Tues Oct 1
Five minutes into my interview with The Thermals' Hutch Harris, his cell phone rings. After staring at the screen for a second before placing the phone back on the ground, unanswered, he comments, "Well, it's either Sub Pop or my mom; those are the only people who call me with blocked caller ID."
For The Thermals, there is a certain level of irony that, after all their years of toiling in various other bands, these four musicians have stumbled onto success without really trying. Harris and bassist Kathy Foster make up the twee-pop duo Hutch & Kathy, drummer Jordan Hudson anchors the instrumental band Operacycle, and guitarist Ben Barnett is the lone full-time member of Kind of Like Spitting--the line-up is a longtime indierock all-star band, with no real stars to speak of (at least not outside the 503 area code). But The Thermals have only played six shows. After their first Seattle performance, Sub Pop approached them; currently, negotiations for The Thermals' first Sub Pop release are in the works. "The main reason we are signing to Sub Pop," jokes Harris, "is that our idol is on that label--David Cross. Forget the bands." He continues, "We want to be the perfect Sub Pop band; a mix of the rock 'n' roll stuff, plus all those good lo-fi bands, like Eric's Trip."
While the end result of their music is nothing short of revolutionary--between Barnett's fuzzed-out guitar hooks and Harris' youthful howl, they sound like a Guided by Voices for the kiddie set, combining lo-fi charm with a rare sort of punk rock urgency--the concept behind The Thermals is a simple one: four musicians in an already-incestuous music scene decide to play music together under the pretense of, well, nothing. No goals, no long-term recording plans, no USA tours--just a handful of songs and a dream to be "the best band ever that never existed," according to Harris. "As much as we might sound like a mixture of bands over the past 20 years, I'd like to think of us as being something new. I want to be part of a new scene."
The Thermals' debut record, set to come out sometime next year, was originally meant to be nothing more than a handful of demos, whose purpose was more to document the existence of the band than to drum up offers from record labels. Recorded by Harris for a whopping $60 in his house (dubbed the "Moss Motel" due to the large amounts of moss that are causing the roof to slowly cave in), these songs accurately represent one of the band's goals, according to Harris: "to make the recordings be a big part of the songs. That's what I like about 'bad' recordings. No one who has heard our CD commented that they like the songs, but the recording could be better. I think it sounds different, and I love it."
The Thermals are the type of band that carries its own in a basement (in their first performance ever, all of three months ago), on stage (fourth performance) or in the garage of a coffee shop (their most recent show). Beyond the piss-poor production quality and the reckless collision of various instruments on their demo, though, it's clear that they're a band with their finger on the pulse of something grand. Combine that with their painfully raw recordings and a live show that exhibits a band fighting to stay in their skin, and you have the makings of something explosive. For all of us who missed the GBV boat when it sailed away years before we cracked open our first Budweiser, The Thermals represent our newfound four-track heroes.