For the past year, Hot Hot Heat frontman Steve Bays’ life has been an endless stream of numbers: one departed guitarist, two epiphanies, 30 scrapped songs, 42 hectic studio days, 168 hours of tape, 365 nights between shows and 4,000 used T-shirts.
And out of all that came one herky-jerky new record called Elevator, which, according to Bays, is about as appropriate a handle as any.
“There were so many ups and downs that went into making this record. It was a manic period, and it was extremely stressful,” he said. “It was a year of tripping hard, a year of asking yourself ‘Who are you? What’s your scene? Does anyone even give a sh-?’ And it was a year of dealing with your inner critic.”
The Hot Hots started writing material for Elevator while they were wrapping up a whirlwind world tour in support of their breakout debut, 2002’s Make Up the Breakdown. The songs Bays and company penned were darker and more expansive than the concise synth-pop ditties that made up Make Up, and the band wasn’t happy with the results. Hot Hot Heat ended up tossing all the material and starting from scratch back at their homes in Victoria, British Columbia. But the new stuff they began churning out was even darker.
“It was a big comedown emotionally for us when you finish a tour and come back to reality. And the new songs reflected that. Then we began to worry that we were falling into the trap every band falls into when they make their second album,” Bays said. “They either change and become self-indulgent and boring, or they just repeat their first album, but it feels watered down because the novelty and danger is gone. So we wanted it to be different enough that it was still a bit of a risk, but we still wanted to hold on to the things that worked – that childlike energy. Combine that with it being the second record, and there’s more pressure added.”
And in the midst of his self-imposed pressure-cooker, Bays had those aforementioned epiphanies. First, he realized that he had to stop listening to that inner critic and stop thinking so hard about the songs he was writing. And second, if the stuff he was coming up with was darker, then so be it. He had to go with what he had.
“After that, it was seemed pretty simple,” he said. “We decided to make a really bold pop album. An obnoxious pop album.”
They took that obnoxious pop to Los Angeles’ Larabee Studios, where they would spend the next six weeks hammering out details, picking out stray ends, and, as it turns out, kicking out a founding member of the band: guitarist Dante DeCaro.
“We were working 14-hour days, and it was getting hard,” Bays said. “When Dante left, [drummer] Paul Hawley and I were thinking that he would stay in the band and write and record, and we would get someone else to tour.
“But then we realized that Paul and I were doing all the writing anyway, and on the album, Paul played about half the guitar parts,” Bays continued. “So we told Dante that if we found someone we clicked with, then they would be the new guitarist of the band. And then we found Luke, and that was it.
Energized by Luke Paquin’s arrival, Hot Hot Heat ripped through the remainder of the songs on Elevator, mastered it and hit the road to test out the new material… the first time the band had played live in more than a year. But their hard work wasn’t over just yet. In fact, it was just beginning: They still had to make the video for the album’s first single, “Goodnight Goodnight.”
“We did the video with Olivier Gondry [who’s helmed clips for Loretta Lynn and the Vines]. Basically, we shot a live performance video, and he edited it into four separate videos, and then they were printed on 4,000 T-shirts to do flipbook animation,” Bays sighed. “And then we went back to L.A. and did all this time-lapse photography, taking T-shirts on and off for days. It was a really long process, and after a while we were starting to get extremely red from taking T-shirts on and off. It was hard work. But we’re kind of used to that by now.”
The track list for Hot Hot Heat’s Elevator, according to Sire Records: