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Music Interview: The Thermals

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The Thermals’ Hutch Harris is a sensitive man’s man who occasionally likes to go on naked strolls around the block and have sex in dressing rooms while shopping. He grew up in Manhattan, used to have a recurring dream that he was hanging off the side of a building by his fingers, and claims he hasn’t cleaned his Portland home, dubbed the Moss Motel, in more than two years.
    Along with one-time girlfriend Kathy Foster and drummer Jordan Hudson, Harris recorded the brilliant, anthemic More Parts Per Million on a four-track in his bedroom. But unlike most stuff recorded on a four-track in a bedroom, which is small and wee and hushed and gentle, the Thermals’ songs are loud, brash, fiery and unwittingly heartbreaking. Harris writes dirty little punk salvos that will make you cry.
    Nerve caught up with him twelve short and sleep-filled hours after he returned to the states following a brief European tour. — Alison M. Rosen

Sex Drugs and Relaxation

Do you make music to have sex to, music to take drugs to, or music to relax to?
It’s definitely music to take drugs to. A couple beers would help, a couple more would really help, and then a couple joints would make it perfect, I think. I don’t know about sex. I used to like having sex to the Pixies. Maybe you could have sex to The Thermals. It definitely could be about having sex, but I don’t know if it’s perfect for that. What was the third?

Music to relax to.
Nah, I don’t think so.

So your recommendation is four beers and two joints?
Yeah. Or a lot of whiskey.

Nudity

I’ve noticed that sometimes when you play live you’re not wearing a shirt.
Things are different now than when we started a year ago. There was a lot of nudity in the beginning but almost all of it took place in Portland. Those were the crowds we were familiar with and felt intimate enough with to do something like that.

"When you walk around like you don’t care, that’s when everyone wants to jump you."

With all due respect, I saw you in Austin and in New York and I think you were shirtless.
Was I? I don’t think I was in New York! In Austin it was at 1:30 in the morning and we were trashed. We were sick and trashed. And it was hot.

See, I thought maybe you felt the shirt hindered the rock, but it sounds like that’s just the tip of iceberg and you feel clothes in general are hindering the rock.
Also, in Austin we had like twenty or thirty friends there. It felt intimate.

So that’s what you do among friends, rip off your clothes?
Yeah, totally. I’m definitely an exhibitionist but I have to feel comfortable.

Have you ever streaked?
Yeah, I have. Not in the traditional sense like running through a crowd of people naked for the hell of it, but I’ve been naked in public before.

When?
Like taking a walk with your friend around the block, something like that and you’re naked with your shoes on. I don’t know why.

You’ve done that? You’ve gone on a leisurely stroll with it all hanging out?
Yeah, Kathy and I used to live in San Jose, and I had this friend John who was even more of an exhibitionist than I am. For about a week or two he would not wear clothes; he would go around the house naked. We took a couple strolls with just our tennis shoes on.

What was the reaction?
There usually was none. I don’t think we ever saw anyone. It was at night. It’s definitely something you do after a couple of drinks; it’s not like you get up in the morning and take your clothes off.

Have you had sex in public?
Ah, yes. Definitely. I’m a big fan of dressing rooms. The beach is really good also. Nature is good.

Love et al.

 

"Not caring: people read that as confidence."

Would you describe yourself as unlucky in love or lucky in love?
I am pretty lucky. I would think any bad luck I have just comes from my mistakes and fucking up. I think I’m usually pretty lucky.

Is it weird to be in a band with your ex?
It works really well. It’s not like Kathy and I got together when we met. We’d known each other for two or three years, and then we were very close and then got together. Now we’ve been apart for about almost another three years, and we get along really well.

Do you have any tricks, patented Hutch Harris moves?
A lot of times, the less energy you put into something, the more you’ll get out of it. I always think when you’re out trying really hard to find someone, you come off as desperate and pathetic, but when you walk around like you don’t care, that’s when everyone wants to jump you. But you can’t pretend. That usually has to come from actually not caring. People read that as confidence.

So you actually don’t care, and that’s working for you?
It has in the past. Right now I think I care, so I don’t get shit.

Porn: how do you feel about it?
I’m not opposed to it, but I don’t partake of it so much anymore. I like the Suicide Girls. I like all the attention they’re getting.

Music

The music you recorded as Hutch and Kathy was pretty folky.
Yeah. A lot of acoustic guitar and harmonica and organ and stuff, but all with drums, so it’s not too far from The Thermals in that it’s just pop songs, but it’s definitely a lot mellower.

Did you make a conscious decision with The Thermals to do something that was less mellow?
I wanted to do a project that I could do really fast and not think too much about. Just write a song and record it as it is. That’s what that Thermals record is. It wasn’t like I want to make a punk album again, just something that’s fast and without a lot of pretense to it.

Did the songs happen quickly?
Yeah, all those songs were pretty much written either the morning of the day they were recorded or else the night before.

In "No Culture Icons" you sing, "No new deafness/ no self-reference/ no getting psyched on/ no culture icons." Explain.
It’s so easy to overexpose yourself to media and art. Especially with art — the more people you have doing it, the less quality you’re going to get. But it’s about celebrating that instead of getting down about it.

"I have this dark view of sex a lot of the time. I think about the regret in the morning, or somewhere down the line."

Is it true that the record cost sixty bucks to record?
Actually way less. Closer to like six dollars because the tracks are all on cassette. I was buying cassettes for a dollar at the time and even with outtakes there were only six or seven tapes. Real recording costs were like six or seven dollars.

Sex pt. 2

In "Born Dead" you sing "I can feel the ache and/ I can feel it breaking/ one hand on the head/ one hand on the bed." What’s that about?
I have this dark view of sex a lot of the time. I think about the regret in the morning or somewhere down the line but that song’s just about having a really strong urge or desire for someone and going through with it but maybe a lot of times it’s just not clean. There’s this dark side to it I think.

If The Thermals were a sexual position which one would they be?
Girl on top.

Why?
Because you take pleasure in giving someone else control, but you have control by letting someone else take it. It’s letting someone else think they have control when you’re really in control.  

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alison M. Rosen is a New York based writer whose work has appeared in OC Weekly, Rolling Stone, Spin, Village Voice, People, Seventeen and the Los Angeles Times, among others. She graduated from Pomona College and appreciates jokes that begin with "What is the difference between?" She’s currently at work on her first book.