Hot Hot Heat hail from Victoria, British Columbia, not the first place that comes to mind when you think of hotbeds of musical activity, though MTV darling Nelly Furtado and the genius rap duo Swollen Members also call it their hometown. Victoria is a small picturesque waterfront city on Vancouver Island, a ferry ride some two and a half hours from the city of Vancouver. It is perhaps this distance to the mainland that lets three such disparate artists germinate and flourish. Seems like there might not be much in the way of peers or the type of ‘competition’ found between bands of a similar genre within a scene. Hot Hot Heat developed in a kind of vacuum, and came up with a truly original sound, which defies an easy description. They are at once a punk band, a new wave band, with a liberal amount of mod thrown in for good measure. Now signed to Sub Pop, Ohev Records has released this album of the band’s early output.
Scenes One Through Thirteen is a compilation of all of the band’s 7-inch and other releases on various labels from the first few years of their existence. It is a document of a group growing as a band, but is only part one of the Hot Hot Heat story. On these recordings, the group was made up of keyboards, bass, drums and vocals. The band’s original lead singer, Matthew Marnik, who left the band prior to their signing to Sub Pop in late 2001, sings all the songs on Scenes . Keyboardist Steve Bays took over vocal duties, and the band added guitar to the line-up, by way of new member Dante DeCaro. Original members Dustin Hawthorne and Paul Hawley, on bass and drums respectively, remain as the group’s tight rhythm section. This record closes the chapter on Hot Hot Heat, version 1.0.
Recorded at various times over a few years, some even before the band played any live gigs, the sound of these songs is very DIY. Even by “indie” standards, some of it is just a muddled mess. There are at times some great angst-y lyrics, but you need to read along with them to make them out. In “The Case That They Gave Me”, Marnik sings about the life of working man: “This necktie is going to get the best of us / If I’m going out / I’m going out like the rest of them / Here’s my name and brain to process / If I don’t come back / You can thank the bosses”. Some lyrics are downright silly fun, as in “Fashion Fight Pause” — “First run really fast / Then do a flip / Pistol whip can’t beat my king fu grip”. More often than not, the vocals are somewhere way in the background, buried beneath too-loud crashing cymbals. But even with unintelligible lyrics, the catchy pop hooks of songs like “Keep My Name Out of Your Mouth” and the previously mentioned “The Case That They Gave Me” come through. It’s in these songs you can hear what makes this band the fun live act it is, and why Sub Pop came calling. They live up to their name.
The band, in its current incarnation, are much more solid and fleshed out. They released an EP in the spring of 2002, with their full-length debut on Sub Pop scheduled for October 2002, recorded by legendary indie producer Jack Endino. (Endino describes them on his incredibly detailed website this way: “Massively catchy band, you will either love ’em or hate ’em. Great singer, great players, great songs. Not the usual noise-fest people often associate with me. I hear the A&R people are circling like sharks already.”). Considering the sometimes bombastic sounds on Scenes One Through Thirteen, especially in the vocals, this will be a welcome change. The band is already made different by way of vocalist change and the addition of guitar, but what Scenes mostly suffered from is the poor production quality. With a different line-up, their incendiary live shows, and the Sub Pop seal of approval, Hot Hot Heat version 2.0 may be the biggest thing out of Canada in years.