehow, without actually sounding all that much like Robert Smith and company. Everyone I know who heard Knock Knock Knock raved about it, anxiously awaiting a full length.
Then at some point before the October, 2002 release of was to be Hot Hot Heat's first full length Make Up the Breakdown, something strange happened. The band, from Bays to the other three, were replaced. Of course, Sub Pop somehow managed to cover up this story in the indie rock media.
The band that made the exciting EP full of possibilities was relocated somewhere and suddenly, there were four new guys who looked exactly the same but with nicer clothes and significantly less talent. A few of the imitation HHH's songs vaguely recalled the previous release, but by and large, the replicants were a poor photocopy of the original somewhat blurry and tougher to figure out. The new HHH might not have been interesting to listen to, but they did outperform the previous version commercially, getting their songs on alternative radio and drawing far larger audiences on tour.
However, like most science fiction stories involving clones have taught us, the duplicate product will eventually break down. 2007's Happiness Ltd., the third full length released as part of the experiment, no longer achieved the goals set by the scientists guiding the project. Handing the assignment over to a new indie laboratory, the Hot Hot Heat (4.0?) currently touring behind the album Future Breeds has taken a louder approach to their previous formula, including some of the nervous energy from Knock x3, but still lacking the immediacy of the early model. One day, maybe those pulling the string behind the great Hot Hot Heat experiment will publish their results and we can see what happened to the earlier mothballed models, until then, this band is still a work in progress.
Mon., Aug. 23, 6:30 p.m., 2010