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… And You Will Know Us by the Size of Hair

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t has taken me a week to get in touch with Hot Hot Heat, partly because they are elusive and mostly because my cellphone is a Nokia, and it sucks. But finally I manage to get bassist Dustin Hawthorne on a land line in his room at the Farmer’s Daughter Hotel in Los Angeles. It’s famous or something, and they have T-shirts.
      Hot Hot Heat is from Victoria, British Columbia. They are also the best guitar/keyboard-driven art-punk band this side of XTC. Think the Clash with a lot of synthesizers and a better attitude, what the Faint might sound like if they gave their guitar as much attention as they do their keyboard. Add to this big haircuts and a level of melodic and rhythmic complexity far surpassing most of the other bands with big haircuts, and well, these days you’re bound to make the major labels cream.
      Proof? Warner Brothers snatched up Hot Hot Heat two days before their debut LP, Make Up The Breakdown, was released a few weeks back on Sub Pop. Now they’re on a North American tour, they’re about to be quite famous, and Hawthorne has no clue as to the whereabouts of the rest of his band — singer/keyboardist Steve Bays, guitarist Dante DeCaro and drummer Paul Hawley. Nope, no clue. — Beth Wawerna

You’re kind of getting lumped in with the whole Strokes/Hives/Vines/Rock-isn’t-dead thing. Irritating?
I honestly don’t give a fuck. It’s like grunge, right? Nirvana got lumped in with Alice in Chains even though they sounded nothing alike. But people need a label. I guess just because we’re not a hip-hop band and we play guitars, we’re part of “the resurgence of rock.”

Getting the kids to dance at rock shows is not easy. But you guys are changing that. I’ve seen it.
It really sucks when people stand there cross-armed. We feed off the crowd’s energy, so it makes things more interesting ’cause you can just kick stuff around. In Lawrence, Kansas, we played at this weird place with a space motif. These jets were hanging everywhere and we knocked one down. But I picked it up, ’cause I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

I’ve heard it’s a bitch to get off Vancouver Island.*
It goes both ways. It’s a pain in the ass. I mean, you gotta factor in about a hundred dollars to get off the island. Plus a lot of bands don’t really come to Victoria because it costs a lot of money. So yeah, we were isolated coming up. But that lends itself to being pretty creative, too. We kind of speak our own language. I guess it has something to do with interpreting West Coast lingo in to our own vernacular. I mean, we’re a little weird, I’ll tell you that much.

What was your day job in Victoria?
Well, I worked in a drugstore. Dante was a student. Steve worked in the multimedia lab at the university and did some freelance video editing. And Paul worked in a cellphone store.

When you guys first started Hot Hot Heat, it was a much different incarnation. A loud one. And there were no, um, songs, right?
Yeah, it was a completely different band. It was pretty obnoxious. Basically we were trying to create the most bizarre music we possibly could. Our singer couldn’t really sing either. He just kind of shouted.

What’s the most flattering comparison you get?
Definitely XTC. That’s Dante’s favorite band ever.

What about yours?
Our influences are across the board. I really like hip-hop and Slayer, and everything in between.

Was signing with a major label a hard decision to make?
If you’d asked me that question five years ago, it’d be a different story. I was so opposed to bands “selling out.” But now that I’m twenty-six years old . . . I basically put myself on the line for this band. And it’s pretty cool thinking I can come home from this tour and not have to find a job. Quite honestly, I couldn’t give a flying fuck. I want to tell people: “You work for less than minimum wage and see how it feels.” I know there are certain kids who will talk shit, but there’s also an incredible amount of support out there. Plus, it made my mom really happy.

Who would you like to tour with?
Aesop Rock. It would also be cool to tour with the Strokes because they draw such big crowds. But I’m sure we’ll get thrown on a tour with some random band, and we’ll make the best of it. Oh! Oasis. Although they’d probably hate us. I have a tendency to run my mouth off at inappropriate times. But we could outdo them.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen on this tour?
I saw a stealth bomber three or four days ago. That was kind of cool. We also found a dead dog in a tarp off the freeway. I went to take a pee by this pond and there was this terrible smell. I thought it might be a dead person, so I got a big long stick and poked it, and it was a dog. I thought about trying to hook it up to the back of van.

You guys are getting some major attention, and you know what that means: people are going to talk about your hair. Seriously, are you scared?
If it happens, that’s totally great. I’ll get to tour the entire planet without paying a cent out of my own pocket. It’ll never go to my head as long as I can go home and go skateboarding. That’s all I care about.  

*Don’t believe me? Okay, you can take a ferry to Vancouver, but it takes an hour and a half. You can also drive, but you will have to pay for the car and the people in it separately. You can go to Seattle, too, if you like, but it’s two hours on a passenger ferry. Or you can ferry to Vancouver and drive from there, but that’s a four-hour journey.