Turntable Inteview: The Thermals
Since 2002, the Thermals have crafted raucous, ebullient post-pop-punk tunes that are ridiculously catchy and singularly intense. Over the years, Hutch Harris, Kathy Foster, and — for the last few albums — Westin Glass, have honed their craft from their homebase in Portland, Oregon, releasing five records filled with thoughtful, driving, and brash songs. Their sixth LP, and debut for Saddle Creek, Desperate Ground, will be released 4/16. The album is an ode to adolescent energy that belies their status as elder statesmen of the indie rock scene and clearly shows that the Thermals have no plans to slow down any time soon. Before heading out on tour in support of Desperate Ground, Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster hopped onto Turntable.fm to talk about, well, everything including Camp Mariah, dirty French and K-Pop, and making one of the wackiest playlists ever.
Melissa Locker started playing “All For You” by Janet Jackson
STEREOGUM: Hi Thermals! Wait, who is who? Your avatars tell me nothing
HUTCH HARRIS: I’m the Asian girl
KATHY FOSTER: Good morning! Black Thoughts! I’m ginger boy.
STEREOGUM: Of course you are.
KATHY FOSTER: Yes! Hey where did my song go?
HUTCH HARRIS: Yr song is right here fizz. dans mon cul
KATHY FOSTER: Thank cul!
STEREOGUM: Whoa dirty French 101?
HUTCH HARRIS: :]
KATHY FOSTER: Yeah, that’s all we learned from our belgian tour manager
STEREOGUM: You two have been in a band together for a long time
HUTCH HARRIS: Mon cul, c’est tres magnifique! Soooooooo long
STEREOGUM: Do you only speak in in-jokes?
KATHY FOSTER: Yes!
STEREOGUM: and Dirty French?
KATHY FOSTER: OUI!
HUTCH HARRIS: Cul
KATHY FOSTER: You nailed it!
HUTCH HARRIS: 2CUL 4SCHOOL. I nailed it. Mon cul that is
STEREOGUM: You did nail it
KATHY FOSTER: Ok, yes, we’ve been in THIS band together for 11 years! and played together for a few years before that!
HUTCH HARRIS: It will be 12 years next year!!!
KATHY FOSTER: We’re BFFs!
Hutch Harris started playing “I Dreamed a Dream” by Les Misérables: International Cast
HUTCH HARRIS: YUP
STEREOGUM: Do you live next door to each other in Portland? Or have a Habitrail between your homes?
KATHY FOSTER: We wish!
HUTCH HARRIS: I live in the stix
KATHY FOSTER: We both bought houses in the last couple years… and i tried to find one near hutch!
HUTCH HARRIS: Not hard enuff
KATHY FOSTER: This song is evidence of hutch’s drama camp years
HUTCH HARRIS: ;(
KATHY FOSTER: sowwy!
HUTCH HARRIS: Sadwinky
STEREOGUM: Drama camp? Do tell
HUTCH HARRIS: You just learn how to be really bitchy
KATHY FOSTER: Yeah, its called ‘Being on tour with Hutch’! hahah!
HUTCH HARRIS: Diva school
STEREOGUM: Having played together for so long do you feel like you’re still getting to know each other musically? Or are you really comfortable
HUTCH HARRIS: Pretty comfy but always growing
KATHY FOSTER: Damn comfy, like ton cul.
STEREOGUM: Do you think that helps you make better music?
HUTCH HARRIS: Totally
KATHY FOSTER: Fo sho! We really work well together!
HUTCH HARRIS: Our sensibilities match up. I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living
KATHY FOSTER: And since we know each other so well, we can be honest with each other and not passive aggressive.
HUTCH HARRIS: Yes!
STEREOGUM: Since you’re so comfortable together how do you challenge yourselves musically?
Kathy Foster started playing “Lower Leg” by Wetdog
KATHY FOSTER: We work on songs until we love them. Sometimes it takes a while!
HUTCH HARRIS: Yeah we don’t settle, keep working until we love it
KATHY FOSTER: A song can start out as one thing and end up somewhere totally different
STEREOGUM: How long did it take you to come up with the songs on your new album?
HUTCH HARRIS: About a year. the songs went through many different versions. SO many lyrics written and thrown away
STEREOGUM: So do you write lyrics first? Or write a song and try to come up with lyrics that work
KATHY FOSTER: We always start with the music
Melissa Locker started playing “Hustle Bones” by Death Grips
KATHY FOSTER: As the songs are shaping up, Hutch starts getting lyric ideas
Hutch Harris started playing “One Day More!” by Les Misérables: International Cast
KATHY FOSTER: Sorry
HUTCH HARRIS: Sorry wot
KATHY FOSTER: I gave that death grips song a thumbs down
HUTCH HARRIS: Ha
KATHY FOSTER: We’re all about strange transitions!
STEREOGUM: Zach Hill will track you down
HUTCH HARRIS: Why are you called woolyknickers?
STEREOGUM: It’s my Twitter handle
KATHY FOSTER: Sounds hot and itchy and not in a good way!
STEREOGUM: Probably is! I don’t own any. So Hutch, big Les Miz fan?
HUTCH HARRIS: Hot and itchy is always good. Yeah I love Les Mis! It’s not my favorite
STEREOGUM: You like it a lot more than Death Grips, though, apparently
KATHY FOSTER: We went and saw the new one together
HUTCH HARRIS: But Kathy and I saw it last year and I’ve been listening to it nonstop since
KATHY FOSTER: It was good!
STEREOGUM: Did you sing along? Give the audience a Thermals/Les Miz mash up?
KATHY FOSTER: Yeah, I thought it was like a Rocky Horror thing but everyone got mad at me
Kathy Foster started playing “Bloodstains” by Agent Orange
HUTCH HARRIS: Who got mad at u? oh my queue is full of AO too! Imean my CUL is full
KATHY FOSTER: Duh audience. Follow along! Haha!
HUTCH HARRIS: /:] What is dis?
STEREOGUM: I think you made that one up
KATHY FOSTER: Ton cul is full of bloodstains?
HUTCH HARRIS: I’m gonna make my queue K-POP only so it matches my avatar
Melissa Locker started playing “Between The Bars” by Elliott Smith
STEREOGUM: This is the weirdest playlist ever
HUTCH HARRIS: I fucking LOVE it
STEREOGUM: But you wouldn’t dare give a thumbs down to Elliott
KATHY FOSTER: These are the most boring DJs to watch! laptops?!
STEREOGUM: You can dance if you push thumbs up
HUTCH HARRIS: Scared ginger
KATHY FOSTER: Sweet!
STEREOGUM: See? Now it’s a dance party
HUTCH HARRIS: Dancin ginger
KATHY FOSTER: La la la dancin scared ginger with alfalfa hair
HUTCH HARRIS: sew scared
KATHY FOSTER: twee bastard! I wanna be an animal like woolyknickers!
STEREOGUM: Your new album is called Desperate Ground. Where does the title come from? And you have to earn kittycat status on Turntable.
Hutch Harris started playing “Like This” by Wonder Girls
KATHY FOSTER: We were gonna open a coffee shop called “desperate grounds” but decided to use it for an album instead.
STEREOGUM: Okay let’s all listen to Wonder Girls all the time
KATHY FOSTER: Yeah!
HUTCH HARRIS: YEAH
STEREOGUM: The sad fact is that there is probably a coffee shop called Desperate Grounds
KATHY FOSTER: I’m a white ginger and I’m dancing!
HUTCH HARRIS: I’m an underage Korean girl and I’m dancing!
KATHY FOSTER: Ok, I’m getting Mariah in here!
HUTCH HARRIS: Get it girl, you know you love it. Wanna dance?
STEREOGUM: Do you listen to a lot of K-Pop? Or a little.
Kathy Foster started playing “Up Out My Face” (Feat. Nicki Minaj) by Mariah Carey
HUTCH HARRIS: I don’t! Anymore. I used too but not really by choice
STEREOGUM: Is there a Thermals K-Pop album on the horizon? I would buy that
HUTCH HARRIS: We r gonna get the wonder girl that ‘raps’ to rap on a Thermals track
STEREOGUM: That would be awesome. After The Body, The Blood, The Machine came out. Did you ever want to do another concept album? And do you consider it a concept album? It always got billed like that in the press
HUTCH HARRIS: Not concept exactly
but a story…a theme…which is how we’ve viewed all our records since! TBTBTM = GOD NWCS = DEATH
STEREOGUM: So what’s the story behind Desperate Ground?
KATHY FOSTER: Yeah, they end up having a theme, but we don’t start writing it thinking it will have a theme…
HUTCH HARRIS: DG = WAR. VIOLENCE KILLING
STEREOGUM: So some uplifting stuff on Desperate Ground
Melissa Locker started playing “Come Alive” by Bigbang
HUTCH HARRIS: Always
STEREOGUM: Very KPOP material
HUTCH HARRIS: SHOPPING. NAILS
HUTCH HARRIS: BOYS!!! $$$
Hutch Harris started playing “Booty-Whop” by Big Freedia
STEREOGUM: That was not the song I thought it was
HUTCH HARRIS: BF for the hipsters
KATHY FOSTER: Asian tween LOVES it!
HUTCH HARRIS: She loves it SEW
KATHY FOSTER: Ginger boy’s scared.
HUTCH HARRIS: Scared of his feelings for BF B===========D
KATHY FOSTER: Deer in headlights. Not comfortable with his erotic feelings
STEREOGUM: So if you don’t start writing your albums with a theme why do you think ending up with them?
HUTCH HARRIS: I got some points! how did I get points?
KATHY FOSTER: We thumbs up’ed you
HUTCH HARRIS: :]
KATHY FOSTER: The songs start coming together.. then Hutch starts writing lyrics…and a theme grows from there…but we don’t sit down before we start writing and talk about what the record’s gonna be about
STEREOGUM: You just get in the studio and start playing?
HUTCH HARRIS: Yeaaaaaaaaaah
KATHY FOSTER: Yup!
Kathy Foster started playing “Touch My Body” by Mariah Carey
KATHY FOSTER: Whoa I haven’t heard this remix version
STEREOGUM: Have you been watching Mariah on American Idol?
KATHY FOSTER: No. Have you? How is she? Is she cray cray?
STEREOGUM: She really likes it when people fawn all over her
KATHY FOSTER: Of course. She calls her fans the “lambily”
HUTCH HARRIS: pblth
STEREOGUM: There’s a girl on the show who went to something called Camp Mariah where you go learn to be like Mariah
KATHY FOSTER: Diva camp?!
STEREOGUM: I think you guys should go
KATHY FOSTER: I SO WANNA GO!!! Hutch already graduated with honors from there
STEREOGUM: Oh Hutch you went? Tell us about it. Did you earn a merit badge?
HUTCH HARRIS: I got kicked out! i knew too much
STEREOGUM: What did you do?
HUTCH HARRIS: Showed them some tricks they were NOT ready to learn
KATHY FOSTER: He out-bitched them all!
STEREOGUM: That is merit-badge worthy.
Melissa Locker started playing “Beez In The Trap” (Feat. 2 Chainz) by Nicki Minaj
STEREOGUM: So how is the Portland music scene these days?
HUTCH HARRIS: Hyperbowl huffle
KATHY FOSTER: Ok, ginger boy’s gettin into this one
HUTCH HARRIS: COOL. ginge and purge
KATHY FOSTER: Still too many beards and banjos, but there’s a lot of good stuff too
HUTCH HARRIS: Raving?
STEREOGUM: Yeah beards and banjos are everywhere these days
HUTCH HARRIS: and X
KATHY FOSTER: and mustaches!
HUTCH HARRIS: molli and moist aches
KATHY FOSTER: and moist asses
HUTCH HARRIS: Which is what my iphone corrects “moustaches” to
KATHY FOSTER: Wha?!
STEREOGUM: Ha really?
HUTCH HARRIS: Ya. Hitler moist ache. They’re playing at the modern hippie tonight!
STEREOGUM: When you guys cast Carrie Brownstein in your “I Don’t Believe You” video did you have any idea she’d become the face of Portland? Or rather Portlandia?
HUTCH HARRIS: She not da face!
KATHY FOSTER: That’s where she was discovered!
HUTCH HARRIS: Dis is da face: :]
KATHY FOSTER: hahaha!
HUTCH HARRIS: Carrie me
Hutch Harris started playing “Afro Nuts” by Yolanda Be Cool
HUTCH HARRIS: We toured with sleater-kinney! And played their last two shows
STEREOGUM: Oh nice, I didn’t realize your bands had overlapped
HUTCH HARRIS: Oh yeah. They passed us the torch or wot eva
STEREOGUM: Not that you’re ready to pass the torch, but who do you think are some worthy up and comers?
KATHY FOSTER: Yeah, hutch is the new face of riot grrl
HUTCH HARRIS: I can sing like Jellita Biafra. Polyamorous Styrene
KATHY FOSTER: Hahaha!
HUTCH HARRIS: :]
STEREOGUM: I think you guys need that on a tshirt :]
HUTCH HARRIS: Ya “don’t fuck wit da :]”
KATHY FOSTER: We’ll never let go of the torch!
HUTCH HARRIS: NEVER. They can pry it from our cold dead cul
STEREOGUM: And on that note!
KATHY FOSTER: Hahaha!
STEREOGUM: Never give up the torch
HUTCH HARRIS: :] I like dis
KATHY FOSTER: Its fun!
Desperate Ground is out 4/16 via Saddle Creek.
04/20 – Portland, OR @ Branx
04/25 – Seattle, WA @ Neumos
04/26 – Vancouver, BC @ Fortune
04/27 – Bellingham, WA @ Wild Buffalo
05/10 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
05/11 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
05/13 – Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
05/14 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St Entry
05/15 – Iowa City, IA @ The Mill
05/16 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
05/17 – Ferndale, MI @ The Loving Touch
05/18 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
05/19 – Buffalo, NY @ Tralf
05/21 – Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe
05/22 – Montreal, QC @ Il Motore
05/23 – Boston, MA @ Sinclair
05/24 – New Haven, CT @ Space
05/25 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
05/28 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
05/29 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
05/30 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat
05/31 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
06/01 – Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn