Interview The Thermals: ‘It’s Not Easy’

The Thermals are getting back to what they do best.

Portland’s The Thermals are a perfect example of a band who have endured while staying true to the ideal and ethos of independence that originally inspired them. The three piece of drummer Westin Glass, bassist Kathy Foster and singer / guitarist Hutch Harris, have been together for over a decade now since they formed in 2002. Sixth album ‘Desperate Ground’, released through their new home Saddle Creek, is perhaps a perfect distillation of their impassioned take on punk rock combined with an inherent knack for finding a perfect melody. DIY catches up with Hutch to find out about the album’s dark but uplifting overtones, thriving as an independent band and their song writing process as the band move into their second decade.

The Thermals have now been together over 11 years, ‘Desperate Ground’ is reminiscent in sound and spirit of your earliest material. Is that something that you wanted to return to on this album? Was it essential to have a classic Thermals sound?
It was definitely something we wanted to return to. Our last record, [2010’s] ‘Personal Life’, was a bit quieter, slower than our previous record. We saw that as a detour, not as our new direction. We wanted to get back to what we do best - music that is loud, fast and mean.

How did the album’s theme of war, destruction and violence come about? The impassioned commitment of someone engaging in combat seems to be a perfect fit for the passion that comes across in your music. Was that something that you were consciously thinking of as you were writing these songs?
It was a conscious decision. I wanted to sing about war, about violence, about killing. I didn’t want to sing about a specific war and I didn’t want to make an anti-war record, it’s such a cliche. I wanted to make a record that celebrated the sick reality of men. Men have been killing each other since they first walked the earth, and we don’t see this fact ever changing. It made for a very dark yet very entertaining record, in our opinion.

All your records seem to have distinct themes running through them. Do you feel it’s important to make a record that tells something of a story? When do these themes and ideas really begin to take shape in the recording process?
We like, or even need a theme when we are working on a record. I want all the songs on each record we do to be united by a common thread, rather than just a collection of songs that happened to be written at the same time. I knew I wanted the theme of this record to be war and violence. As I wrote, the lyrics evolved into a tale of one man alone in the night, fighting for his life. It seemed much more appropriate to me than singing about the life of a soldier during wartime.

Can you tell us about ‘Our Love Survives’. Do you think that love is the overpowering emotion that is stronger than war, stronger than death?
Kathy suggested that we write some sort of a love song, to balance all the destruction on the rest of the record. So I wrote a love song that turned out to be incredibly destructive, go figure. It fit naturally at the end of the record. After all the death and destruction, only love survives.

Does it get harder making music as you move onto your sixth studio album? Every Thermals record sounds somewhat effortless in its conception and execution, is that how it feels to you at the time?
Quite the opposite! We work very long and hard on the songs. The lyrics go through countless drafts. The fact that it comes out sounding effortless after so much work has been done is somewhat of a miracle. I take it as a compliment for sure.

How do you feel you have developed as a band and as writers since 2002?
I think if you compare our newest record to our first record, they may seem similar at first. But upon closer listen, I think you will find we have actually grown immensely as writers. I feel like the songs on our newest record are the most ‘classic’, the most well written songs we’ve created. I feel like my lyrics keep getting better and more complex while still sounding very simple. But it’s not easy! It shouldn’t be.

Despite the dark tone of the lyrics, the album is joyous and rousing. How did you balance the light and the shade of lyrics and stirring melodies?
This is one of our specialties. No matter how dark our songs get, we always stay positive, even when we are at our most cynical. Like I said, we are celebrating the darkness, the evils of the world. And we know that no matter the odds, we will be victorious. You will be free!

Throughout your career The Thermals have remained fiercely independent while thriving on a strong individual aesthetic, is that something that you are particularly proud of?
We’re VERY proud of that fact. We’ve never had a manager, and we’ve always been on independent labels. We write our own press material, design our own artwork, and we even direct our own videos now. We are control freaks! This is exactly the way we want it.

The Thermals’ new album ‘Desperate Ground’ is out now via Saddle Creek Records.

Read the full interview in the 15th April edition of DIY Weekly, available from iTunes now.

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