Portland-based rockers The Thermals invade Madison tonight with hard-hitting punk vigor fresh from the garage. Touring in support of their new record, Now We Can See, the band brings crafty lyricism with an indie-pop formula the scenesters have to respect. The Badger Herald caught up with vocalist/guitarist Hutch Harris to discuss the pains of intensive touring that hurt so good before their show in Madison tonight.
The Badger Herald: You are on a 34-date tour with very few off-days in between gigs. How do you stay mentally focused day in and day out and avoid getting burnt out?
Hutch Harris: Less mental focus is needed than you might think. You just gotta get in the van and shut the hell up. Or sing along with Beyonc� at maximum volume. Whoa-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh! Sometimes burn out just can’t be avoided. You crash and burn, and then rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
BH: What are you currently using as your “road warrior”? Van? Tour bus? Armored tank? How are the amenities?
HH: We travel in three Hummers, thanks to our lucrative endorsement deal with GM. Gas is slightly more expensive, but you feel like a million bucks. We roll into every town like martial law has just been declared. But instead of keeping the peace, we destroy it, just like the military usually does.
BH: Have you played Madison in the past? If so, how did you like the scene in comparison to other Midwest tour stops?
HH: We did play Madison once; I think it was called The Catacombs (Coffee House)? Very small show, probably our first tour. The scene didn’t really show up that night.
BH: You should expect to see a great lot of students at the show. What have you heard about the “college utopia” that is the University of Wisconsin?
HH: Not much at all. What, are the classes free? Daily orgies? Or do you just learn a bunch of stuff?
BH: Do you have any pre-show rituals to get you musically zoned in? (Team huddles, putting “Final Countdown” on the iPod, pushups, etc.)
HH: No “Final Countdown” — we’re not doing a magic show here. We do a huddle, then Kathy slaps Westin (our drummer) and I in the face pretty hard a few times. Four tequila shots a piece, then we hit the stage.
BH: How is the chemistry within the band? Especially being together 24/7 all day everyday. Would you guys hang out if you weren’t touring together?
HH: We have great chemistry right now, like we haven’t had in years, really. We do hang out all the time.
BH: You’ve been at this a long time. What artist(s) inspired you to pick up a guitar as a kid?
HH: Jimmy Page, Slash, Kurt Cobain.
BH: What was the first concert you ever attended (as a spectator)?
HH: I went to an Alabama concert in Youngstown, Ohio, with my family when I was very young. I really count Depeche Mode’s Violator Tour as the first show I went to. It was awesome! “Reach out and touch faith!”
BH: Your last record seemed to be a theme record with much religious connotation. Are there any overlying themes that drove the lyrical inspiration on the new record Now We Can See?
HH: Life, death, love, lust, greed, power, water, air, land. Pretty much par for the course for us.
BH: With your first two albums being more lo-fi/garage/punk sound, what motivated The Thermals to go for a more polished alt/rock sound on the last two discs?
HH: Lo-fi is a ton of fun, but if every record we did was recorded on cassette, I think it would get old very fast. With each record we make, we are trying to grow in small ways: better chops, better lyrics, better production. Baby steps.
BH: What is your favorite song to play live?
HH: Lately, I love playing “We Were Sick,” “How We Fade” and “Now We Can See.”
The Thermals play The High Noon Saloon tonight at 9 p.m. The Shaky Hands and Point Juncture, WA open the show. Tickets are $12 at the door.