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November 29, 2007
Sweaty. Dirty. Tired. You'll more than likely find yourself aptly described by one or all three of those terms after taking in a live performance by The Thermals. Formed in 2002 with the addition of a drummer (Lorin Coleman) to the "kinder, gentler" core sound previously developed by Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster under the name, well, Hutch & Kathy, the trio have risen to the forefront of the burgeoning music scene in their native Portland, Oregon ("currently the main exporter of indie rock in the United States") with their particular brand of autistic pop-punk. Never ones to relegate their antics to the format of compact disc, the Thermals have also been a mainstay on the touring circuit, bringing their hyperactive mindset from to studio to stage with ease. All too absent from shows these days, traditions of dancing and acting like a drunken bastard are not only invited by their music, but greatly encouraged by the band. Celebratory and just plain fun, The Thermals repeatedly prove as capable as anyone of feeding their audience a bone and throwing one hell of a party in the process. With the band's ever-expanding tour route bringing them through the swing state of Ohio, I managed to track down Thermals primary Hutch Harris for a round of questions about drunken crowds, over-the-head lyrics, and classic glam rock
---

LAS: Alright. First question. What's your name, and where are you from?

Harris: My name is Hutch and I'm from Portland, Oregon. I play guitar in The Thermals.

Now, I read somewhere that Cleveland is one of your favorite cities to play. Why is that? Is it the incredibly large concentration of drunks?

That's definitely one of our reasons. I think this was our 6th or 7th show in Cleveland as the Thermals, and at least five of them have been here. We played the bar here at the Beachland like two or three times, and people would be falling all over the place bringing us tequila shots while we were playing. We played "Astro Zombies" one time and someone jumped on stage and just grabbed the mic off the stand and started singing the song. I was just like "Dude, go for it!"

Last time, the stage was covered in shaving cream, glitter, toilet paper, water, beer, etc. Tonight was fun, but that show was an experience. That show is in our top five, without a doubt. It might be number one. It was like when you watch a movie about 70's punk shows, and they weren't even at a club...they were just at this weird hall where everyone was throwing food, beer, and whatever else. It was totally old school and totally rad.

Aside from specific shows, what have been some of your more memorable tours?

You know...we toured about a year and a half on this record, and this is the third full American tour. One was with Cursive, the next we headlined, and now this. We did a tour in England for a month in June, which was great. That was cool because we were always in England for maybe only a couple of shows, and we were there for about three and a half weeks.

We did mainland Europe in the summer, a lot of festivals in Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia. As far as memorable goes, right now they are all kinda blending. But I can definitely say there are cities that we love.

Do you notice different reactions to your songs overseas as opposed to here in the States?

Um, it's pretty much the same. We've recently had a little growth in our audience, where we had a lot of people who said they hadn't heard of us before this record. At the same time, we have a lot of people who know all the records. And going back to Cleveland. You know, the thing is that with some shows, everyone knows the old songs. Most shows now, everyone's into the new album. And that's cool because that's what you're most excited about. But then you come to Cleveland, and everyone-knows-all-the-songs. That's the thing with tonight, it was fuckin' awesome. I felt like we were doing a greatest hits show. Not to be immodest about it, but it's nice to hear people singing along and enjoying the songs. That's what you want. You just want people to really enjoy the hell out of it.

If enjoyment is key, then do you mind when some of your lyrics may go over people's heads?

No. People are still enjoying it. I mean, for me, I'm really into lyrics, song titles, and knowing the information. But a lot of people don't care about that and it doesn't bother me. You want people to enjoy it on their own terms. You don't want to be fascist about it. If people like it, that's good enough for us.

What inspires you to write music that people will like? Books? Certain albums? Films?

Books are very inspiring to me. I have a couple of songs from the second record that are very influenced by Hunter S. Thompson, who is one of my absolute favorite writers. I feel like our attitudes really match up in regards to gathering knowledge about history, world politics, and things that are important...but to know that it's all ridiculous at the same time. It's about always paying attention to things that are going on and trying to keep a realistic piece of mind about it. People are ridiculous and are always doing crazy things. They are crazy with ambition, greed, and I don't know...you have to have a sense of humor about it because it's so fucking ridiculous. If you don't have a sense of humor, I think you'd just shrivel up. I would.

So is that something that inspires you? Having a sense of humor?

Yes, it totally does. I think as a band it's good to make serious points, but not taking yourself seriously is really important. You see, I hate to see a band get on stage and not crack a single smile. A lot of bands look at the big picture, but then don't look at themselves. They think they're kinda larger than life. It's good to have a smart opinion, but you can't think it means anything. It may mean something, but if you get this idea in your head that it's a righteous idea and that it's very important, you're shooting yourself in the foot.



What's your example of a perfect pop song?

I'm thinkin' hits, because you say 'pop song.' How about "Cannonball" by The Breeders. It's really catchy, but at the same time she's got distorted vocals, there's this off-time drum beat going, it's very catchy and original, and it sold them a couple million records or something.

I'd say that was a fluke.

It is a fluke, for sure. But yeah...I can think of better examples of a perfect pop song, but I pick that one because it's got a little more of an edge. It's a little more interesting than your basic "whatever" that's on the radio.

What got you into punk rock music? I had a big brother, and older siblings seem to be the gateway for a lot of people.

I don't have a big brother or sister, but I had a friend when I was about fifteen. Mike Butler. I still have the tape. It was called "A Lot of Cool Songs By a Lot Of Cool Bands." He had great taste in music...great taste. He gave me this tape and it had Minor Threat, Operation Ivy, The Descendents...it probably had "Waiting Room" by Fugazi on there. Then I had another friend that was really into The Adicts, The Subhumans, The Exploited, and just a lot of good British punk. See, in the early 80's you had bands like Minor Threat...you know, hardcore. But then in the U.K., you had shit like The Subhumans. And to me, that stuff was so smart. That's when it started to get a little more political. I mean, The Sex Pistols were cool because punk was all about pissing people off, which is what it should be. But with these other bands, they got into concepts, and whole sides of records had something like seven songs and they all connected to each other. I think a lot of those bands are the very base influence for us.



The Thermals are the curators for a music festival, and time isn't an issue. What bands, past and present, would you like to book?

Fuck, OK. I'd like to reunite some bands...like The Breeders. I would get them. I'd get The Wipers from Portland. They haven't played a show since '89, I think. Built To Spill are a huge favorite of mine, I would love that. A Spacemen 3 reunion would be great. When I talk about English bands, there's no end to it. Like Jesus and Mary Chain, I'd love to see them. We missed them at Coachella.

My brain goes in a million directions with that question, because it's just like... fuck. When I was younger, I used to be really closed minded. A lot of people involved with punk are like that. Once you're into it, there's like, this list of bands that you're not supposed to like. You know, like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

"You guys are stoners, man!"

Seriously. I always smoked weed, so I was like, 'fuck that.' Then when these guys hit their mid 20's, they finally come around. They're like, 'Dude, that first Led Zeppelin record rocks!' because they got into The White Stripes or whatever. Or they just realize that if you listen to Pink Floyd and you get high, it can be a cool experience. So the point is, the older I get, the more music I like. My tastes get wider, and then I can think of bands that I like forever.

OK, bare with me here. I can't locate the questions I pulled from the crowd.

No, this is a really good idea. You know what's funny is that I've been wanting to print a questionnaire for the crowd. You know, asking things like 'What songs do you wanna hear? What songs are you sick of hearing? What covers would you like us to perform?', stuff like that. I know we'll do it in the future. Everyone could just ball it up and throw it on stage or just leave them somewhere, and then we'd go through them later. I don't think there's anything wrong with catering to your audience.



OK, two questions from the audience. Black Sabbath- Ozzy or Dio?

[laughs] Kathy and I love Tenacious D. We're big Jack Black fans. Did you see that?

Yeah, I did.

So then you know. You know, you can't knock Dio. But, there's no contest with Ozzy. I mean, it's Ozzy! You gotta forget all the bullshit reality specials. That's all lame. It's cool that they did Ozzfest for free. I think that's dope.

Don't you think that's more of his wife's deal?

Oh yeah, it is. I don't credit him for that. He's obviously very limited in his capacity right now. But, you know...he still is the 'Prince of Darkness,' or the 'lord' of something. You still gotta give it to him.

Van Halen. Diamond Dave or Sammy Hagar?

That's a tough one. It's gonna be unpopular, but I'm gonna go with Hagar. I think it's cool that they're back with David Lee Roth, but with fuckin' Wolfgang (Eddie's son) on bass, I think it's just lame. I mean, it's cool that they got back together after all these failed attempts. They finally got it back and they actually look decent. They're old, but they're fit. I can't believe Roth has his shirt off in every fuckin' photo!

But now that I think about it, I'm actually gonna have to go with a draw. Roth and Hagar. "5150" is one of my all time favorite records. I love that shit. It's really a guilty pleasure for me. Gary Sharone on the other hand, fuck that guy.

Extreme, right?

Yeah, yeah. He wasn't extreme enough though.



I think my friends are about to kill me, so I've got one more question. How do you want The Thermals to be viewed as a band playing music in 2007?

I want people to know us for what we are. We're almost like a cult band in that we don't have a huge following, but the people that know us and like us are very much into us. It's not always sold out, but the people that our at are at our shows are like, really fuckin' into it. That's great. I feel like our fans get the whole personality of the band, which is touching on serious subject matter but having a real sense of humor about it.

For us, I think that we just try to be ourselves. One main goal is to not be pretentious and to not become different people when we get on stage. You know, connecting with the audience in a more down to earth way. That's how we'd like to be seen.

SEE ALSO: www.thethermals.com
SEE ALSO: www.subpop.com

--
Adam Jaenke
A contributing writer for LAS, Adam Jaenke is from Eau Claire. Isn't that also the name of a pastry?

See other articles by Adam Jaenke.

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