Canadian rock outfit Hot Hot Heat took the music world by storm with their 2002 debut full-length, Make Up the Breakdown (thanks in large part to the catchy hits "Bandages" and "Talk to Me, Dance With Me"). Make Up the Breakdown was quickly followed by Scenes One Through Thirteen - a collection of the group's earlier, punkier material - and, in 2005, by their major label debut, Elevator. Two years and several tours later, the group has lost none of its infectious energy, releasing their aggressive, super-charged fourth album, Happiness Ltd.
Just before the release of Happiness Ltd., we caught up with Hot Hot Heat drummer and co-songwriter Paul Hawley to discuss the new album, the band's current tour and the strangeness of performing on late night television. Ticketmaster: The new album, Happiness Ltd., comes out tomorrow. It's been two years since your last release, Elevator. Are you excited to finally have some new songs out there? Paul Hawley: It feels like a huge release, especially since it's been kind of a long process. I think it's our best record ever. It's Luke (Paquin's) first record with us, and I'm excited for people to hear us do our new thing.
TM: How would you describe the sound on the record compared with your past work? PH: I'd say we went a little deeper this time. It's not quite so caffeine-jittery and poppy. We were trying to create a little more of a cinematic vibe. It still sounds like Hot Hot Heat, no doubt about it, but some of the ideas are a little more thoughtful and executed a little better. Definitely the record flows kind of like a movie.
TM: You used some new instruments on the album, like a theremin. What other new things did you use? PH: Well, we have a policy - we'll try anything, but not use everything. We did a lot of stuff. For the first time, we used two live drummers in the studio, which gave us a really cool, huge drum sound for the record. We were using different kinds of pianos, tack pianos. We used this crazy old instrument called an octagon. It's like a keyboard that plays records. It's really old and weird sounding, and always out of tune.And we used obviously all sorts of guitars and synthesizers...We did a lot of this record starting with the demos and then we worked backwards. When we took the songs into the studio, they were basically done, so we were spending more time with ideas for instruments, as opposed to trying to work songs out. We had time to goof a little.
TM: You've been working on this album for almost two years. I believe you guys mastered one version of the album, but then wrote the song "Let Me In," which opened up a new door for the band and you decided to return to the album and redo much of it. Can you talk about that experience? PH: We didn't redo any of the original songs we did in Vancouver. We just cut a few of them out when we did "Let Me In." We finished that record and probably took a little time off after that. We were just playing shows here and there. I went over to Steve (Bay's) house one day and he had this riff and an idea for a song. Immediately I saw the potential for it. We spent the next hour or two kind of hammering out the rough version of it. I think that night we did a demo for it. In addition to our jam spot, we have a little electronic drum set at Steve's, so we can do demo drums anytime day or night. We don't live too far away from each other in Vancouver. So immediately the demo worked really well. Then we played it as a song, and it worked really well. We were just like, "We've got to go finish this off." So we ended up in L.A. with Rob Cavallo finishing that song. By that time, we had "So So Cold" as well, so we banged them both out. That added more time, but what's more important: the record coming out a few months later or it being the best it can possibly be?
TM: Yeah, absolutely. No sense in rushing it. You mentioned earlier that the band's now playing with a newguitarist, Luke Paquin. What's it like working with Luke? Has he brought anything new to the band? PH: He's great. He's super honest about his ideas and his opinions, which I appreciate. But he's also very tolerant about our eccentricities. I mean, we're all a bit weird. He's definitely got ideas of his own, and songs of his own. He knows how to be in a group, which is almost more important than musical talent, even though he's an amazing guitar player. I ended up playing a lot of guitar on the last record when Dante (DeCaro) left. Dante probably played 70% and I ended up playing 30% guitar on the last one. Even though I write songs, I didn't end up playing a lot of guitar on this one, which was nice. I could just let Luke do his thing. He's very talented. TM: Can you walk me through the band's typical songwriting process? How do you get the ball rolling with a new song? PH: Well, normally a song will come from me or Steve, and recently Luke. He had some contributions on this record. By the time we started writing this new record, we had been on the road together for a couple of years almost. So we were a band. It wasn't like he joined and then we started writing. We got to know each other well - maybe a little too well - and then we got a chance to write. Usually one of the three of us will come with a riff, a melody, a part of a song, and maybe a verse and a chorus. And it's usually between 30% and 50% done. Then we take that shell to the band and it's kind of like a skeleton. Then we flesh it out big time as a band. That's where it turns from a song on a piano or a folk song on a guitar into a Hot Hot Heat song..."Let Me In" was just a riff, then Steve and I fleshed out the song. "Out of Heart" was almost done as a demo when Steve brought it in to us. We wanted to replicate the magic that was on the demo, so we stuck really closely to it. But for the most part, one person brings in a little bit of something, and then we all, hopefully, turn it in to something magical. TM: Let's change topics a little bit and talk about your live shows. I know earlier in the summer you opened a tour for Snow Patrol. How did that go? PH: It was cool. I think we got to play to a lot of people that might not have heard of us or been into us. Before that, we were on tour with the Killers, which was kind of an ego-stroking tour, because we share a lot of fans. But with the Snow Patrol one, we were more trying to win people over, and I think maybe a few of them liked us. TM: I'm sure they did. What's the audience reaction been like to the new material? PH: Cheering, clapping, that sort of thing. (laughs)