Based on our recent coverage of the musical marriage between Saddle Creek Records and The Thermals, you'd be safe in assuming that we're pretty excited about it. As we've come to learn through our recent mixtape curated by frontman Hutch Harris, The Thermals are pretty stoked about the partnership themselves.
For the past 11 years, The Thermals have remained as a mainstay of the indie-punk scene, releasing five albums, the most recent being Personal Life, back in 2010. Their upcoming incarnation, Desperate Ground, due out April 16th, brings us a fresh taste of an iconic and gritty group that we grew to love back in the early aughts. In a recent chat with Hutch, he described, "We're jetting back to what people really like about this band. Our songs are short, fast, loud and violent." And after hearing the first single off the record, "Born To Kill", we have to fervidly agree.
To find out about The Thermals' history with Conor Oberst, why Hutch is so damned fascinated by war, and the precise difference between death and killing on Desperate Ground, read the interview with our favorite Portland gent below.
Where am I calling ya today?
I'm in Portland.
How have you been? I really appreciate the mixtape you put together for us.
Yeah, yeah of course. Man, we love Saddle Creek. We signed the contract and realized after looking at the roster we were like, "woah, we really are friends with like almost all of their bands."
I grew up on Saddle Creek and you guys, so for me it was sort of a match made in heaven.
Nice. You know we first met Conor [Oberst] the first time he came to Portland. Kathy and I set up a show with Bright Eyes, just like a house show. We just got to him pretty well after his first record, and then he turned us on to The Faint's first record.
And you guys signing with Saddle Creek - has that been a long time coming or where did this decision come from?
You know we were just looking for a new label from the past. We talked to a lot of labels. Saddle Creek just made the most sense. And we just knew what Saddle Creek owned. We've known them for a really long time as well. I think they gave us a great deal. So it kind of all just made sense.
So how's music changed from when The Thermals came together back in 2002 to now? For you guys and for Saddle Creek.
For us, haha, we've kind of changed. A lot of what makes us a band has stayed the same. A lot of that has been intentional. We were on the scene when being trendy was the last thing you ever wanted to be. It was just really not cool. We've chosen a style and we've really stuck with it. At the same time, record to record.You know if you play our first record, and play our latest record there's a lot of soul energy and a lot of growth that's happened, as well. I feel like our songs now are a lot better - our songs are ripping. I think we're growing for sure. I think the songs are smarter and more complete then maybe they have been in our past. But yeah, at the same time I feel like we've been persistent. And you know Saddle Creek has gone through - I mean, just take Bright Eyes. Like I said before, Bright Eyes came to Portland to play a house show, and every time we've seen them since then it has been a bigger and bigger venue until like you know, Conor's all over Rolling Stone and people are calling him like the Bob Dylan of this generation, so obviously that was very lucrative for Saddle Creek. They got huge when Bright Eyes got huge. They didn't become a big label by going around the world and trying to sign what they thought were the hippest, trendiest bands. Besides us, 90 percent of the bands on Saddle Creek are from Omaha. There's a couple others like us that aren't, but they really just made their label - they made their whole scene themselves. They didn't need anyone else to find good music. It was just all right at home.
You said you've been persistent this whole time. After 11 years, is this why fans are still excited every time you guys come out with new music?
Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I feel like people are more excited now even than they have been in a little while. For us, we're jetting back to what people really like about this band. Our songs are short, fast, loud, and violent.
I read a previous interview where you discussed the underlying theme of the new album. Can you talk to me a little about that?
Yeah, I already regret the first interview I did. It was with Spin and I was saying that the theme was death. The theme is not death for this record. The theme is killing. Close, but you know, we see our fourth record being about death. It was from the point of the view from the dead. This record is strung out, about killing. This is a record about war, this is not an anti-war record. I think they probably have enough anti-war songs in the history of music. There's plenty of pro-war songs, as well. I wanted to make a record you could really listen to and really not know if the record is pro- or anti-war, or you know, I wanted a record that could work both ways. A record that you could sing anti-war rally or you could sing on the battlefield.
And when did you write the album?
It was like all last year. We were kind of like starting up the contrast at the end of 2011 and really we just worked all of 2012 and we started to throw away a lot of stuff. We threw away a lot of songs, a lot of lyrics. So yeah, we wrote for about over a year.
Sorry to back track a little bit. But I just realized we were talking about war. I saw you guys 3 years ago when you played in Hoboken the night they announced Bin Laden was nabbed. I'll never forget that.
[Laughs] Yeah, people were actually chanting U-S-A at that show. We didn't know what the fuck was going on. That was weird. We've actually met a lot of people who served in the military at our shows. In Iraq and Afghanistan. And it really surprised me at first, I don't know why. I felt like I was kind of shocked at first, and then eventually it was something I thought was really cool. I mean, I'm not pro-war, I don't think the U.S. needs to be out killing people in different countries, but it is something that has always gone on and it's something I don't see ending. You know, it's more like a sick fascination with the fact you can be at war. People were telling me that they were like on duty in Iraq listening to the The Body, the Blood, the Machine, and for better or for worse, you know, this was something that was like propelling them or helping them to keep moving. So yeah, it's fascinating to me.
Can we expect any more singles to come out?
Yeah. I think we're going to have a video for "Born to Kill", and I think the next single will come...where are we right now? I think it's almost March. Shit. Yeah. I think it's gonna, be maybe in March...or maybe in April - just couple of weeks before the record comes out there will be another single. I'm not sure what the single will be.
And you guys are going to be down in SXSW correct?
Yeah. For the first time in four years.
Playing any cool showcases?
You know, I don't know the particular places. There is a ton of stuff, I'm just not sure which ones are announced.
I don't want you to break any secrets.
Yeah. [Laughs] I'm not sure. It's weird because its so close. It's less than three weeks away and were still figuring out shows. And yeah, we're gonna be playing a lot of good shows.
Desperate Ground comes out April 16th. Pre-order it here.