Interview by Mark Lacey
Photo: The Hot One Two Official
The past year has seen the meteoric rise of Cambridge’s The Hot One Two, whose vibrant hard rock anthems have been adjourning the stages of some of the UK’s festivals this summer. Having teased fans with six singles over recent months, each denoting a deadly sin, they will shortly release their final sin and debut album ‘Superbia’, marking a new milestone in the band’s blossoming career. Bassist Nick Blackburn, and lead guitarist, Nick Manners, talk about their journey over the last 12 months.
MGM: The last time you spoke with MGM was back in January, and a lot has happened for you in the meantime. You’ve played pretty much every small festival around the UK. You’ve been playing some dates with SKAM and Dead Man’s Whiskey, you’ve put out loads of singles, loads of T shirts, you’ve done your videos with Kris Barras, you’ve done your Kickstarter, and your album’s going to be out in about two weeks. How does it feel to be inside that whirlwind?
Nick B: You’re absolutely right, it has been a bit of a whirlwind year. There’s been a lot going on all the time, but I think it’s really put us on the map. It’s been hard work, but totally worth it.
Nick M: A whirlwind is a good way to describe it, because you get caught up and you’ve just got to hang on. We’re lucky there’s five of us, because there’s always something to do. It has been single release after single release, gig after gig. Dead Man’s Whiskey is an exciting tour to be on and we really enjoyed playing with the boys in SKAM as well.
MGM: You’ve been playing lots of shows, and you’ve created a buzz wherever you go. Why do you think this year has worked as well as it has?
Nick M: The plan at the start of the year was to always be releasing something, and seen to be releasing something. I think the constant stream of music, videos, shows, and festivals has had a big part to play in the trajectory that the band has been on over the last seven or eight months. It’s just hard work and getting material out.
Nick B: Enjoying the process is more important than anything. If you’re not enjoying it, why are you doing it? We’re all mates; we all get on well together. We love doing it, and I hope that comes across when we play live and we’re interacting with people out and about on the road.
MGM: Your debut album ‘Superbia’ will be out in a few weeks’ time on the 10th November, and you’ll be playing a show supporting SKAM on launch day. What does the album title signify?
Nick B: ‘Superbia’ is basically Latin for pride. When we were thinking about doing the six singles in the lead up to it, we thought we needed a running theme through all of them. Simon suggested the Seven Deadly Sins. So, each of the six singles has represented one of the Seven Deadly Sins. ‘The Fray’, the first to come out, was Wrath. ‘Is it hot?’, our most recent one, was Envy, and then this is Pride. We were lucky enough to work with Freddie McKie from Massive Wagons, who’s done all of our artwork, and he’s done a really brilliant job. With ‘Is it hot?’ for Envy, you’ve got the snakes; with Wrath, you’ve got the demon. That all plays into everything with the final sin, Pride, coming out as the album.
Nick M: When we were coming to record the album and piece everything together, there were maybe eleven or twelve tracks that we were playing around with, but we nailed it down to ten. I think the artwork ties it all together really well. Each sin is represented by a colour. There’s an animal involved with each sin, which Freddie’s got onto the design of each single artwork. And they all come across in the t-shirts. It’s worked really well for us.
MGM: You’ve made a deliberate choice to release most of the album through the year, which has been great for regular awareness. But, are you confident that fans will now support you and buy the album?
Nick M: We were a little bit worried, because we’ve put this album together, and we’ve released six singles, and then people have only got four more tracks to listen to. But so far pre-orders have gone really well and I think people have just got behind the album wholeheartedly and we’re really pleased with that.
Nick B: People want to get behind the album. It’s a big step for us, having an album. It’s the next rung on the ladder. I think once the album comes out, a lot of the people that we see at shows, they want something physical to take away with them.
MGM: Most of the album is new material, but you’ve also included ‘Tie Me Down’ which first appeared on your debut ‘Come What May’ EP. Why did you choose to refresh and re-record that particular song for the album?
Nick B: It certainly goes down well at shows. We tend to finish with it. It’s the crowd pleaser. It’s got an audience participation bit, which we love doing, and people mostly go along with it. The previous version didn’t have Kev playing on it and we wanted to put it out again. We were still in the very early stages when we did that song; I think it was the first that came out after Simon joined and it didn’t really hit home. So, as it’s part of an album, hopefully it will get a bit more exposure and hopefully people can enjoy it a bit more.
MGM: One of the most commercial songs on the album is ‘Feeling good?’. That’s got a real eighties’ stadium rock feel to it, with a huge chorus. What does that sing signify?
Nick M: Jake, our producer who did the album; that’s one of his favourites. It’s more of a classic rock song with hooks and a driving guitar, which I think is a bit different to what we’ve done. Nick does a lot of the demos and comes with, pretty much semi complete songs, and when I heard that, I was like, oh, this is going to be fun. For the lyrics, it’s about going out, having a good time and feeling good, and having a party; having a drink with your friends and just taking life in and giving it your best shot. It’s a really feel-good song.
MGM: At the time of our interview, you’re just about to premiere your new video for ‘Rolling Stone’. For your initial videos, you worked with Kris Barras. Did he work on this one too?
Nick B: We did a couple with Kris. We did an animated one and a lyric video with a guy called Zak Muller. And then two of them, Nick Manners, and myself, have self-produced; the last one being ‘Is It Hot?’. We just wanted to have a laugh with it. I think our faces hurt from smiling after recording it. We had so much fun putting that one together. ‘Rolling Stone’ is similar, with a ‘top down in your car, driving with the sun beaming, enjoying life’ kind-of feel to the song. And the video is a ‘best bits’ compilation from the year that we’ve had.
Nick M: There’s a lot of live footage, a lot of fans, and a lot of us just having a good time on the road. We always set up Go Pros on the stage, and I’ve cobbled it together through hundreds of hours of footage. With those first couple of videos, Kris Barras did a tremendous job. And now that last single, that’s me trying to piece it all together.
MGM: The Hot One Two really translates very well onto the live stage. You’ve played Trillians in Newcastle, and Bannermans in Edinburgh in recent weeks. They have a cracking live music scene in those two cities. What was your experience of doing those shows?
Nick B: It was really good, yeah. Both wicked venues. Both really cool cities as well. We had an absolute blast. It was nice to get out, as a lot of the gigs we’ve been doing this year are just heading out and coming back, so it was nice to put even a small stint together. We had a good time travelling up to those, having a few beers and playing the gigs.
MGM: You’ve also been making quite an impact on the festival circuit, with performances at Call of the Wild, FireVolt, SavFest, SOS Fest and HRH AOR. You’ve really adapted to those big stages over the course of the last nine months. How does it feel to be playing those enormous stages so early into your career?
Nick M: It’s a fantastic feeling for us. We’ve got a venue here in Cambridge called The Junction, and Gary Brown organises an event called ‘The Fiver’ in Cambridge and he has five bands there for a fiver. We’re always be knocking on his door saying, ‘oh, can we play this year?’, just because we loved playing on that big stage. I think my jaw dropped a bit with Call of the Wild. That was a fantastic feeling. We got the banner up behind us and it was a stage that we could just run about on. And then FireVolt was even bigger. I couldn’t believe it. It’s a fantastic feeling to look out on the audience. It’s not to say that we don’t like small stages, but I think the energy comes across a little bit better on a bigger stage. I feel like we got some ego rises. We get them when we’re on a bigger stage and we just embrace it.
Nick B: It’s good playing all those stages. I really like playing the small ones, the intimate ones and the big ones. I suppose every venue has a different sound. It’s got its own character.
MGM: Part of your strategy for this year was about building awareness from those festivals. What do you think has been the biggest uplift of all the shows that you’ve done this year? And do you think the strategy has worked as you expected it to?
Nick B: I think it has, but part of that still remains to be seen. We were very lucky and very grateful to get a lot of the gigs that we’ve had this year, even off the back of our last EP. Hopefully off the back of an album, we’re really excited to see what we can achieve.
MGM: Has the touring success this year given you the confidence to start headlining your own shows? You did your first headline show at The Giffard in Wolverhampton a few weeks ago, but do you have an appetite for more?
Nick M: We’ve asked ourselves, are we in a position to start headlining, particularly some of the places where we do go quite often? We know when we go there, we’re going to see fans we’ve met before, that follow us, and they’re going to be turning up. We’re headlining Dementia AwareFest in Cannock towards the start of next year, which we’re really looking forward to. And it’s nice to see the logo creeping up festival slots as well. We’re really fortunate with that. With an album out, it gives a bit more of a stamp, and you can maybe wave your arms a little bit bigger.
MGM: Support for the Hot One Two has really started to gain momentum, and with friends like Kris Barras, Massive Wagons, SKAM, and Dead Man’s Whiskey, the foundations are there for a successful 2024. What are you plans over the coming months to support the album launch?
Nick B: We’re at Hard Rock Hell in Great Yarmouth. On the 10 November, which is our album launch show, we’ve supporting SKAM at the Black Heart. And then we’re doing a few dates on the Dead Man’s Whiskey tour. Were really excited to be getting into some new places; we’ve just been to Edinburgh to do Bannermans, we’re going up to Glasgow, to Liverpool, which we’ve not been to before. and we’re finishing the year off with our album launch show in Cambridge on the 8th December.
MGM: Your rise in the last year looks pretty fast. What has been the highlight so far?
Nick B: When you’re cracking on with everything behind the scenes, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. But actually, the video that Manners has done for ‘Rolling Stone’ and the Kickstarter promo video that Simon put together, they’re both compilations of various things that have happened over the last year and it was really nice watching back over them. You start to realise the journey that you’ve been on. That’s been good.
Nick M: Some of the tracks on the album have been written and recorded for quite a long time. To look back, especially around COVID, when we’re all jumping on zoom calls, writing lyrics and finishing songs, that seems an age away. And the last year has honestly just flown by.
MGM: The Hot One Two have been very pro-active on social media, and slowly building a loyal community of supporters. What has inspired your approach?
Nick M: We look at bands like Those Damn Crows with CrowCast. Maybe the next thing around the corner for us to be interacting with fans is to be doing a podcast where people can jump in the chat, and ask questions. We’re always looking at other bands that are further up the rungs than us, and what are they doing that’s really working for them.
MGM: Your strategy this year has been about drip feeding singles and videos, and playing shows. That process will come to an end with the album launch, so what happens next to keep up the momentum?
Nick B: The strategy is to get out on the road, really. There’s a couple of songs starting to knock around for album two, but the next year will be about touring and writing, and then hopefully by the end of next year, we’ll have something in hand ready to go out again. Maybe we can put out another single; keep people interested, keep giving something new. Other than that, it’s just getting out on the road, playing to as many people, in as many places as we can, getting into some new territories and revisiting old ones.
The Hot One Two are performing live throughout the UK: https://www.thehotonetwo.com/event
4th Nov: HRH XVI, Camp HRH Great Yarmouth
10th Nov: Black Heart, Camden (with SKAM)
12th Nov: B2 venue, Norwich (with Dead Man’s Whiskey)
14th Nov: The Station, Cannock (with Dead Man’s Whiskey)
16th Nov: Audio, Glasgow (with Dead Man’s Whiskey)
24th Nov: Zanzibar, Liverpool (with Dead Man’s Whiskey)
25th Nov: Dementia Aware Fest, HMV Empire, Coventry
1st Dec: Winter Rocks, Sheffield City Centre
3rd Dec: Planet Rock Stock, Porthcawl
8th Dec: Portland Arms, Cambridge (Album launch party)
20th Jan: Dementia AwareFest, The Station, Cannock
16th March: The Tivoli, Buckley, Wales