The Thermals to play RSC

Published on November 22nd, 2013

thermalsad28500Indie-rock has developed into a really rough game these days. The hallways of the buildings built on the might of ’90s college radio and ’80s alternative have grown crowded with new comers, revivalists, and old blood still fighting for relevance in an environment where the only constant is change. In a realm so saturated and unpredictable, the fact that The Thermals are closing in 12 years as a band is all the more impressive. However, perhaps more importantly, the anniversary is indicative of a group that truly values its art beyond the promise of major success: Punk rock in its very essence.

The Portland based trio released Desperate Ground earlier this year to the acclaim of fans and critics alike. The album shows a band that has honed in upon the very best parts of its sound and sidestepped the cliché of bloated late career albums many groups release after similar tenures in the service of indie-rock. As South Florida prepares to receive The Thermals for the first time in the band’s lengthy career, we caught up with drummer Westin Glass to discuss tour life in Europe, the making of Desperate Ground, and dark vibes with light sonics.

PH: How was the band’s Europe tour?

Westin: It was really fun, we had a really good time over there. Had some good shows, had some really exceptional shows, too. It was kind of a short tour for us, but, we like it that way, it gets kind of tired.

PH: Everyone I know in an American band that has toured Europe always comes back raving about how great the crowds are over there.

W: Yeah, I mean, we have some really really great shows over there, and there’s some places where people don’t know our band that well. Germany we always do really well, and this time — I was surprised — Italy did really good for us and we’ve kind of struggled there in the past, but it was good on this last tour.

PH: What was the best thing you ate over there?

W: Oh wow…It’s funny because we always joke that it’s all just bread and cheese the whole time. Like, every day, every country, everywhere you go, it’s just bread and cheese, and it’s good, but it’s kind of like a rough diet. But, we did have a really amazing meal in Amsterdam: There’s an Indonesian restaurant there that is probably my favorite food I’ve ever had in my life — it’s so good. Just incredibly good.

PH: Has the band ever performed in South Florida?

W: I’ve been in this band for five years now out of ten or eleven that the band has been around. In the time that I’ve been in the band, the farthest south we’ve been is Orlando. I’m really excited for this tour because it’s a lot of cities I’ve never been to before!

PH: On your entrance into the band: Was it awkward entering a band with such a rich history so late in the game, or was the fit very natural?

W: Actually, it was awesome. On a personal level and a musical level we all just clicked really well together. I’ve been a fan forever, so it was cool to learn all of these older songs, and you know, I was learning songs from all these records that had been recorded by three different drummers, so each record had a slightly different drumming style, you know? It was kind of a fun challenge to try and learn those older songs and try to play them true to how them were recorded, but also to the unique chemistry that three of us have going on as well. Yeah, it felt really natural since the beginning.

PH: When a new member joins a band so well established, it can really change the energy and reactivate a creative spark. Do you feel like your joining helped with the band’s creative longevity outside of just playing the role of a drummer?

W: I think so, for sure. I mean, the last two records before I joined were written and recorded entirely by Hutch and Kathy by themselves, so it was cool when I joined because we started writing as a three piece again. It’s hard to say, I joined when they had just finished recording Now We Can See, and I started with them just as that record was about to come out. So, the next two years after that record came out we toured so much, like, so hard. It really feels like the time since I’ve joined has been pretty intense. We’ve worked hard and we’ve toured a lot and recorded a lot and it’s been a blast. I think Hutch and Kathy would never stop, I’d think they’d be doing this no matter what, but I’m the same way — I love it so much — so I feel like I brought that and they matched it, or vice versa.

PH: On Desperate Ground, the musical content is extremely approachable and catchy, but the lyrical content heads to some pretty dark places. It’s an interesting juxtaposition; was that the natural way those songs developed, or was someone in a specifically dark place when writing the lyrics?

W: I mean, we’re all kind of dark thinkers, I guess you could say. We specifically talked about that juxtaposition when we were making this record because we all really love music that’s really upbeat and really fun to listen to, but the lyrical content is actually pretty dark. There’s like…I’m having a hard time thinking of a good example right now…

PH: I’ll submit one: The opening track of Desperate Ground shares a title with the Damned’s “Born to Kill” and I think they’re a great example of fun music with a very dark lyrical twist.

W: For sure! The Damned! They’re a great example. It’s really fun, and yeah, it’s dark — their’s is dark in kind of a playful way. On this record, it’s not that playful, it’s pretty serious, but it’s kind of a fun adventure story, too. But yeah, I love the Damned, I love that record!

PH: The sonics of Desperate Ground are rather stripped down, especially in comparison to some of the albums John Agnello has produced. What catalyzed the return to the sparse sound?

W: That was a very conscious choice for us as well. We did Personal Life, which was — for the Thermals — a pretty mellow record, pretty lushly recorded record, compared to the rest of the catalogue. It was really fun to do that record, but we wanted to get back to writing songs that whip people into a frenzy when we play them live. Personal Life, a lot of people love that record, and we’re really proud of it, but those songs don’t make people go nuts live. We all wanted to get back to shows where it’s super sweaty and everybody’s like, tossing each other in the air and all that kind of energy. We specifically set out to write a record that was fast and pummeling and we did consciously want to go back to the spirit of More Parts Per Million and the super basic, super lo-fi sound. I feel like John did an incredible job of getting exactly what we wanted, which was really stripped down and really basic, while at the same time making everything sound really good, too.

It’s funny, some of my friends have been like “Dude, you know that record sounds like super weird and like, rough” and I’m always like “Yeah, I know, I love it!” So yeah, he did a great job of capturing just what we wanted sonically, and making it sound better than I thought it even could.

PH: I’ve spoken with people in rock bands lately that have lamented the jaded crowds that have become too cool to get involved in a show. Being that the Thermals have been around for so long, does the band still encounter shows like that, or has the group more or less transcended that?

W: Yeah, I’d like to say that we have transcended it. I definitely know what those people are talking about and there are lots of places like that where people are just too cool to get sweaty. But, I’ve been really proud on the last few tours we’ve done since this record came out specifically. We’ve been playing all of the songs from this record, but we’ve also put together a set list of all the hits people really want to hear and all of the like, really high energy fun ones from the other records.

We’ve been having really good shows and it’s cool to hear, a lot of times, people will come up to us after shows and tell us “No one ever does that in this city” where everyone is way too cool to move around, so it’s awesome to see that they did at your show, so that makes me extra proud. I have a feeling Florida is going to bring it! I have a feeling it’s going to get nuts down there for sure!

The Thermals play Respectable Street on Thursday, December 12 at 9pm with Beach Day and The Band in Heaven. Sweet Bronco plays the patio. Tickets are $10 advance, $12 at the door.   RSVP

~ David Von Bader

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