Depending on whom you ask, the Canadian band Hot Hot Heat might be described as dance rock, new wave, emo, post-punk or power pop. But guitarist Luke Paquin would like to think that all those different subgenre tags add up to a band that can't be pigeonholed.
"We don't really play genre music," he said on the phone as the band drove to a gig in Nashville, Tenn. "I think we kind of defy any sort of genre classification, which makes it hard for people working with us to know what to do. That being said, I don't think we would have it any other way, so you take the good with the bad."
Hot Hot Heat, which formed in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1999, got its start with independent labels like Sub Pop before graduating to Warner Bros. But after having its ups and downs in the major label world and scoring a few hit singles, the band is back on an indie, releasing its fourth album, "Future Breeds," on the L.A.-based label Dangerbird in June.
"A major label is great if you want to take advantage of the avenues that they have at their disposal," Paquin said. "But we have people at our new label that are younger than us, which I never saw at our old label, and they just seem really hungry. Some would say that we were their favorite band in high school, so it's a strange and different approach."
Saturday, Hot Hot Heat's tour to promote the album brings them to Baltimore, where it will be mixing the new songs with familiar singles like "Goodnight Goodnight" and its breakthrough hit "Bandages." As a Canadian band that has seen some of its biggest success in the United Kingdom, Hot Hot Heat still sees the U.S. as a challenge: a larger country to tour and a bigger market to establish itself in.
"America's probably the toughest place to crack for any band, even American bands," Paquin concedes.
The band is probably best known for the energetic yelp of frontman and founding member Steve Bays, but at the moment the Hot Hot Heat singer is nursing a sore throat, and speaking as little as possible between concerts.
"I don't know exactly how it is, I'm not a lead singer, but I can't imagine it's easy, especially with his style of vocals. We're lucky we've only had to cancel one show in the entire career of this band because of his voice," Paquin said. "I'll go to a baseball game, and my voice will be shot for two days after from yelling at the center fielder."
Paquin has seen his own share of road injuries, however; last year he suffered an electrical shock from a microphone during a show in Ontario.
"Future Breeds" is a zippy 40-minute rock album that continues Hot Hot Heat's tradition, filling deceptively light and upbeat songs with an ambitious mix of influences and a mischievous sense of humor that inspires song titles like "JFK's LSD." Some tracks recall the punky, danceable anthems of 2002's "Make Up the Breakdown" that first gained the band an international fan base. But there are also some genre-defying songs like "21@12," which manages to bring to mind '70s classic rock like ELO and David Bowie without sounding too overtly retro. Throughout, the quartet's rhythm section plays off-kilter time signatures and chugging grooves that back Paquin's jangly riffs and Bays' synthesizer melodies and vocals.
Paquin joined Hot Hot Heat in 2004, replacing guitarist Dante DeCaro, but he now feels secure as a permanent part of a band that has seen its share of changes, in personnel, in business and in musical directions, over the past decade.
"I was the new guy for a couple years, and then I got that out of the way, now we have a new bass player," he said. "But the core is the same as it ever was, and almost better in a way with this new record and a new label; we're feeling a little bit rejuvenated."
If you go
Hot Hot Heat performs Saturday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. Hey Rosetta and 22-20's open. Tickets are $15. The show starts at 9 p.m. Call 410-662-0069 or go to theottobar.com.