Sunday, June 7, 2009

WTBU Interviews The Thermals

Hutch Harriss, singer of the Thermals, said the band's new record is "a power pop album," but I'm not convinced. Written and recorded by Harriss and bassist Kathy Foster, Now We Can See (which was released in April on Kill Rock Stars) maintains the same blend of raw punk influences with energetic sing-a-long pop hooks that the Thermals have created on their other three albums: More Parts Per Million (2003), Fuck A (2004), and The Body, The Blood, The Machine (2006).

The Thermals, who formed in 2002 in Portland, Oregon, are also known for their intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics. The new record stays true to this form, but it's lyrical subject matter is vastly different from the last album, which told the vague story of a young couple fleeing the United States because of a fascist faux-Christian government.

When Hutch, Kathy, and their new drummer Westin Glass stopped by the Middle East during their spring tour, Hutch and Kathy took a few minutes to chat with WTBU about their new record, which tells the story of a recently deceased individual reflecting on life. We also talked about the Pacific Northwest and their new label.

On the new album, there's a change in the lyrical direction, from writing songs that are religious and political, to writing songs about death. What inspired that change?

Hutch: We just knew that we weren't going to do politics and religion on this record. We'd had enough of that after the last one. Just like the last record, it wasn't a pre-meditated thing [to write about one topic]. On the last record, I just wrote the lyrics to "Here's Your Future" first, and it opened this door. There seemed to be so many places to go with that theme. It became really fun to write all of these songs that fit together and had a story with a general arc in it. So then the same went for this record. I wrote the lyrics to "When We Were Alive" first and then that seemed like a good starting point, to stay not just from that perspective but from the perspective of someone who is dying or is dead, reflecting on life and the history of humans on earth.

Is one distinct person telling their stories throughout the album or are there different characters? Are they real people?

Hutch: It's different in every single one, and no, they're not real people. A lot of it is me just kind of like looking at different kinds of lives, and the de-evolution idea, from "When I Died," which was on our last record. It's someone whose tired of being human or ashamed of being human, and who wants to de-evolve. And then "We Were Sick" is from the point of view of a real fascist, kind of nasty politician , or someone (same as "When We Were Alive") who led the country into evil but has no apologies about it. So they're definitely all separate points of view.

In another interview you mentioned that you thought your first couple of albums sounded influenced by the Pacific Northwest. Do you think this album is also influenced by the Northwest?

Hutch: Yeah, I was just saying that again today. Especially the first record, it sounds very much like a northwest record. That's why working with Sub Pop was so perfect. It sounded like a record that would be released by Sub Pop. It fit in very well with where we were from and the whole scene.

What do you think it means to sound like the Northwest? What makes an album sound like it's from the Northwest?

Kathy: The Northwest is cold and rainy. People are inside a lot, and people make a lot of home recordings, so I feel like it's a lot of fuzzy, pop, home-recordings... [it's] lo-fi, moody, punk...those are the kinds of things I think about.

Hutch: I think of The Wipers. The Wipers are a Portland band we kind of sound like. We kind of sound like Nirvana, Built to Spill. These are all Northwest bands. All of the Kill Rock Star and K bands...there's definitely a link. It's all sort of melodic, but sort of scratchy at the same time, it's all lo-fi. Our first record I think is exactly all of these things.

Do you think it comes through on the new record too?

Hutch: I think the new record is a power pop record. That's what I've settled on for this record. ::laugher:: I don't know. It's not like we set out to consciously be a band that sounds like the Northwest. We just follow what we want to do.

Kathy: I think it still has those influences though. We still love all of those bands. We love the combination of distortion and rock, mixed with pop. So I think it still has that element to it.

You guys recently switched from Sub Pop to Kill Rock Stars. How's that going? Why'd you guys decide to change labels?

Kathy: Super awesome. We love Kill Rock Stars. It came up because our two-record contract was up with Sub Pop. Sub Pop wanted to keep working with us, but the contract was the same, like they would own our masters, and they wanted us for more than one record, and we really wanted to own our own masters, and to work one record at a time, so it just came down to those details. We loved working with Sub Pop and all the people there, but we decided that's not what we wanted. We wanted to just make a record without having a label in mind, but Kill Rock Stars approached us first, and they were super excited and really wanted to work with us. They had the best offer and agreed to all our terms. They're right in Portland now, they're a label we grew up with, and we really respect their ideals and how they run their business. Them being in Portland, just having that community in the city, is really great. We're such good friends with them, we go to their office all the time and we can just do things in person, and it feels really good. They're doing such a great job with our record.

Stream most of the new album @

-Liz Pelly

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