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The Thermals - Burning Down The House

Author: Steve Tauschke
Monday, May 25, 2009

Portland outfit The Thermals are simmering away in an indie hotbed with their new album now We Can See; 3D’s Steve Tauschke talks to bassist Kathy Foster.

On the US West Coast nestled between Los Angeles’ star-making machinery and Seattle’s deflated grunge bubble lies Portland, a comparatively insignificant locale in the realm of American rock cities.

But that may be about to change as Portland, known for its unique microbreweries and DIY youth culture, slowly transforms itself from Oregon college town to buzz-worthy rock epicentre.

“It’s just this unique combination of a small town and big city,” says Kathy Foster, bassist with local post-power pop trio The Thermals. “There’s so much going on and so many bands and so many artists and I think that’s kind of snowballed a little bit.”

Forming The Thermals in Portland in 2002, Foster and singer-guitarist Hutch Harris have witnessed a steady growth in the city’s profile thanks largely to an assortment of rich musical offerings book-ended by major acts Modest Mouse and Everclear and rising indie hopefuls Horse Feather and Shaky Hands.

“Whereas the Seattle grunge thing was just one sound the whole world jumped on as a trend, I don’t think you can say there’s one Portland sound,” reasons Foster. “There are funk bands, noise bands, folk bands, even hip hop and bigger bands like Sleater-Kinney and The Decemberists – just so many different kinds of music here.”

After three sturdy albums on Seattle’s Sub Pop label, The Thermals joined local stable Kill Rock Stars for this year’s Now We Can See. “We loved working with Sub Pop,” says Foster, “but we wanted to be able to own our own masters and licence our recordings to a label and work on one record at a time.”

Produced by Texan John Congleton (Polyphonic Spree) in Organ City, on Portland’s outskirts, the album found Hutch and Foster taking extra time to hone their songs.

“We wanted to challenge ourselves so we experimented more with the arrangements and wrote a song in a number of different ways to see which one we liked the best,” says Foster.

It’s typical of The Thermals’ skewed approach to their craft. A few years ago, they contributed a track to former Fugazi drummer and one-time Thermals producer Brendan Canty’s Burn To Shine DVD series, in which independent bands perform live in old houses earmarked for demolition.

“The fire department will actually burn them down for training so the fire fighters can practice putting out fires,” says Foster. “The Portland one was done outside the city, this ex-golf pro was tearing down his house to build this big Tuscan villa. Ha! So they had the bands play in the house, just one song each so it can filmed and recorded and then afterwards they burned down the house - and filmed that too!”

WHO: The Thermals
WHAT: Now We Can See through Kill Rock Stars / Stomp
WHEN: Out now