Progress Report

Progress Report: The Thermals

NAME: The Thermals
PROGRESS REPORT: Releasing their fourth LP, Now We Can See, on April 7 (Kill Rock Stars). Recorded at Supernatural Sound in Oregon City.

Portland’s Thermals have released three LPs of consistently great punk rock. The changes between them have been of degrees: on each album they get a little more polished, a little more political, a little angrier. The band’s next LP, Now We Can See, was written during 2007 and 2008, but there’s something about it that seems to fit the mood of the country: it’s a little more optimistic. “People say ‘cautious optimism.’ That’s how we’re approaching the first Obama term. But I think that’s a pretty good phrase. That’s gonna describe our record too,” says guitarist/vocalist Hutch Harris. The band’s 2006 record, The Body, The Blood, The Machine, drew the map of a country ruled by fascists and Christian extremists, where the only means of escape was running away and never looking behind you. This record finds a sort of self-awareness through another escape: death. “When we say, ‘Now we can see,’ we say, ‘Now that we’re dead we know everything and now we finally learned something,’ explains Harris. “There’s a lot of death on the record. It definitely picks up where we left off on the last album. It’s songs about life from the perspective of death.”

The Thermals have expanded in width as well as depth. That’s got a lot to do with producer John Congleton (Polyphonic Spree, Explosions In The Sky). There’s a fullness to the tracks that wasn’t there before. “That’s definitely John Congleton,” says Harris. “Every record we’ve done, we’ve been lucky to work with a producer who ‘gets us,’ musically, and emotionally.” Once again, just Harris and bassist Kathy Foster recorded the album with their producer, and sometimes you can hear the fullness, but other times you hear just the people and the space of the room. They spent nine or 10 days tracking of initial recording at Supernatural with additional tracking at Elmwood Studio. The title track is about being primitive, or perhaps innocent. I interpreted it as being an Adam and Eve story, but Harris disagrees. “We left religion on the last record when the world came to a horribly fiery end,” he says. “Now We Can See is about how people were primitive, and are primitive, in the sense that we’ve learned so much, the human race, and yet we’re still so incredibly stupid and violent. It’s like we’ve learned nothing at all.”

The rural setting at Supernatural feels like it played a part — nearly every track mentions returning to the sea, or the earth. But Harris says every track was written before they entered the studio, and most of the lyrics were completed at the kitchen table in his apartment in southeast Portland. Portland’s been under its worst snow season in 50 years, giving the band plenty of time at home to write, or work on other projects. Harris says Foster has been working on photography, painting and collage, and drummer Westin Glass also produces drawings and paintings. As for Harris, he was working on collages until he sliced open his finger last year. He decided to take it easy during while the city was pummeled with snow. “I’ve been hanging out with my cat. You just kind of stock up on food and movies [during a storm]. We’re watching a lot of movies here, and stuffing our faces and laying around.”

Here’s the album cover:

And a first listen to one of the unfinished album cuts:

The Thermals – “When I Was Afraid” (Demo) (MP3)


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