INTERVIEW

“WHEN GEORGE DUBYA WAS ELECTED for his second term in office, the sane world looked on in horror. The ‘terror’ of ‘War on terror’ fame may have long since been unmasked as the man orchestrating the whole affair himself but, while the irony was not lost, any drabs of hope we had left in the […]

“WHEN GEORGE DUBYA WAS ELECTED for his second term in office, the sane world looked on in horror. The ‘terror’ of ‘War on terror’ fame may have long since been unmasked as the man orchestrating the whole affair himself but, while the irony was not lost, any drabs of hope we had left in the world’s number one superpower were. It seemed that Bush had simply tricked a majority of his country by claiming to be the one thing he knew a narrow-minded nation would respond to – a Christian. How could they be so stupid?

Bush’s plan to cling on to the Oval Office chair for four more years had worked, but in Portland, Oregon, Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster were having none of it. With a recently departed Jordan Hudson no longer bringing the beats, The Thermals were now a duo as they set about creating their third studio album ‘The Body, The Blood, The Machine’: a 10-track leap into a brave new world of garage punk that stands eyeball to eyeball with a United States that’s governed by a fascist Christian state.

It all sounds a bit heavy on paper, but on record it’s an optimistic call to arms. Lyrically, it makes no bones about its authors’ feelings towards the direction their country is heading in (“Locus tornados, crosses and Nazi halos,” begins the war-mongering and brilliant ‘I Might Need You To Kill’) but ‘The Body‚”‘ remains something of an anti-nihilistic record, full of three-minute, positively paced pop songs to make us realise that there is a future if we all wake the fuck up now.

“It’s an anti-American government album,” proudly admits singer/guitarist Harris. “It’s so obvious. For people like us, who are middle class, your life hasn’t really changed in the past 30 years or so except now everyone has this feeling that at any time Bush is going to do something really drastic and really terrible, so it’s more like a lot of people are panicked at what could happen – at least where we live, not in other places where we go and bomb people to hell. So this record is about how terrible things could get if Bush was allowed to stay in office indefinitely. Obviously that would be catastrophic.”

Along with Foster, Harris has been a founding Thermal since 2002. Before then they also worked together on endless musical projects, which goes some way to explaining how ‘The Body‚”‘ was a complete joint vision, realised by the pair sharing drum, keyboard and organ duties in a studio helmed by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty. As well as being as close to a concept album as The Thermals are ever likely to get, it’s a record (released on the band’s much-adored legendary Sub Pop label – “Because we loved Mudhoney and Nirvana so much, signing to Sub Pop was a huge deal for us,” says Harris) that sees the band progress from their previous work.
2004’s ‘Fuckin A’ was an instant kick in the face that took just four days to record and mix in its entirety. Clocking in at 29 minutes, it consisted of two speed settings – fast and faster. ‘The Body, The Blood, The Machine’, meanwhile, is more dynamic. Ballad perhaps conjures up ‘Lady In Red’ a little too much to apply but, with Hutch Harris’ lyrics being the best and most poignant he’s ever written, the pace has subsided a little – well, enough for us to take it all in. Which is something that Middle America may not wish for.

“There’s been a couple of negative responses but it’s mostly been positive,” says a pleasantly surprised Harris “mainly from Christians actually, who are like, ‘Yeah, I agree, when Bush says he’s a Christian it’s a terrible representation of Christianity.’ So there’s been a lot of people who agree with that. A lot of people have even started thinking that we’re a Christian rock band, which is kind of annoying to me because when you listen for one second you can see that we’re not. But I tell those people I hope they can still like the band because it’s not exactly an anti-Christian record either, it’s more anti-Bush.”

No doubt some will hear The Thermals’ new direction and revert back to the band’s more instant, simple work of 2005 and previous years, perhaps believing ‘The Body, The Blood, The Machine’ to be too self-righteous for any musical genre, let alone middle-class garage punk. But with or without Jordan Hudson, The Thermals have always stood by their beliefs. In 2004 they turned down a $50k offer from Hummer to use one of the band’s tracks on a TV commercial. Of the opportunity that could have made him the singer in a nationally famous band, Hutch Harris says, “We thought about it for 15 seconds.”

Musically the band also remain steadfast in their genre of choice, refusing to chase the Yankee dollar, underlining why those who are fanatical about The Thermal are just that.

“For me at this point we are sort of opposed to [‘new rave’],” says Harris “because we’ve seen so many bands turn from being a rock band to get the big ‘dance single’, but I really don’t want to go in that direction. We’re going to stay a rock band.”

With The Thermals, the guitars fight back indeed, thanks to a new album that speaks more sense in 35 minutes than the joke president could in as many terms in The White House. “

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