The Thermals interview

On Monday Portland indie-pop beatniks The Thermals release their forth studio album ‘Now We Can See‘ – their first since leaving one legendary US label, Sub Pop, and moving seamlessly to another, Kill Rock Stars.

The album’s refreshing simplicity and honest pop songs, teamed with their recent killer shows supporting The Cribs on their UK tour have seen the band reach higher levels of acclaim over here than ever before. Where so many bands seem to fall victim to the hype machine, The Thermals keep improving, steadily collecting a snowballing number of loyal and dedicated fans with each record.

Crossfire caught up with front man and founding member Hutch Harrison to discuss new albums, new labels, new fans and life as a member of one of Portland’s finest exports.

‘Now We Can See’ just came out over here in the UK. How do you think this album compares to your previous releases?

We think it is THE BEST one we’ve done, by far, seriously! Kathy and I took a very long time writing this record and we wouldn’t release it unless we felt it was better than what we’d done before.

What are the themes and concepts behind the album?

Love, death, air, light, water, land. These are all inescapable themes of life and art.

Your previous album ‘The Body, The Blood, The Machine’ had a lot of religious references running through it that seem to be absent in ‘Now We Can See’ – do your lyrics reflect things happening in your life at the times they were written?

The times we were living in were of course influencing the lyrics of TBTBTM, but the songs were fiction, a fantasy on how terrible things COULD be. It’s not always easy for people to understand, it can be hard to get away with sarcasm and storytelling in music, people want to take things point blank. I’m talking about the people who thought we were attacking Christians directly.

The album was recorded with Kathy on drums, but you now have a new drummer. What is Westin’s influence on the live sound? Do you feel he brings his own element to the music or does he play what you’ve already written exactly as you wrote it?

Westin KICKS ASS, that’s why we asked him to be our drummer. He’s definitely playing the beats pretty close to how they are on record, but of course he brings his own style, and he’s incredibly charismatic on stage and looks like he’s having the most fun of any Thermals drummer.

For this album you moved from Sub Pop to Kill Rock Stars. What were the reasons for this and what are the pros and cons of working with the new label?

I have to say there’s only pros so far, no cons! But I would still say the same about Sub Pop. We loved working with them and had a ton of freedom, had a really good time, and of course we still work with them. We just wanted a contract that looked different, and we found it with KRS. It’s great that they moved to Portland, we’re in there all the time, distracting them from their work…

Kill Rock Stars as a label is famed for working with bands with a fairly political agenda. Is politics something that you feel motivates you as a band? Do you feel as a band it’s your duty to speak out about political issues?

For a while I’ve been working on not looking to politics for motivation. I don’t consider myself or the band political, it’s definitely not a hole I want to get stuck in, creatively. I don’t think any artist should feel they have some kind of duty to speak out on political issues, because it would make for too many half-assed statements. Religion and politics in this country motivated me for some years, but I had to let it go, for now.

You’re a band who, in the UK at least, have steadily and quietly built a following but failed to really hit the mainstream. Having toured twice with The Cribs, who are a fairly big pop act over here, do you feel that’s something you’re working towards or do you prefer what you have now?

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t something we are working towards, but we’re also quite satisfied with the success we’ve had so far, for sure. I think I’d be surprised if we ever got as big as The Cribs.

You just played SXSW – how was that?

Let’s just say we made sure to keep a work to play ration of 1:1, which means we spent most of our time at the four seasons pool, with the KRS crew and consumed large amounts of tequila, straight.

One thing that is clear from other interviews and your press releases is your allegiance to Portland. What is it that makes your hometown so special?

We do have an allegiance to Portland, of course! And to the thousands of other great artists that live here.

If you were to move to another city in the world as a band, where would it be?

Either NYC or Feluy, Belgium

So let’s end with some fresh blood, what new bands from Portland should we be looking out for?

Shaky Hands, Point Juncture, Wa, and Explode into Colors.

Check out The Thermals on Myspace