The Thermals: No Culture Icons

<b>Hutch Harris,</b> singer with The Thermals, offers insight into their new LP. They take things seriously, but in a very funny way, as <b>Paul Mitchell</b> finds out.

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 03 Apr 2009

"We do love The Cribs. It is someone else's show however, so often it's a case of trying to win over kids waiting for the headliner to come on. That's not always the most fun" And so I speak to The Thermals' Hutch Harris the day after their support slot with the English four-piece at ABC.

Singer Harris isn't griping as such, he just doesn't pull his punches in suggesting support slots aren't what he wants. Unsurprising this, the Portland trio have a reputation for giving short-shrift to all they don't like with the world, in super-short bursts of - if their self-penned press release is to be believed - 'post-power-pop'. "Ha! We just said that to be obnoxious. You've got to take what we say in the PR with a crate of salt, we're just trying to have a laugh. All these labels have too many different bad connotations. Even with punk-rock, it means too many different things. And people reading about you will think you could sound like the Ramones if you're lucky..." Then, giggling "...or perhaps Good Charlotte if it's just not your day".

Harris, along with cohorts Kathy Foster (who's been there since inception in 2002) and Westin Glass (newbie drummer), had been showcasing their forthcoming release Now We Can See, The Thermals' fourth studio album. It is the much-awaited follow-up to 2006's three-chord concept rant The Body, The Blood, The Machine, replete with intense religious and political imagery. Not subtle, but possessed of humour and a musical prowess belying the seemingly straightforward presentation. As with that album, it was Harris and Foster who conceived and recorded it in its entirety before the recruitment of yet another percussionist (their fourth to date). If it all sounds a bit Spinal Tap, Hutch assures us that "all previous drummers are alive and well…I think."

Harris is eager to point out that Now We Can See won't be such a full-blooded assault on contemporary society's ills. "This one is really earthly, a lot of life and love, land and air" he explains. "A lot of the songs are from the point of view of somebody dying, or like a human looking back on life, or indeed the history of humans. We avoided religion and politics because we felt we had done it to death on the last record and now we're aiming for something more timeless. In the last record we felt we were singing about what was going on in the U.S. at that particular time but really fantasising about what the future would look like if we continued on the same path. This record definitely has more simple lyrics but that there is still a lot of gravity there."

The record was produced by one John Congleton, who, when not fronting his own band The Paper Chase, has fashioned the expansive aurals of Explosions in the Sky and The Polyphonic Spree, among countless others. "We are trying to widen our sound but still make records for the people who have been with us from the beginning when we were making them on a four-track," says Harris. "John got in touch with us last year and said he really appreciated the lyrics on the past records and he loved our vibe and attitude. It was great working with him and I think it sounds like a John Congleton record; really bombastic and large."

Now We Can See is released via Kill Rock Stars on 6 April.

The Thermals play Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh on 16 June.