The Thermals: Putting the Heat On
By
J. Gordon
3/12/2007 10:16:59 AM

"We don’t want to come at it from that angle. It’s not supposed to be some righteous message. We really just want to entertain"

In a world that sometimes veers dangerously close to George Orwell’s 1984, the Thermals have carved themselves a niche as the passionate alternative rock voice against fascist government and right-wing extremists. But hey, they know how to have fun too. And that’s the message that the Thermals’ lead singer and guitarist, Hutch Harris, wants to be sure comes through first.

“We talk about it [politics, religious extremists and a fascist government] a lot. People have gotten way more into it than I ever thought. I thought if people liked it, they’d just be taking the songs and enjoying it. But people have really responded to it,” says Hutch.

And it’s no wonder. With their third full-length CD, the body the blood the machine [Sub Pop], this lo-fi indie band is poised to become Dr. James Dobson’s biggest headache and this generation’s greatest hope. For music, anyway.

Spawned from Northwest bands Hutch and Kathy, Kind of Like Spitting and the All Girl Summer Fun Band, The Thermals made an impressive mark with their debut, More Parts Per Million and the follow-up, Fuckin A --both hinting at subversive political agendas and shaking up the system.

Now, with the body the blood the machine, their lyrics push these ideas that much further, denouncing the lack of separation between Church and State with an intense passion and desire to bust out free-- maybe only with the clothes on your back; hopefully with the one or ones you love. It almost a man-against-machine, Terminator kind of theme, except that the machine is the two-headed monster of God and government. There is anger, but also hopefulness. The Thermals’ music is about counting on yourself and the ones you love.

“Yeah, it’s just like, even if you know that the whole world is going to shit, or is just shit already, you can still be positive about things and try to have a good time,” he says.

Hutch gives credit to his and Kathy’s Catholic upbringings for the generous serving of Biblical references dished throughout the new CD.

“Once you’ve heard those stories so many times, they become ingrained in you. I have a Bible that I pulled out to remind myself of what happened and where, but a lot of that floats around in the back of your head and comes out when you need it. There are a lot of good Christians out there, but a lot of people are fucking it up, for sure…” he says.

Hutch says opportunities like working with Fugazi’s Brendan Canty [as producer of the new CD] and the renowned director Whitey McConnaughy [director of the “Pillar of Salt” video] have created real friendships he never would have dreamed of in younger years.

“Kathy and I just loved Fugazi growing up,” he says with enthusiasm. “They were so important to both of us. Just to get to work with someone you grew up loving is one thing. But to get respect back from him too, that was amazing.”

Hutch says he couldn’t wait to work with McConnaughy, who has done notable videos for bands like Mudhoney and the Shins, and is currently filming a documentary on the Portland music scene, which will include some footage of the Thermals..

“I called him with this other treatment that I’d written, that was gonna be one of us running all over the city, and everyone was gonna get killed one by one. He had great ideas—we were gonna drop a safe on someone. Someone else would get hit by a van—we were really into it but it was gonna take too much time. It was gonna take a couple weeks of filming and I just really wanna get stuff like that out of the way as quickly as possible. He had that treatment that was just one room, shooting for two days. That sounded a lot easier.”

And with the help of terrific videos like the one for “Pillar of Salt,” the Thermals are getting better known—even if they are not yet a household word. Some might argue that they could have been several years ago, when they declined a deal with the Hummer company to use the song “It’s Trivia” in an ad. But to fans, that just solidified their authenticity behind the message.

“Yeah! It’s funny,” Hutch laughs. “It’s been a couple years since that happened, but then Associated Press picked it up a year later, and then NPR did a story on it. Suddenly everyone was asking us about it. But then we would get like a ton of people writing us and telling us they bought our records without even hearing a song! Just on principle! So the reaction was so positive. It happened really quick: Sub Pop called us one day. We turned it down real quick and didn’t think about it very long. We thought that was the end of it. We thought no one would ever know, and then a couple years later, everyone’s talking about it so much. It was such an obvious choice. We couldn’t have felt good about being any part of that…”

While Hutch and the rest of the band are clearly anti-fascist, anti-fanatic, and most likely anti-corporate control, they don’t give themselves any precise political labels, such as libertarian, or anarchist.

“There’s no party I can align myself with. I am just constantly disappointed in all politicians,” he says. “We don’t want to come at it from that angle. It’s not supposed to be some righteous message. We really just want to entertain. As far as the lyrics go, we’re really just trying to keep it intelligent.”

The CD art for the body the blood the machine has a back page full of cross-outs and hidden text. We wondered: Did it actually ever say anything? Can you reveal what it said? Are there any websites out there with the real message?

Hutch laughs, takes personal credit for inking out the main copy and says, “It’s actually an advertisement, an old travel agency advertisement. I found the intention escapist and it seemed to fit the theme of the record so well. I wanted to make it look like a declassified CIA or FBI document, to have, like, everything but one sentence crossed out. Once we started it kind of had this sinister aspect to it that seemed to fit the record really well.” He doesn’t believe the real copy is posted anywhere to be found, and he is not sure he even remembers it to translate.

The best part about being in a band though, says Hutch, is touring. And the Thermals have had a lot of it with close to 300 shows in their few year-history. Last night in Cleveland, he says they were brought shots, showered in glitter, covered in shaving cream, toilet papered, shot with silly string and pummeled with plastic glow balls. [He says a picture will be put on their website].

Shower the Thermals with your own fun substance of choice this Thursday night at Off Broadway in St. Louis—or catch them at a town near you:

Mar 12 2007 8:00P Club Downunder Tallahassee, Florida
Mar 13 2007 8:00P BottleTree Birmingham
Mar 14 2007 8:00P Hi-Tone Cafe Memphis, Tennessee
Mar 15 2007 8:00P Off Broadway St. Louis, Missouri
Mar 16 2007 8:00P Music Mill Indianapolis, Indiana
Mar 17 2007 8:00P Newport Music Hall Columbus, Ohio
Mar 19 2007 8:00P Picador Iowa City, Iowa
Mar 20 2007 8:00P Bottleneck Lawrence, Kansas
Mar 22 2007 8:00P Hi-Dive Denver, Colorado
Mar 23 2007 8:00P T.R.E.A. Rapid City, South Dakota
Mar 24 2007 8:00P The Yellowstone Perk Billings, Montana
Apr 2 2007 8:00P Bottom Of The Hill San Francisco, California
Apr 3 2007 8:00P Bottom Of The Hill San Francisco, California
Apr 5 2007 8:00P Casbah San Diego, California
Apr 6 2007 8:00P Echo Los Angeles, California
Apr 7 2007 8:00P Howie And Sons Pizza Visalia, California
Apr 13 2007 8:00P Hawthorne Theater Portland, Oregon
May 26 2007 8:00P Gorge Amphitheater George, Washington

 

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