A rainy day can’t dim the wattage of L.A. pop trio Hot As Sun. By Eviana Hartman. Photographed by Stella Berkofsky
With a name like Hot as Sun and a stage show involving gold-lamé leotards, a megaphone, and copious amounts of decorative hot-pink tape, you might expect a rendezvous with the next big thing in indie pop to be one big, crazy party. On this Monday morning, though, the usual clear sky of Los Angeles has been supplanted by soft, chilly rain: slicking the streets, obscuring the palm trees and hills overhead, and fogging the windows of the tatty-chic French bistro in Los Feliz where the bundled-up group—Jamie Jackson, Deborah Stoll, and WAZ (yes, just WAZ)—sit drinking soup-bowl-sized cappucinos. This could almost be a book club meeting in Freud’s Vienna; the enormous cylindrical faux-fur hat on Jackson’s head only enhances the dramatic effect.
The seemingly incongruous setting actually turns out to be a fitting one for Hot as Sun: The band sure like to create a mood. “We were at tap dance rehearsal last night,” says Jackson, the trio’s fair-haired frontwoman, explaining that they’ve enlisted the man behind the moves in the “Smooth Criminal” video—a protégé of tap legend Cab Calloway—to choreograph the video for their new single, “Dahance to the Beat” (not a typo, just an indication of the song’s syncopated rhythm). The dancers will be filmed in a candlelit cocktail lounge, and if the band’s first couple of YouTube sensations are anything to go by, the video is bound to be a memorable one. “The rehearsal was in the dance department at Los Angeles City College, and when we walked out there was this big group of students dancing outside in the rain,” says WAZ. “We were like, let’s all just go back to college! It would be so much fun!”
Hot as Sun’s members see the band as a creative project rather than a strictly musical one—a chance to play and have fun, to explore new talents and tastes. That’s largely because the three have already built distinguished and multifaceted careers. Jackson, a minister’s daughter from Mississippi and a classically trained pianist, had worked at Electric Lady studios in New York City before moving to L.A. for “some sunshine.” (She introduced herself to WAZ, now her husband, at a bar a few blocks from where we sit today; he had toured for years in the band of his college buddy Pete Yorn, and claims he “didn’t know [Jackson] was a musician until six months after we started dating.”) The two are successful composers for commercials and TV, and WAZ has a solo singer-songwriter career of his own. Stoll’s résumé is equally impressive: For years she wrote a column in L.A. Weekly; she covers arts and culture for The Economist, has just finished a novel, and is a self-taught animator and visual artist (the band’s adorable “New Town” video is her doing). Stoll had never played music before she met Jackson in 2010 at a sound bath—imagine lying on the floor, eyes closed, taking in the vibrations of a chorus of gongs…. Welcome to California!—at the Integratron, the fabled structure devoted to sonic transcendence located in the desert near Joshua Tree. “We discovered that we had a freakish amount in common,” says Jackson. Such as? “Our love of bacon and Pegasus.” They decided to meet up back in L.A. and “just be creative together and see what happens.”
What happened was a self-released EP (with WAZ onboard, too), shows opening for Gotye and Foster the People, gigs at Art Basel Miami Beach, a host of blog shout-outs, and a deal with Last Gang Records, home of such indie eminences as Crystal Castles and Metric. When it came time to write the songs for their debut full-length, Night Time Sound Desire (out in March), Jackson says they “had a visual in mind for every song” rather than a musical reference. The trio conducted their writing sessions in front of a constant rotation of video art, including Jim Mangan’s naked-snowboarding short Winter’s Children and the colourful animations of new-media artist Rafaël Rozendaal. Jackson often began composing melodies by noodling on an omnichord, a kitschy portable synthetic harpsichord from the ’80s; with the help of an engineer, she produced the album herself in her and WAZ’s basement.
The result—13 addictively listenable synth-based bonbons—combines a little bit of ’60s sha-la-la sunshine, a dash of what Jackson calls “dirty hip-hop,” a soupçon of gospel singing, and a generous helping of Beach House-ish lo-fi dreaminess in a base of Sleigh Bells-but-sweeter, pump-your-arms-and-chant-along power pop. Floating above it all is Jackson’s reverb-drenched soprano (which, when played in this writer’s house, elicited a question from the other room: “Were you listening to Kate Bush?”). The group will head out on the road this spring—go-go dancers in tow—promising one of the, well, hottest indie tours of the season. But when asked how it feels to be such a buzz band, WAZ laughs dismissively. “Are we?”
Stylist: WHITLEY ROBINSON
Hair: MICAH WINTER