The Thermals are a post-pop-punk trio from Portland, Oregon. In ten years, the band has released six records and toured fifteen countries. The Thermals are Hutch Harris (guitar and vocals), Kathy Foster (bass), and Westin Glass (drums).
A brief history of The Thermals, year by year.
The Thermals burst out of Portland, OR and onto the international indie rock scene with their debut LP, More Parts Per Million (Sub Pop), at a time when people were just starting to stop paying for music. Recorded in singer Hutch Harris’s kitchen on a 4 track cassette, MPPM’s recording costs were only sixty dollars, making it one of the cheapest (sounding) records of all time. The Thermals quickly established themselves as a powerhouse live act, the original four-piece line-up consisting of Kathy Foster on bass, Ben Barnett on guitar, Jordan Hudson on drums, and Hutch Harris on lead vocals.
The Thermals released their sophomore LP, the highly sophomoric Fuckin’ A (Sub Pop). Produced by Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla, Fuckin’ A was the perfect follow-up to More Parts Per Million: louder, longer and slightly better (or worse, depending on who you ask.) The Thermals quickly re-established themselves as a power trio after the departure of Ben Barnett, with Harris assuming guitar duties. It was in 2004 that The Thermals turned down a $50,000 ad from Hummer, an act that would earn them a reputation for having ethics, a burden which has since hung like an albatross around their collective neck.
The Thermals recorded their infamous “lost” record, We Sleep In A Holy Bed. A morbid meditation on religion and death, the record would have served as a fitting precursor to their next album, which would prove to be fully loaded with fire and brimstone. Produced by Joanna Bolme (Elliott Smith, The Jicks) at the original location of Portland’s famous Jackpot studio, …Holy Bed (as of this writing) has still not seen the light of day. Jordan Hudson left The Thermals after the album’s (non-)completion, leaving Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster to record the next two Thermals records as a duo, with Foster performing all bass and drum tracks.
The Thermals released their first masterpiece, The Body, The Blood, The Machine (Sub Pop). A terrifying tale of a young couple fleeing a fascist faux-Christian USA, TBTBTM was a critical darling and a commercial success as well. The album was produced by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, who had recently recorded a Thermals song for his “Burn To Shine” series, in which indie bands perform at houses slated to be burned by the fire department. Little did he know TBTBTM would go on to burn the entire world to the ground.
The Thermals continued their TBTBTM victory lap, touring the world and beyond. The band performed as a four piece again, for the first time in four years. Joel Burrows doubled up with Harris on guitar, and drummer Lorin Coleman joined Kathy Foster in the rhythm section. The Thermals toured the US extensively with Cursive, who at the time were promoting their own slab of blasphemy, Happy Hollow. Only a few of the shows were canceled, mostly due to locust infestations.
Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster retreated to the cold, stony Oregon Coast. In the wind and the rain and the short bursts of warm light, they stood at the shore and shouted at the sea, demanding the answer to the greatest questions of life: “What is the meaning of life?” and “What comes after death?” There was no reply, but the brutal smashing of endless waves.
Later in 2008, Foster and Harris met Westin Glass. The three felt an immediate kinship and found a lasting friendship. Glass soon became The Thermals’ permanent drummer.
The Thermals returned with a new LP, Now We Can See, on a new label, Kill Rock Stars. Producer John Congleton (Explosions In the Sky, R. Kelly) gave the album an enormously wide, vaguely threatening aura that was a fine match for the album’s theme, “songs from when we were alive”. The title track is one of The Thermals’ biggest “hits” to date, and was featured in many popular network television programs!
Having conquered God and Death (no easy feat) with their two previous records, The Thermals set out to vanquish an even greater and more terrifying force of nature: monogamy. Personal Life (Kill Rock Stars), The Thermals’ fifth LP, (and first with Glass drumming) contains some of their darkest and most beautiful tracks to date. Chris Walla returned to the studio with The Thermals, giving Personal Life a sharp and shiny sheen, as only he could. The Thermals toured China for the first time in 2010, one of only a few American bands to do so. They found it quite delicious.
The Thermals met The Coathangers, toured with The Coathangers, and fell madly in love with The Coathangers. Have you met The Coathangers? You would too.
The Thermals mourned the passing of their former guitarist and dear friend Joel Burrows. Joel was a sweet and incredibly funny man, and we will miss him until the end of our days.
The Thermals signed to Saddle Creek and released their sixth (and obviously best) record, Desperate Ground. Produced by John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth) in Hoboken NJ, Desperate Ground is a true scrappy-and-scratchy return-to-form for The Thermals. Fast, cheap, and out of control, it’s the perfect bookend to The Thermals’ first (and so far best) decade.
2013 also found Sub Pop reissuing The Thermals’ first three records on vinyl: The Body, The Blood, The Machine, Fuckin’ A, and More Parts Per Million, which celebrated its tenth birthday March 4th.