More Spunk Per Thermal
Portland-based pop band The Thermals starts out the new year with a new tour, but the same characteristic charm
January 12, 2005
by Ashley Graham

The Thermals are a loud, nonstop, infectious punk pop band with confident music sensibilities. They are three fun and dedicated musicians with years of experience doing something fresh. They bring newness to a tiresome genre that seemed all but dead. And, they’ve accomplished all of this in just under three years.

Created by singer Hutch Harris in the spring of 2002 while recording songs in his kitchen and brought to life by the following summer, The Thermals, Harris, Kathy Foster and Jordan Hudson, signed to Seattle-based Sub Pop by 2003 and released their first full-length,
More Parts Per Million, by that same spring. If it all seems a little fast, that’s because it was. And The Thermals would agree.

“We signed with them two years ago exactly and we’ve already done two records with them,” Harris said, adding, “Jesus, it’s not that long. They let us do whatever we want and we DO do whatever we want. It’s been really good so far.”

With the relative ease that seems to have come to The Thermals’ career, their history does date back to each member’s teen years.

“I started when I was fifteen,” said Harris, “And all of us have started around that age. It’s just something we’ve done forever at this point. My dad was a musician and he always encouraged me to play music and I was brought up with a ton of music around.  It was just a natural choice.”

With each member having played music for years and having already survived the ups and downs of previous bands, they are able to bring all of that to their work with The Thermals.

“Kathy and I have had a bunch of bands together. We’ve had really loud rock, and then quieter, and then folksy kinds of stuff with acoustic guitars,” Harris said. “And then Jordan’s done a ton of other shit too. The last thing he had was a totally different instrumental project.”

2004 brought The Thermals’ sophomore album
Fuckin’ A, the perfect compliment to their first release.  With any release comes criticism, but the reviews are strong for The Thermals’ work in general. And Harris characterizes most critics’ method to the madness of review writing saying that he doesn’t “mind at all.”

“A lot of times when people do that they can hear, like, one second of a song without even listening to the entire song, but just that one second will remind them of another band.  One second out of one song of your songs out of, like, thirty or something and… they can kind of peg you that way.” He laughs, “It’s funny that a lot of times people will compare you to stuff that you’ve never even listened to, like when there’s no way it could have influenced you.”

Their first release garnered comparisons to Guided by Voices for its stripped down, homemade appeal, while the music itself gets references to bands like The Buzzcocks and The Pixies, which Harris says is “always good” for him. 

Foster and Hudson, lifelong fans of Guided by Voices were especially thrilled when The Thermals opened on two nights of the band’s farewell tour last fall, both in their hometown of Portland and nearby Seattle.

The experiences gained from their years in music have built an interesting model for The Thermals’ outlook on the creative process and the importance that each of their bands holds in their collected career, be it the folk-pop duo Hutch and Kathy or Hudson’s Operacycle or their current form.

“Each band is a project more than a band,” Hutch said. “I don’t think any of us will have one band that we have our whole life.  Sometimes I think putting a band together is like making a movie. It’s not permanent, the characters aren’t permanent. In a couple years you’ll be picking up a new project when you’re playing your instrument with a totally different person. “

This combination seems to be working well, though, for the present. As Harris said, all members seem to agree to want to “do a lot of different things” and not “get stuck on one style of music.” The group gets along well and he already feels a sense of achievement from working with The Thermals in having recorded the albums they have and being on a “good label,” with Sub Pop.

“Just the fact that it’s been done by us at home, alone and that it ended up doing really well, that for me was a huge achievement and it’s still my favorite thing we’ve done.”

But The Thermals aren’t onto their next project just yet.

“We’re writing a third record,” Harris said, “We’re going to tour again in January and pretty much the first half of the year. More of just the same good shit we’ve been doing.  We don’t want to change too much just yet.  I don’t really look to the future that much so I don’t really know what’s going to happen. As long as we enjoy this I know we’ll keep doing it.”

The Thermals have dates scheduled from now until the middle of February across the U.S. and will tour more extensively in the coming months.

“The live show is better than it has ever been right now,” Harris said. “It’s really fast, full of energy, really moving from song to song, almost no space at all.”

“I love it,” he said of touring, “It’s better than being home. I think it’s great. Seriously.”

For more info on The Thermals, see their website at
www.thethermals.com and to hear a sample of their sound head to The Wig’s new MySpace page where, thanks to our friends at Sub Pop we’re streaming The Thermals’ “No Culture Icons” off their first release More Parts Per Million. Look for our live review of The Thermals, coming in February.
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