Hot Hot Heat's Power Pop Yields a Modern-Rock Hit

By | April 10, 2005 at 12:00 AM

Los Angeles – Don’t tell Hot Hot Heat keyboardist/vocalist Steve Bays that press coverage doesn’t matter: The reviews for “Make Up the Breakdown,” the band’s 2003 effort for Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, had a direct influence on the act’s major-label debut.

“People said we sounded like Dexys Midnight Runners, so I went out and bought a Dexys Midnight Runners album,” Bays says.

What he heard resulted in the current single “Goodnight Goodnight.” The song, which Bays describes as a cross between OutKast’s Andre 3000 and early Beatles, takes a keyboard-laced dancehall groove into a chorus that downshifts the song. The switch brings the breakup anthem to a gripping halt; it is a move that keeps Hot Hot Heat just to the left of its peers on the radio.

“In one of the Dexys songs, I noticed they changed keys leading into the chorus, and that’s unheard of,” Bays says. “It’s such a music nerd thing, but I like it because it meant the chorus would open up.”

So far, modern-rock radio seems to be responding. The song received nearly 600 spins in the United States for the week ending March 30.

Bays is aware that Hot Hot Heat is identified with other retro-leaning rock acts. With “Elevator,” the band’s debut for Sire/Reprise, which was released April 5, Bays says the band wanted to distance itself from that scene.

“We really wanted more emphasis on the songwriting rather than a style,” he says. “We paid a lot of attention to aesthetics on that last record, and it had that whole ’80s new wave retro feel.”

“Elevator” completes Hot Hot Heat’s transformation from a guitarless art-rock band in Vancouver, British Columbia, to a power-pop quartet. Its Sub Pop album first heralded the group’s more accessible sound, and it has sold 246,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Bays says the group decided to jump to Sire/Reprise after the last album earned some radio play. “Sub Pop is awesome, but they only have 20-30 people working there,” Bays says. “The record started to take off on its own, and it seemed like one that needed more manpower.”

Indeed, Bays is counting on “Elevator” to reach a wider audience. “We didn’t want a record that only hipsters would buy,” he says.

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