When Hot Hot Heat’s first album dropped in 2002, they were the Vancouver band who had made good. With “Make Up the Breakdown,” the band combined XTC-esque New Wave with punk smarts and pop hooks and looked all set to go big. But after signing to Warner Bros., the general consensus, even within the band, is that the members set off in the wrong direction, rounding too many corners.
Dropping their major label and signing to an indie (Dangerbird in the States, Dine Alone in Canada) they’ve shaken off the dust and come firing back with “Future Breeds,” a return to form and the sound of their first album. The band hits Velvet Jones tonight for a gig that promises to be as raucous as ever.
When I catch up with vocalist Steve Bays, he’s just waking up at noon, which might suggest some pretty rock star behavior. Instead, it’s because the band is holed up in a Mojave Desert house of a friend, waiting to go out and do more shooting for their new “Goddess on the Prairie” video.
“I’m going to be surfing a Cadillac that’s going 70 mph,” he says. “It’s gonna be awesome.”
The band is just coming off a residency in Los Angeles, where they played multiple nights in the Bootleg Theater at the end of June, playing new songs from “Future Breeds” and toughening up for the 60-plus-date tour.
“There’s something weird that happens when you play every night,” he says. “It instills this pressure on you to keep stepping up; you get competitive with yourself.”
Some fans came to all nine shows, including a 60-year-old couple who just enjoyed their music. Years ago, Bays toyed with the idea of moving to Los Angeles, but having been born and raised in Vancouver, he just had to be near the water.
When the band split from Warner Bros., Bays set about building his own studio. He spent a good year doing his research on sound engineering while assembling the place, staying up until dawn regularly. What started as experimental-sounding tracks as a studio test drive later turned into the album.
The new studio is located within the Dominion Building, once known as the tallest building in the British Empire. The band has borrowed ideas from 1950s and ’60s production and used the space to augment its sound. They recorded vocals in the massive spiral staircase to get natural reverb, or put the amps in the bathroom for similar effect.
And the building is supposedly haunted, giving the studio even more cred. Bays hasn’t seen a ghost, but he knows someone who has.
“There’s one floor you’re not allowed on,” he says. “We got talking to the janitor once, and he told us he’s been up there cleaning and it just feels like somebody brushes his arm or he sees shadows walking past.”
The album feels like a return to square one, but better, he says. The band is sharper and much looser. On tracks like “21@12” and “JFK’s LSD,” Hot Hot Heat sounds like its about to spin completely out of control. Yet they manage to keep it together for three-minute stretches. That freedom comes from having a studio available any time.
“I didn’t want to have to rely on a record label to tell me when I could and couldn’t record,” he says. “I hated the feeling of two years between records and getting approvals of the demos before I could record. This way, I felt the music would be a lot better.”
HOT HOT HEAT
When: 8 p.m. tonight
Where: Velvet Jones, 423 State St.
Information: velvet-jones.com, ticketfusion.com