The art of moving on: Catching up with Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays

Monday 18th, July 2016 / 16:15
By Jennie Orton
Photo: Joshua Grafstein

Photo: Joshua Grafstein

VANCOUVER — The bittersweet end of the road for Hot Hot Heat comes with the unceremonious release of their last album; a self-titled charmer both destined to become a local summer beach companion as well as a disappointment to fans due to the band’s decision not to support the album with some kind of farewell nostalgia tour.

“I don’t ever want to be one of those bands that falls apart in the public eye after putting out three or four awful albums,” admits front man Steve Bays from the sound-proof comfort of his “happy place” behind the boards at Tugboat studios in East Van.

“I feel like we are going out on a high note, musically.”

The album was finished after being shelved for a time during the band’s four-year break from writing and touring. During that time, Bays spread his wings using the newly self-taught skills of self-production to explore the act of making music for other people.

“I just started to get more excited about making music with the people I was hanging out with more at the time,” he recalls.

Alongside Fur Trade, the side project he created with fellow HHH alumni Parker Bossley, Bays formed the Canada-grown super group, Mounties, with Hawksley Workman and Ryan Dahle of Limblifter; a project he lights up when talking about.

“It was two one-week periods of just hanging out and having a blast and there was just zero stress,” he remembers. “It got me stoked on recording my own music again.”

With this newfound enthusiasm for the process, and with the help of Dahle in the studio, Bays and his HHH pals returned to the studio to finish the album and, in essence, put a period at the end of Hot Hot Heat as a band.

“There is just a lot of baggage that goes along with being in a band that long. There are lot of expectations from fans – which is a good thing, it’s a luxury to have people care – but sometimes when people care, it makes it difficult to act on your deep thoughts.”

The resulting album is a rather lighthearted ode to the journey to closure. The songs run the gamut of exploring the act of growing apart to the embracing of change to the gentle prettiness that exists within the new; all presented as happy ditties that would be very at home pulsing out of a portable radio in the basket of a fixie on third beach. Carefree odes to letting go with grace; something Bays has spent the last few years zeroing in on.

“Every record was such a big commitment of time, and performing is so amazing, but it’s a big commitment and I guess I’m just much more of a chill guy now,” he muses, surrounded by the artifacts of his years on the road with Hot Hot Heat that adorn his studio walls.

“At a certain point you start to think I kind of want to live a different lifestyle.”

Since adopting this idea, Bays has shared the boards and the pen with quite the crack squad of local and international talent. Writing for Fitz and the tantrums, Diplo, Steve Aoki, Dear Rouge, and Mother Mother, producing or mixing work for Zolas and The Gay Nineties, as well as producing music videos for Fake Shark Real Zombie and others. The busy schedule and ever-changing roster has helped Bays settle in to a new philosophy where the work is concerned.

“I think the media really focusses on the benefits of youth but as I get older I really feel like I’ve been released from a cage.”

Bays is using his newfound freedom from the cage of musical expectation to self-explore and to re-introduce himself to the exuberance in possibility. Part of that was accomplished by moving back to Vancouver and setting up a studio close to home where he could feel most like himself while creating.

“People say quitters never win, but anything you ever achieve usually comes from having diverted your path about a hundred times,” he says.

He gestures to his recording equipment and you can see a sense of belonging in his references to it as well as a certainty about the end of his band.

“The most important thing is there is so little time in our life, you need to do the things you can be most impactful at. And if it feels like it takes you two years to do the job and it takes other people two weeks, then maybe you are doing the wrong thing.”

Hot Hot Heat’s self-titled final album is out now.

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