Today marks the long-awaited release of "Now We Can See," the fourth album from Portland's own The Thermals. The album was reviewed in the "Buzz" issue of Bitch, but as a huge fan of the band, I thought it deserved a bit of blog attention as well. Check out the video from their single, "Now We Can See"! It just came out today. I should warn you, though, it contains enough handclap-y happiness to last you all week long:
I love The Thermals, and what's not to love? They're an amazing band; they tackle a variety of important political issues in their catchy songs; they're super-fun live; they recently signed with the awesome, feminist, Kill Rock Stars; and they were nice enough to sit down for an interview with yours truly! (All that and I didn't even mention their extreme cuteness.) Read on for some of Kathy Foster's (bass) and Hutch Harris's (vocals, guitar) thoughts on the new album, and of course, feminism. Hooray!
New album cover: (DIY Factoid: The Thermals make their own album-cover collages, and design their own merch. Swoon city!)
(I am including just a few choice excerpts from the hour-plus interview in this blog post. Stay tuned for more in the next episode of the Bitch podcast! Oh, and please excuse my geekiness: Did I mention that I love The Thermals?)
Bitch: The themes on "Now We Can See" (life, death, evolution, water, etc.) are a departure from the themes touched on in your previous albums. Could you talk a bit about what inspired you for this album and how these themes came about?
Kathy: This album kind of picks up where "The Body The Blood The Machine" [their third album] left off, which was... the fiery apocalyptic end of humanity (but hey, it was upbeat and you could dance to it). Now [with "Now We Can See"] we're dead and reflecting on the lives we led. And how we treated ourselves and each other, and our planet. (Yeah, now we know better but what are we really going to do about it?)
Bitch: I notice, I mean obviously the lyrics, some of them are pretty dark. You're talking about evolution and life and death. But the songs are really upbeat, they're so catchy!
Kathy: Yeah, it's kind of like the more sinister the lyrics are the more the music seems happy and cheerful.
Hutch: Well that's taking a piss in the face of whatever you're afraid of or whatever terrible things you're like singing about. It's a way to be less afraid about it. And then just like, it's your revenge on whatever. It's like the world is collapsing around you but you don't give a shit, you just treat it like a big party? Like, then that's your...
Kathy: It's like the band going down with the ship.
Hutch: Yeah, totally. And we talk about the first record, it just like you have all this chaos around you, and it's just like the world is just like, sometimes you think it's so horrible. But like, it's really cynical, it's about not caring, like, or treating it like it's a big fucking party.
Kathy: The first record ["More Parts Per Million"].
Hutch: Yeah, yeah. And that's the constant attitude that we have. It's kind of a celebration of all of these things that are like, screwy and scary. Instead of having those same lyrics but really dour music you know, being really depressed about it. Which I think kind of describes us pretty well too, Kathy and I.
Bitch: Obviously Bitch is a feminist pop culture magazine. Do you have anything to say about gender politics in your own band? You're a co-ed band, and I don't know if that has ever been a factor, or if it's affected the way people receive your music. Do you think it has?
Hutch: I don't know. I mean, I feel like it should just be like anything else. But we always play with other co-ed bands, too. Or we usually do.
Kathy: We try to.
Hutch: Yeah. It's important to us. I don't know how important it is to people who see us.
Kathy: I think it influences people, you know? Like people are always stoked to see like, women playing music.
Kathy: And women being strong … um, and you know of course you encounter like, difficulties here and there. But I feel bad for people that are in these communities that are just like, totally against them [as women] or they don't have any encouragement. And so I feel like I grew up just like, playing music and not thinking that it was weird or that I couldn't do it because I was a girl.
Hutch: But also just you are really proactive about things and don't let anything really stop you. When I met Kathy she was like 18 and she was playing you know, recording on a four-track and playing all of the instruments and writing songs. Like, I knew a lot of guys who did that and not many girls. And just like, it's really cool, but a lot of that just comes from you, I think. You have the environment, but it's still just you being really strong and proactive.
Kathy: Yeah, I think that's just how I grew up too. Both my parents were just really supportive of whatever I wanted to do and never told me I couldn't do anything, and so um, I've always just felt that way, like if there's something I want to do I just do it. So I try to encourage other girls to do that. And I think that just being in a band says that, and just, you know, a lot of girls and women have told me, like, they're really influenced by me and I think just seeing women onstage like, and like going for it and like, not holding back, and not letting anything get you down and um, yeah I think I mean, I'm just really headstrong, too (laughs).
Hutch: (laughs) Yeah we just always find ourselves working with women, just kind of naturally. I don't think we're like, "Well let's get a female sound person." But now like, our friend Anna does our sound and she's like amazing, she's so good. And the same thing with Kill Rock Stars [which is operated by women], and the same thing with our booking agency that's owned by a woman and run by a woman. So it's just like, I don't know why that is exactly. I mean, that is probably how we would want it anyway, I think, if we would have a choice. Maybe? I don't know. I mean, I feel like there shouldn't be a difference, you know?
Bitch: So do you have anything else to add for readers of a feminist magazine like Bitch?
Kathy: I think it's just like, I don't know, I go back and forth on the word feminist. Because it's like, like I just want to live the way I want to live. I don't want to like, just because I'm doing what I want, does that mean I'm a feminist? You know?
Bitch: But I think by some definitions it [feminism] does mean that.
Kathy: Yeah, but I go back and forth because it's like it shouldn't have to mean something. But then at the same time it's like, I think it is feminist to just be doing what you want to be doing and not like, letting anything hold you back.
Hutch: Well that's what I was trying to say when we were talking about working with mostly females, like in our business. Like, it should just be because they're just good at what they do, right? But I don't want to discount the fact that they are females because there's not, because they're still a minority in the business. You know? Like, I'm not sure how to put it into words. I don't know, I don't want it to seem like I'm giving them too much credit because they're just smart people like anyone else. You know? And they just work really hard. You know?
We do know, Hutch. Thanks to The Thermals for talking to us, and for making such a great new album! What do you think, blog readers?