Hot Little Rocket explains what they do and why they do it

“The music you listened to in high school is no longer cool,” warns Mark Macarthur, bass player for Calgary’s Hot Little Rocket. “If you don’t listen to indie-rock you’ll get beat up, you won’t get a girlfriend, and you won’t get passing grades.”


Of the three members of Hot Little Rocket sitting around the table at Badass Coffee on 17 Avenue, Mark is by far the most outgoing. A fondness for cliche would have me describe him as "the funny one," with guitarist Aaron Smelski and drummer Joel Nye being "the thoughtful one" and "the quiet one" respectively. Singer Andrew Wedderbur or, "the absent one," rounds out the lineup.


The group has been producing its infectious brand of quirky indie-punk for almost five years now and is releasing its second album, Our Work And Why We Do It, mere days after this article will be printed. The album, HLR’s first for Calgary label Catch and Release, and the label’s first under the Flemish Eye imprint, provides a convincing explanation of the group’s lasting appeal.


"Of all the CDs that I’ve made, all of the bands that I’ve been in, I’m most proud of this," Macarthur glows. "A lot of time, you look back at something you’ve done, and just sort of cringe at parts. This one was done as close to right as I’m physically capable."


"Our last album reminded me of an awkward 13-year-old," Smelski relates. "It had its moments, but was still trying to find itself. The songwriting is in a better space now, and we take a lot of pride in that."


A lot of that pride comes from the faith others had in the band. One such ally was Aaron Booth, a Calgary ex-pat now residing in Toronto.


Smelski describes the process: "We made the demo and sent it to Aaron. He sent it back, or really he spliced pieces of it, and he had added in background vocals and keys and basically said, ‘This is what you should do.’ He helped us to push out the melodies–if you’ve heard his solo stuff, it’s all about the melodies. Really, how could we resist?"


"It was nice to have someone so excited about it," chimes in Macarthur. "If someone’s working on the album, they damn well better be as excited as we are and he was willing to pay his own way in from Toronto. He was staying with us until three in the morning some nights. It really added to the album."


The result is both melodic and aggressive, clean and energetic, so for fans of the band, picking up the new disc should be a no-brainer. What, then, of the uninitiated? Chances are good that a large portion of the people reading this article are new to the U of C, and are unfamiliar with music outside the mainstream. That’s where Macarthur’s warning comes in. It’s exaggerated, of course, but there is some truth for it. University is meant to be a growing experience, not an extension of high school.


"It’s not that people have bad taste," explains Smelski. "[Mick Jones of] the Clash said the one thing they noticed in all their touring was that people listen to shit music and their goal was to alleviate that. We’re kind of the same way. If we can get someone fresh out of high school that’s a fan of Not By Choice and convince them to go see the Weakerthans, or us of course, then that’s a good entry point. It’s not better, but its something that’s maybe more honest, maybe more intelligent."


"People need something to talk about" adds Nye. "Live music does just that. Watching live music is the best thing that happened to me."


That doesn’t just go for art or music students either. Neither faculty, career, nor anything else aside from personal taste should keep you from experiencing non-mainstream cultures.


"A lot of people are under the impression that artists have to be the suffering type," explains Smelski. "They think that as soon as you have a job you’ve sold out to the Man, or are the Man, or whatever. But when you’re in management, or in engineering, then you can afford that guitar, you can afford to go out and tour. It gives you those options."


"It’s our work and why we do it," Macathur quickly agrees, oh-so-subtly reminding me to plug the album a few more times. "A lot of people let the job they have define them. But to me, work is what you do to get to the free time, to be able to do what you want."


With all the great music coming to town in the next few weeks, there’s no excuse for missing out. Classes haven’t become too intense, work schedules have died down and the sheer quality of acts is staggering. In addition to the Weakerthans show, there is Ween, the Swingin’ Utters, Strung Out, Hawksley Workman, Ron Sexsmith, and Modest Mouse, who HLR has the pleasure of opening for, in what Mark describes as "one of my dream gigs."


That’s without even mentioning shows by local bands, including the two CD release parties, September 5 and 6, for HLR’s upcoming album. The first, at Carpenter’s Union Hall in Kensington, is an all-ages show featuring plenty of Calgary talent. The next night, the band will play at the Night Gallery in a show sponsored by the U of C’s own CJSW. Go to one, go to both, you won’t regret it. And since one of them is all ages, you really have no excuse.


While you’re at it, be sure to pick up the new CD, if only to expand your horizons a bit. Smelski says that "if I wasn’t in this band, I would still buy this disc."


What more encouragement do you need?

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