With two albums out on San Jose’s Asian Man Records (Smell the Mitten and Get Your Heart On) and shows across North America and the UK, the Hot Toddies signed to Tricycle Records in late 2012 to release a new EP scheduled for later this month. Hiding out in the VIP room at Public Works in San Francisco, we recently caught up with Oakland-based indie rock girl group to discuss their roots, whiskey and their brief encounter with llamas in Oakland.
Let’s start with the basics. How long have you been performing as the Hot Toddies?
Sylvia: Since 2005, so that’s like seven years now?
Heidi: Holy Shit.
Sylvia: We’ve been saying five years for the past three years.
Heidi: We all learned our instruments to be in the band. Erin and I wrote a few campfire, acoustic songs and we were like, ‘Let’s plug this in!’ We found Silvia and were like, ‘Can you learn drums?’
Sylvia: Yeah, I learned in a month.
Heidi: Lucky you were bad ass at picking it up.
How did you come up with the name?
Heidi: Well, we all like to drink whiskey…
Sylvia: I didn’t at first.
Heidi: We taught Silvia how to drink whiskey. Erin and I lived together and we couldn’t afford the heat so would drink a lot of warm drinks. We’d drink a lot of Hot Toddies while writing songs and we thought it was a cute name.
Erin: We wanted to have a name that had something to do with alcohol. There’s a short list of names that you can work with.
Are there any parallels between the drink and your music?
Heidi: Not really. I think it’s just the whiskey part.
Erin: They are good for you if you have a cold or something.
What kind of whiskey do you prefer?
Your video, “Hey, Hey” features llamas. Are you trained llama tamers or did you need any formal training? And how did that idea come about?
Sylvia: Now we are.
Heidi: You have to slowly approach them, and when you breathe out your nostrils they can sense fear through your scent, which is really weird to do, so we were sneaking up on these llamas and breathing on them, and they would smell it. If they were cool with it they’d stand up and come over to you. It was really weird.
Sylvia: We learned all this in the two minutes that we worked with them. They weren’t written into the script either. We just ran into the llamas, they happened to be in the same place that we were shooting.
Erin: Gio, this old hippy dude with a van full of llamas, was out walking them.
I’m assuming this wasn’t filmed in Oakland?
Sylvia: It WAS filmed in Oakland!
Erin: In Redwood Park.
Sylvia: Up in the hills past the Mormon Temple. We wanted to run through meadows and forests and then we ran into llamas.
Erin: The craziest part about that video for me was the underwater shoot. They had these underwater cameras and we had to jump in the water and swim around, it was crazy. The whole video was a 48 hour competition so the video crew was just telling us what to do. Luckily we didn’t do any editing, but we pretty much got no sleep for a really long time.
Heidi: We won best cinematography for it.
What are your influences?
Erin: We like music with harmonies. Originally when we were trying to learn guitar we played a lot of Beatles songs. They’re pretty easy and use a lot of good harmonies. I feel like all of us have pretty diverse musical tastes from everything to metal to punk rock to…
Heidi: Mariah Carrey.
Erin: It’s kind of hard when we’re writing songs because we have a lot influences, but mostly we like to sing with a lot of harmonies. We don’t wanna get bored with our music.
What’s your songwriting process?
Heidi: We drink Jameson! We have different ways but usually we’re on the road or out somewhere, usually with an acoustic guitar, or we’ll be in a funny situation and sing about whatever is happening and then take it back to the practice space and make it a full song.
Erin: We write mostly as a band and all contribute with lyrics…
Heidi: And sing mostly about life and funny events, like the song “Seattle.” It’s a true story. We drove up there and we were horny. Being on the road is hard!
Erin: We tried to think of every word that rhymes with Seattle.
Heidi: We try to stay very light, on light subjects. We think we’re funny, I’m not sure if anyone else does.
Are there any advantages or disadvantages of being a girl group?
Sylvia: I think we get more free drinks than most bands do. Especially after we play there’s always those guys that are like “Ooh, an all-girl band.” Then we play and they’re surprised that we’re good, and we’re like “Yeah, buy us a drink.”
Erin: We’ve turned a lot of attempted pickups into, “Oh hey, buy our album!”
Sylvia: We want to be treated equally, but we just want to have fun. We’re not all that serious.
Erin: We have a lot more fun than any other band I’ve ever met.
You are releasing your new EP on Tricycle records. How is it different from your previous efforts?
Erin: We’ve known Julie for a long time with Tricycle records and she wanted us to work with her, we’re all very excited.
Sylvia: We’ll still work with Asian Man records since they released two of our past records. We’ll be buds with Mike forever.
Erin: Asian Man is one of those labels you never really leave. You’ll always be part of the family.
Heidi: Things on this record are a little different since one of our band members moved to Asia.
Erin: We took a little hiatus and waited to see what her plans were. She’s staying for a while and having a great time so we decided to get back together as a three piece. It changes the sound a little bit; it just won’t have keyboards.
Where do you see yourselves moving forward?
Heidi: Hopefully traveling more. We want to tour.
Erin: We have a California tour planned in January and we’re looking to go to SXSW in March, and then hopefully hit up the East Coast again and then Europe…
Sylvia: And then Japan…
Heidi: And then Australia!
What is one of your best tour stories?
Erin: We did a tour in the UK a couple of years ago. One of the reasons we did that tour was because this amazing 15 year old girl really liked us and wanted us to come play. She built a whole show around us coming out to England. It was a really fun and amazing show. It turned out that her and her sister said we could stay at their house, and they ended up living in a castle.
Heidi: A legit castle!
Sylvia: We had our own wing.
Erin: There was a chapel, it was part of the castle and there was a giant organ in it.
Heidi: They got us tons of Budweiser and Doritos, all this junk food and American stuff.
Erin: It was kind of incredible.
Heidi: Every morning I woke up and felt like a princess. It was hard to leave. ~By Anthony Presti