The Thermals Interview Audio
The Masquerade Atlanta, Georgia
May 16, 2009
Nichole Bennett: I’m Nichole. I’m here at The Masquerade in Atlanta, Georgia, and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by members of the Thermals.
Hutch Harris: So lucky.
NB: So lucky! Would you guys mind introducing yourselves?
HH: I’m Kathy
Westin Glass: I’m Hutch.
Kathy Foster: I’m Westin.
NB: Thank you. Okay so, Hutch and Kathy have been together almost forever and a half, and then we’ve added Westin lately. So, if you had to write your band’s story would it be a pop-up book or a graphic novel?
HH: It’s pretty graphic.
WG: A pop-up graphic novel.
NB: A very graphic pop-up book.
HH: Definitely an adult pop-up book.
NB: With swords in each other’s sides and pull tabs?
HH: With a centerfold.
NB: A centerfold in this pop-up book?
WG: Yeah, I would be the centerfold, let me tell you.
HH: This would be like the Burt Reynolds centerfold of the seventies:
WG: There would be quite a bit of “popping up” on that page.
KF: Har har har.
NB: (joking) I don’t get it.
NB: They’ve already got me, and it’s the first question. This is terrible. Okay, let’s see we’ve got a new record, a new label, a new drummer. We’re not going to go into the new label because you can read about that anywhere on the internet.
KF: Thank you.
NB: I’m sure you guys just take turns telling the story.
NB: But Westin just got added recently. What is it like being with these dudes?
WG: It’s totally amazing.
NB: He has to say that doesn’t he? If this was just a Westin interview, if we get him alone, would he say differently?
WG: They let me off the leash for an hour a day.
NB: Aw, do you have a curfew?
WG: They don’t always make me sleep in the kennel. Sometimes I get to stay in the bed.
NB: They feed you don’t they?
HH: Two square meals a day!
NB: Yeah, these guys are much better than how other people treat their drummers. I’m just saying…oh man I can’t speak words.
WG: They give me treats when I’m good.
HH: Me and Westin share a big bag of bachelor chow every morning.
NB: I really wish this was video because [Westin’s drink] is so pink. That’s all of the vitamin C coming out. 14,000 percent.
HH: Yeah looks like it’s coming out too.
NB: So, the new album—it’s not quite as political/religious as the old one, but it still borrows a lot musically and lyrically from The Body, The Blood, and The Machine.
NB: And you’ve got some recurring images: you’ve got the sea coming in and sight/vision coming in a lot. Was this something you guys intended (with the theme), or was that something that just kind of happened?
HH: We just kind of fell into it. We try not to be too premeditated or whatever…not to plan too much and just to see what comes out. But I think in a lot of our songs, there’s vision and water and death in a lot of the older songs as well.
NB: So that was a theme, that just sort of came out of it. You weren’t like, we’re going to write about death!
HH: Well we knew we weren’t going to be as political and try not to sing about religion. We knew what we weren’t going to do.
NB: Yeah, I think that comes across in this new one.
NB: So, if you could break one world record, what would you break?
WG: Besides the ones we’ve already broken?
NB: Besides all of the many that you have.
HH: Probably the…javelin.
NB: Just having one? Or throwing one?
HH: Yeah, yeah biggest collection of javelins in the world. I have like, 730. If you plucked every hair from your head, one at a time, how long do you think it would take? How many hairs are on a head—does anyone know? A million?
WG: No way. Ten thousand? A hundred thousand?
HH: I’d like to beat the world record for plucking. World record plucker.
WG: How about most ripped abs? That would be a good one.
NB: That one has to have a picture with it in the Guinness book. Like, you get one of the really crappy pictures beside it.
WG: That would actually be a centerfold in Guinness book, as well.
NG: Yeah, you might get a whole page.
HH: We’re going to make the world’s longest burrito when we get home.
NB: Worthy record.
KF: La Bamba, The place where we grew up made the biggest burrito in the Guinness book.
HH: Yeah, it was just a big, stinky burrito overheating in the California sun. Well, once it’s been sitting out and it’s been handled by everyone…you know.
KF: A lot of people.
WG: How big around was it?
HH: It’s like a rectangle. They have all these tables lined up.
WG: Was it just like a long snake? Is it like a bean pipeline?
HH: What record is Kathy going to break?
NB: All of them, one by one.
KF: Well the first thing I thought of was sprinting because I used to run track in high school.
HH: Running fast.
NB: Okay, so we have a few new world records to break. Ah, do you guys prefer stage or studio? You do a lot of both.
NB: I saw you guys twice at South By. I think I may have seen your first show and your last show, but I’m not sure. You guys played eight times. Was that tiring and a half or what?
KF: It wasn’t too bad. It was really fun. We played mostly during the day.
HH: Yeah, it wasn’t too exhausting. And they’re short shows, so they’re easy. Like thirty minutes tops.
KF: Yeah, they’re usually about half an hour.
HH: It wasn’t too hard. But if we did any more, it would have been exhausting. Two a day, and we were usually done by six or seven at night.
NB: Yeah, it’s the bands that do three or five in a day that go around saying “I think we’re gonna die.”
NB: I think I caught the Terrorbird one.
HH: Yeah that was the first one.
NB: And then I caught Waterloo…the park.
HH/KF: That was really fun.
HH: It was like a festival…really big.
NB: Yeah, I love going out there because it’s like…ooh here is this band that I forgot I wanted to see. I was like a little kid.
HH: We saw Circle Jerks, and they were really good at that show. And Monotonix were really good.
NB: Oh my god.
HH: (Imitating Monotonix frontman Ami Shalev, complete with Israeli accent) “We get kicked out of every show we play”
HH: Yeah, like no shit because you won’t stop.
NB: I was talking to a friend of mine who books festivals in Florida, and he said they had to be really really careful when they book them because they do all sorts of illegal shit.
KF: Yeah they trash the place.
HH: Their mustaches are just huge…they’re like bigger than their heads.
NB: Everytime I see them, their mustaches have gotten bigger. I think it’s getting out of control.
HH: Yeah, they need a separate green room for their mustaches. Yeah, you like my accent?
NB: The Thermals do Monotonix here live at the Masqerade!
HH: (More Israeli accent) “Don’t be ridiculous, we’re the Monotonix!”
HH: They do the dance of joy…they do do the dance of joy.
NB: Yeah, I was in New York, and my friend and I were having a silly string war in the Music Hall of Williamsburg. And we were getting in trouble from the bouncer, and they were saying “You kids are going to pick that up right?” And then Monotonix start coming on and dumping trash, and I’m like “Nope! Not anymore! They just covered up our mess.”
NB: You guys seem to have a lot of fun on stage….and I got that a lot from you guys at South By. What are some of your favorite songs to perform or favorite places?
HH: I like playing all the new songs. By the time you’re playing a song for the first time on stage, you’ve already played it like a hundred times practicing and recording it. The newest songs are always the ones I’m most excited about.
NB: Yeah, I was really excited about hearing the new stuff. And you guys just got added to Pitchfork [Music Festival]. Are there any bands that you are really excited to see there while you’re at the festival?
HH: I hope I see Tortoise. I don’t know if we will, but I really want to see Tortoise because I’ve never seen them.
WG: Yeah, that would be really rad.
HH: Flaming Lips will be rad. They’re always good, Grizzly Bear. A lot of the bands, I’ve seen. Grizzly Bear, we saw at ATP. They were really good. Flaming Lips, we saw at Sasquatch, and they were really good.
WG: I want to be a furry for The Flaming Lips.
NB: Yeah, that’s a good goal. That’s noble.
KF: We’ll have to look at the lineup.
WG: I’m sick of only being a furry in the bedroom, you know.
NB: That’s also the centerfold of the novel.
NB: I read a lot of your reviews, and they call you “punk.” How have you guys felt with that label?
HH: I could do without it.
KF: Yeah, I don’t really think it’s so accurate. Maybe the first two records were more punk.
NB: Yeah, the first two records were more lo-fi.
KF: Kind of noisy.
NB: And we’re getting more polished.
HH: We’re indie rockers.
WG: What does that word even mean anymore?
NB: I really like the face that comes along with the word “indie rockers.”
HH: I mean, punk means you’re in prison, and you’re someone’s bitch. You’re a punk.
NB: Definition of punk, by The Thermals.
WG: Everyone knows that indie rock doesn’t really mean anything.
HH: What, what does indie rock mean? I mean, we are indie…and rockers.
KF: How about we just settle on “power pop”?
HH: I like power pop. I like alternative.
WG: Postpower pop
NB: Power pop makes you feel like a super hero. I like it.
HH: Yeah, totally.
WG: I like whatever is not alternative. The alternative to alternative.
WG: First option…primary option.
HH: I like anti-punk too.
WG: Anti-punk, yeah. That’s a really good one. That’s even better than post.
HH: Yeah, anti is the new post. The cup runneth over of bad fake genres.
NB: Speaking of press, do you guys ever read your own reviews or read press about yourselves?
HH: Yes, I do. I write most of it.
NB: It’s like Wikipedia, you just edit it…put better pictures up.
HH: Yeah…iTunes, Wikipedia…”The Thermals are the best band in the world”!
NB: I saw that today for about five minutes, and then it got edited again.
NB: The internet is playing a weird role in music these days..we’re almost A.D.D. Something comes out, and you’ve got everybody and their mother writing on their blogs about this new record and then it kind of fizzles. Do you find that press helping you?
HH: Yeah, I don’t know.
KF: I feel like there’s a lot of people constantly reading stuff.
HH: But does it help? There’s a fine line between getting good press and then getting over hyped. Because that’s what makes people stop liking you. And that can make people not get into you if they’ve just heard about you too much, you know? People get turned off.
NB: That’s true. I never thought if it that way.
HH: If they feel like your band is over-hyped, that’s when the haters come out. But that’s cool too. The haters add to the hype.
NB: I think the more haters you have, the better.
HH: Yeah, that’s when you’ve arrived.
NB: When you start making enemies, you are a real superhero.
HH: Totally, you need a nemesis.
NB: You guys turned down a Hummer bit. I like to talk about bands that take a stand for their personal politics. I guess talk a little about that. Most people can read on the internet about how you turned down that bit.
HH: That’s a good way to put it because it is personal politics. It just comes down to what we want for this band, what we want people to think about us. It’s less of a stand and more of us just making a very personal choice about just not wanting to be associated with some things.
NB: Yeah, I got stuck behind a limo Hummer on my way here, and I was like “This is so perfect…I’m going to ask them about Hummers.” I’m glaring at this cherry-red Hummer.
NB: But I find it interesting when bands are more than just a musical unit, they actually take their brand and their personal name and use it for bad or for good. Like, if I turn down a Hummer ad, for some reason, then I’m not going to get that. But if you guys do, then you might get it written about.
KF: It’s funny because we turned it down, and someone did a story for the Associated Press like a year and a half later. And that’s when people were talking about it. No one was talking about it right when we did it. It was just that Sub Pop asked us, and we said “no.” And that was the end of it. We didn’t really talk about it.
NB: Yeah I found very little on it. I find that more interesting than reading a million album reviews.
KF: Yeah, and then a year and a half later this guy was doing a story on bands that had turned down Hummer because they had asked a lot of indie bands, a lot of underground bands. Then, that’s when people heard about it, and we actually got a lot of really positive feedback. People wrote us and told us they were going to buy our album even though they had never heard of us just because we had turned down Hummer.
NB: That’s cool! It works almost in a backwards way.
KF: Yeah, it was unexpected.
NB: If The Thermals had a mascot, what would it be?
HH: That little doll? There’s a girl in Chicago who made dolls of all of us, and she also made Mr. Beardsly. She makes this doll that has a little disguise.
KF: He’s like a gnome.
HH: It’s this weird little red, faceless guy. Mr. Beardsly would be it. He’s been in one of the videos. He’d be the mascot, I think.
KF: I think he’d be wearing a little floral thermal.
HH: Hmmm, he’s gay too.
NB: Alright, and we will end on everyone’s favorite dinosaur.
KF: Someone else asked me that question, and I said Dinosaur Jr.
HH: I think the genital-saurus.
NB: We’re all like four now, I love it.
HH: This is the Kathy look.
KF: This is my constant look on tour.
HH: I also like the Pterodactyl. I named my ex-girlfriend Tara-dactyl. Let me describe Kathy’s look to the tape recorder. She has her hand over her…she’s doing the “I have a headache” look.
NB: It’s like a centralized headache. Right between the eyes. That might be where her soul hurts. Sexasaurus?
WG: Well, we were just listening to R. Kelly in the van on the way here, and there’s the song “The Zoo” and he says “it’s like Jurassic Park, and I’m your sexasaurus.” He also says a lot of other great stuff in that song. I highly recommend it.
NB: I’ll look into it.
WG: *monkey noises*
NB: No dinosaur for Kathy?
KF: Dinosaur Jr.
NB: Perfect. Thank you guys so much for taking the time out of your day.