THREE’S COMPANY: Since forming in 2002, Portland-based band The Thermals have proudly worn their pop-punk hearts on their sleeves. Led by longtime songwriting partners Kathy Foster and Hutch Harris, the group’s defined itself by tweaking and twisting the conventions of its genre, penning songs that hit hard without sacrificing their lyrical ingenuity. On The Thermals’ most recent release, 2009’s Now We Can See (NWCS), Harris speak-sings and wails through tales about living, dying, and looking back on the world of political chaos and fear that they described so vividly on 2006’s The Body The Blood The Machine.
Today, the band is hard at work on a follow-up to NWCS with friend (and Death Cab for Cutie guitarist) Chris Walla, who helped produce the first two Thermals albums. Also on board this go-round is newfound drummer Westin Glass, the band’s first official percussionist since 2004.
“A lot of the people we work with are kind of similar,” said Foster of Walla’s return to the mixing board. “We tend to record with musicians, which is good because they know where we’re coming from. But we also click really well with Chris because we have a lot of the same aesthetic ideals. We all love recording to tape and doing stuff on analog, and he loves to be really hands-on with the recordings and not just pushing buttons on a computer.”
In fact, The Thermals’ love of all things analog has long helped their albums maintain the raw-but-slick sound that has become their signature. “Doing stuff straight to tape is a little riskier, but it also makes the songs better,” Foster explained. “With the computer, there’s just too many options, and you can easily start cutting and pasting—tape is just a lot more organic.”
With Walla back in the driver’s seat, it also stands to reason that The Thermals may be returning to their heavier sounding roots, but Foster promises that it’s quite the opposite.
“This album and the last album are more dynamic, just not as noisy and fast,” she explained. “There’s less punk and more rock and pop, I guess. Hutch is really getting into not playing chords on every song, just because we have a lot of songs that are just straightforward power chords and the guitars are really noisy and dizzy the whole time. … The songs are also a little darker. I was doing a lot of writing for this album, so I would write bass lines and then kind of base a song around that. It definitely has a different feel to it.”
Despite the darkness, Foster promises that things are coming up roses in The Thermals’ camp, especially when it comes to the addition of Glass. “He’s really a friendly, positive, excited guy. He’s pretty pumped on life in general,” she laughed. “It’s a good attitude to be around. We all have a similar sense of humor, so he just fit right in with us right away. It’s working out really well.”
The Thermals play an all-ages show at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) this Saturday, February 6, with Kill Rock Stars labelmates Thao with the Get Down Stay Down. Call 965-8676 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.
By Courtesy Photo