One of Portland's most popular punk bands, the Thermals, is headed north to rock Puget Sound this weekend.
The trio – singer-guitarist Hutch Harris, singer-bassist Kathy Foster, and drummer Westin Glass – will headline Neumo’s in Seattle tonight and the Northern in Olympia on Sunday. In the days leading up to those shows, Glass, the new guy, filled us in on how he’s adjusted to life in Thermals camp:
You’re still kind of the new guy. How did you first get involved with the Thermals?
Well, I was playing in a band based out of Seattle (called Say Hi). We were touring, and we played some shows on the East Coast with The Big Sleep. They’re a pretty awesome band from New York. I just got to be friends with those guys and later on – a year later maybe – they happened to mention to me that the Thermals were looking for a drummer.
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“Personal Life” is the first album you made with the band. What stands out about making that record?
It just felt so natural through the whole process. ... It’s just really easy for me and Kathy to get into a really nice rhythm section groove, and everything we do just sort of compliments each other. I’m working on fitting into the aesthetic, obviously, but just making that record was really fun, especially because most of it was recorded with all three of us playing in the studio, live.
Do you all write together? Or do you individually bring in ideas?
For this record, a couple of the songs Hutch had written. He had more or less written the whole song, and Kathy and I sort of wrote our parts, and then we kind of finished the song. But a lot of the other ones would start in the studio. We would build a song piece by piece, each person sort of adding their ideas and adding their little parts. (Then) Hutch would add lyrics to it.
How do you feel the band’s sound has progressed between this record and (previous album) “Now We Can See?”
“Personal Life” was definitely a departure for the band. I think a lot of people were surprised by it, which is cool. I’m excited about that.
I think it’s the darkest record the band has done, honestly. It’s funny, we joke about how the last record, “Now We Can See,” was all about death but not actually that dark. It was kind of an upbeat record. And then the next record is about love. Now that one is brutal and dark (lyrically). It’s still got a lot of moments of fun (and) there’s also more of a pop sensibility on “Personal Life.”
What was it like working with producer Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie)? It’s the second record he’s made with the band, right?
He mixed the first record that Hutch had recorded on a four track, and then he produced the second record.
Chris is an incredible person. It was amazing to work with him, for me especially. I grew up listening to Death Cab and just being obsessed with those recordings. I never thought I’d actually get to work with Chris. He’s the nicest person in the world, but also super focused, and he really knows what he wants.
It was really satisfying to work with him because the three of us in the band had a really strong idea of what we wanted to do and what we wanted the record to sound like, and Chris just got it immediately. ... And he pushed us to perform better than we probably would have otherwise.
You all are down there in Stumptown (Portland). How tightly knit is the scene down there?
Um, pretty close, I guess. Chris is extremely busy. We don’t see him that often – once in a while, you know.
I guess he was making his own record, too, last year. (Death Cab has announced that “Codes and Keys” will be released in the spring.)
Along with launching a record label and recording the first band to be on that label, and recording like a million other bands. I mean, that dude never sleeps. I don’t know how he does it.
But there’s a really cool scene here in Portland. I lived in Seattle for a long time. The scene there is bigger, but it’s also a lot more fractured, I would say. Whereas in Portland ... everybody knows each other, supports each other and goes to everybody’s shows. It’s a really cool place that way.
What else are you looking forward to in 2011?
We have these handful of shows up here in the Northwest, obviously. Those are gonna be really, really fun. And I think we’re gonna do a European tour in April.
I don’t know. Hopefully we’ll write some stuff. Hutch has a cool project he’s working on. It’s a musical project that Hutch has been working on lately that he’s gonna unveil to the world this year.
(Author’s note: Since this interview, Kill Rock Stars has announced that Harris’ side project is called Forbidden Friends, and that its debut single, “Tiny Hands,” and b-side “For You,” will be released on 7-inch vinyl and a digital download on March 15. Harris played drums, guitar and bass on the studio recordings with assistance from his fellow Thermals and Michael Lerner of Telekenesis.)