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Interview: The Thermals possess enough raw punk power to unite us all

 
 

These are trying times — the world is becoming more divided by the minute, and the future is getting more uncertain by the day. Perhaps what the psyche needs to cope with this madness is some pure punk rock. Raw guitars and angst being exuded with the latter relating to nearly everyone is the trademark of the genre. It reaches out to the disenfranchised and the alienated; it’s what makes punk such a beautiful thing. Portland, Oregon trio The Thermals have been exemplifying the style since the early 2000s and they’ll be rolling through New England tonight and tomorrow.

Ahead of their shows tonight at the Sinclair in Cambridge and tomorrow at the Columbus Theatre in Providence as part of their tour with fellow Portlandians Summer Cannibals, Vanyaland had a chat with frontman Hutch Harris about moving to the Rose City after growing up in San Jose, using political and religious imagery in songs, The Thermals’ new album We Disappear (out now via Saddle Creek), and a certain bird that showed up at a political rally at which band performed.

Rob Duguay: After growing up in San Jose, you moved to Portland in 1998 with bassist Kathy Foster, and you and Kathy eventually started up The Thermals in 2002. What made you want to go to Portland in the first place and what makes you want to continue living there?

Hutch Harris: Kathy and I had both visited Portland before during the mid-’90s. The first tour I ever went on was in ’95 or ’96 when I was 19 and one of the stops on that tour was Portland. Even then there were a lot of people from California who had moved to Portland, it has always been a thing. We had a lot of friends here already and it was just so incredibly cheap to live in Portland. That’s one of the things that has changed about the city. We knew people who were living in punk houses with a bunch of other people, everyone is paying either $100 or $200 a month in rent. You could not work very much and still pay your bills and also have a lot of time to just work on your art or music or whatever and we knew a lot of people doing that.

Usually when the rents are low in a city artists and creative types will flock over there and establish a home base.

Right.

Ever since The Thermals put out their first album More Parts Per Million in 2003, the lyrics that you write have been noted for their political and religious tendencies. Were you exposed to a lot of political and religious ideals while you were growing up?

Kathy and I were both brought up Catholic, like very Catholic. We went to Catholic school, we went to a Catholic church every Sunday. That stuff has just been in my head for my whole life, for sure. As for politics, we try to be less of a political band now even though we just played a Bernie Sanders rally. We try not to be known as a political band, there’s no politics on the new record. There’s a lot of political bands that I like but it’s not always the most fun thing to be known for. If someone said to me,”Hey man you should check this band out, they’re really political”, that’s not the most appetizing thing to me.

Speaking of that Bernie Sanders rally, the 2016 primaries have been hotly contested in both the Republican and Democratic parties and at points it has gotten downright crazy. How did the band originally get to become part of the Sanders rally and what’s your opinion on the current landscape of politics in America?

My feelings on the current landscape is that it’s terrifying, obviously it’s ridiculous and scary. From where we’re standing, the most important thing is that Donald Trump does not become president because that is just such a mess. I feel that it’s really embarrassing for this country with what Trump has brought out in people and the types of people that he’s brought out. These people were already out there before he started campaigning, there’s a lot of people who are super racist and who are just filled with hatred who think that Mexicans and Muslims are to blame for all their problems when it’s absolutely not true.

The Bernie Sanders campaign got in touch with us only a few days before that rally but we were really keen to do that and it was something really cool. It was cool to play a song for 30,000 people at The Moda Center, that was also the day our new record came out which was kind of funny but the timing was really good. We got to be part of a little sit down of 20 people with Bernie Sanders in one of the backstage rooms at The Moda before we played. That was really cool to be a part of, we’ve lived in Portland for almost 20 years and we feel that we represent the city well so anytime we’re asked to do stuff like that it feels good to do.

It must have been a wild time. Was that the same rally where a bird landed on Bernie Sanders’ podium?

Yeah, it was! It was really cool to be there for that. It was a very special moment, it was cool to see the internet blow up after all that happened. It was a special moment for sure along with the whole rally.

I was amazed to see how calm the bird was just chilling out in front of Bernie and the look on his face was absolutely priceless.

It was really cool.

You’ve been mentioning the new album The Thermals have put out with We Disappear. Lyrically you delve a lot into the subjects of mortality, love and self-destruction in the album. Were you tapping into anything specific while you were writing songs for the record or was it just coming out of you at the time?

It was just coming out of me but I told myself that I wanted to write something more personal than with the last record. The last record, Desperate Ground, like a lot of our records was an expression of who I am and where I’m coming from but also it was fiction so I wanted to write something from the heart that was personal to me. I went through a break up about a year and a half ago while I was just starting to write. In my eyes, this record is a break up record. It does talk about death but a lot of it is comparing the ending of relationships to that.

I can see the correlation of that analogy especially with the tracks like “My Heart Went Cold” and “In Every Way”. After this current tour, what do The Thermals have planned for the summer? Are you playing any festivals that you want to mention? Are you heading back to the studio?

We will do Europe, that always comes next. We don’t have anything set yet that I can announce but we’ll definitely be playing a few festivals this summer. This is just the first round of touring for this album cycle and we’ll be playing more shows throughout the year and next year. We’ll probably won’t be recording as much but we’re always working, we don’t take much time off so it won’t be too long before we start writing another record.

THE THERMALS + SUMMER CANNIBALS :: Monday, April 25 at the Sinclair, 52 Church St. in Cambridge, MA : 8 p.m., all ages $15 : Advance tickets : Facebook event page :: Tuesday, April 26 at the Columbus Theatre, 270 Broadway in Providence, RI : 7 p.m., all ages, $15 : Advance tickets : Facebook event page