There’s the Hot Hot Heat that lives in our collective memories – “Bandages,” “Middle of Nowhere,” those irrepressible melodies and overcaffeinated rhythms, Farfisa organ riffs and frontman Steve Bays’ wild mop of curls. Then there are the dozens of hypothetical Hot Hot Heats that have only existed in the band’s own imagination during their decade-long hiatus: the unreleased prog-metal album First Hour of the Neverending Apocalypse, the one where they dabble in classical music or play a single D chord for 25 minutes. The Hot Heat Heat that has reemerged in 2023 is somehow both familiar and fancied, a “classic” lineup that has never coexisted at the same time – Bays, drummer Paul Hawley, bassist Parker Bossley and, returning after 18 years, guitarist Dante DeCaro. “I’m back in Hot Hot Heat,” DeCaro boasts. “We can do anything.”

Hot Hot Heat only exists right this moment because they see the same infinite potential that thrust them out of Victoria, British Columbia nearly 25 years ago; Hawley, DeCaro and Bays were three 20-somethings bored with the grunge backwash of mainstream rock, bored with the parochial beliefs of small-town Canada, tired of being overlooked and overstimulated in a place that was largely defined by the shadow of its bigger, hipper neighbors. But without being beholden to the strictures and structure of local scene politics, Hot Hot Heat were free to draw on the things that moved them – the avant-punk of San Diego, Pacific Northwest’s wiry indie-pop, the slick New Wave of the UK and NYC. “Quirky, fun, upbeat, angular, dancey, sort of punk, sort of Beatles infused, small town mentality, but world stage approach,” as Bays describes it.

Released on the legendary Sub Pop, Make Up the Breakdown became a word-of-mouth sensation in 2002: sounding like nothing else, yet found itself perfectly suited to the needs of indie kids who were discovering dancing and drinking as the only real agency they could wield in the face of escalating global catastrophe. Hot Hot Heat shared playlists with the Strokes and the Killers, won respect from Billy Corgan and Robert Smith, all without ever losing their underdog appeal even as they signed to a major label to release Elevator and Happiness Ltd. By the time their self-titled, fifth and final album was released in 2016, Hot Hot Heat had shared stages with their idols, made records that cost upwards of $300,000 and had a big enough hit to actually get banned from BBC, when the hysteria surrounding the Iraq War led people to fear that “Bandages” might endorse state violence.

And yet, as their final show at 2013’s Victoria’s Rifflandia Festival cast them as literal hometown heroes, Bays found himself questioning whether Hot Hot Heat had exhausted their possible futures. “I always loved the shows where I’d rather play to 10 people that love what you do than 10,000 people that you’re trying to win over to make new fans,” he recalls. Hawley likewise yearned for the simpler times. “Once we left Victoria, all of a sudden there was external pressure and it changed how we made decisions. I remember at the beginning, we laughed a lot and we had a lot of fun.” In the time since Hot Hot Heat, everyone had applied their curiosity to other pursuits. DeCaro joined Wolf Parade and fronted Johnny and the Moon; Bays followed his restless muse as both a songwriter and a producer, earning a Juno nomination in 2019 as a recording engineer and starting Fur Trade with Bossley, Hawley started a real estate business. There are jobs, mortgages, families, the sort of things that Hot Hot Heat couldn’t imagine when they’d stay up for two straight days covering Beatles songs and discovering XTC, when the Locust was the coolest band in the world and they were willing to sleep on floors for nights at a time if it meant getting out of Victoria.

But it’s within these adult contexts that Hot Hot Heat were able to reconnect with their post-grad, post-punk selves. “My partner Drew, she’ll hear a Hot Hot Heat song for the first time and love it,” Bays says. “I’m making that personal connection with her, I like that she loves Hot Hot Heat, that motivates me to keep going.” DeCaro admits he would shrug off coworkers who’d want to listen to Make Up the Breakdown, but the one time he allowed it, he was shocked upon hearing the inimitable, nimble guitar work that he committed to muscle memory: “I couldn’t believe how well put together it was. It blew my mind. I could try and try and I would never be able to cram that much into that little space so effortlessly as we were automatically able to do at that time.”

While Hot Hot Heat was never far from any of their minds, an eventual reunion was sparked by the 20th anniversary reissue of their beloved Sub Pop debut Make Up the Breakdown in late 2022. “Before it felt like, oh, there’s a million indie bands, we’re just one in a million, like, who cares if we’re gone, nobody will notice,” Bays recalls. “But it did make me realize that we do have our own little specific sound and niche that is unlike any other band.”

So what does a reunited Hot Hot Heat mean at a time when all four members are exploring what it means to be a musician and a father and a friend to each other, how expression and ambition can sustainably coexist? “Emotionally, it’s nice to come back together as adults and play show and tell with our newfound skills,” Bays jokes. There will be live performances and new music; maybe even tours and albums, but who knows?

Maybe Hot Hot Heat will get that itch to conquer the world again, to play every set with that old competitive streak, to never let a headlining band outshine them. “Hot Hot Heat is this limitless amount of energy and you can do anything with it,” DeCaro muses. To which, Bays concurs: “any of these song ideas or full demos, it goes back to me believing, ‘nothing wack leaves this room.’” Whatever comes next, Hot Hot Heat is whatever they – and we – want to make of it.