Coming out of the Pacific Northwest indie rock scene fully formed, the Thermals mainstays, singer/guitarist Hutch Harris and bassist Kathy Foster, received paltry exposure in a folky boy/girl duo (annoyingly labeled twee-pop), a few unheralded combos, and surprisingly, a long-defunct stoner rock outfit. But as the Thermals, the now-married duo (plus several semi-popular local musicians) stormed the weighty underground scene in 2002 with a roughhewn, sometimes muffled, homemade cassette recording legendary Seattle grunge label, Sub Pop Records, saw fit to release in its primal, unfinished state.
Hitting the ground running with crudely sketched debut, More Parts Per Million, the Thermals’ charmingly upbeat two-minute drills came across as itchy, twitchy epistles just far enough removed from emo-core melodramatics to advance their self-described “post-power pop.” Hutch’s brashly blurted shout-outs and demonstratively flailed riffs outshone the greener competition, gaining his band national attention. “No Culture Icons” captured all the pent-up frustration of a starving artist trying to find an audience willing to move beyond trendy MTV mediocrity. Searching for safety in an “Overgrown, Overblown” universe and hoping to survive past springtime in “Back To Gray,” Hutch’s clanging jingles resembled a cataclysmic cyclone slamming the shoreline. And his unkempt, whiplash six-string prowess proved menacingly exhilarating through and through.
Benefiting from proper studio production without sacrificing the manic energy of their stripped down precursor, ‘04’s Fuckin A dissects and bisects human suffering. An unmistakable furor extends from its bleak nuclear power plant cover art to its disgruntled subversive passages. Hutch’s best vocal performance adorns full-fledged rock anthem, “How We Know,” his most clear-headed, vibrant, provocative, and absolutely heartfelt pledge yet. He toys with late-‘70s “oi” punk yelping on ascending decree, “Our Trip,” answering the Sex Pistols urgent “Anarchy In The UK” plea with the same vigilance given venomous desecration, “Here’s Your Future,” the gloom-shaken highlight from ‘06’s post-apocalyptic manifesto, The Body, The Blood, The Machine. A benchmark third album hosted by a blindfolded Jesus in second coming stance, The Body’s brassy romp, “An Ear For Baby,” and aggressive fuck-off, “Keep Time,” beg for a “new first world order” away from America’s oppressive regime.
And then, the Thermals spoke from beyond an assumed grave (with Say Hi drummer Westin Glass now onboard), returning poised and readied to battle once more on ‘09’s eulogizing Now We Can See (ironically, on Kill Rock Stars record label). A parched afternoon setting can’t hide the hailstorm force of opening sepulchral proclamation, “When I Died.” Then, brazenly savage memento, “We Were Sick,” distinctly contrasts torturous teen angst against the joy of being high—its hooky chorus only overmatched by the instantly contagious title cut. Ranted testimonial, “When We Were Alive,” and hard-driving garage rocker, “When I Was Afraid,” hearken back to Detroit’s gloriously heady late ‘60s dynamos, the MC5 and the Stooges. And perky abrasion, “You Dissolve,” gives these nihilistic teasers an obvious dust-to-dust epilogue.
Even in faux-death, Hutch and Kath’s resolve remains intact. After all, a much-awaited resurrection was definitely in the cards. Far from actual extinction, the Thermals are now at the top of their game.
So, you haven’t lost your piss and vinegar even though your man, Obama, was elected.
Hutch: True. But we wrote it before Obama was elected so we thought we were gonna soundtrack the first four years of McCain-Palin.
Now that the Republicans have lost the White House, how will you continue to compose cantankerous political missives?
We’ll have to move beyond politics. We were already trying to but it kept creeping back in. We’ll have to find something new to whine about. A lot of our songs are about arrogance. And they’re arrogant themselves. Usually it’s a metaphor for humanity. We’re looking back on life and the history of people on Earth who are arrogant, violent, and stupid. Our songs try to reflect that. The songs celebrate fucked up things. It’s not just to get down on everything.
On ‘Now We Can See,’ you go from Garden of Eden to junkyard of debris, but there’s a happy chanted chorus.
Totally. We got to have a good time even if the world’s going to shit. Usually the songs we work on the longest and hardest, people think, ‘That’s just okay.’ But the things we just throw out there work better for us.
What were the most difficult tracks to complete?
‘When I Died’ had a lot of lyrical re-writing and editing. But then you have a song like ‘When We Were Alive’ which I sat down and wrote from start to finish and didn’t touch afterwards. That was the first song written for the record and truly got us started —the whole ‘we were alive and now we’re dead’ concept.