Interview: The Thermals
So when exactly did the recording sessions for Desperate Ground begin?
Back in October we were in Hoboken, New Jersey, we were recording with John Agnello so we flew out to do the record. We ended up finishing the record and exactly an hour later the studio was blacked out by Hurricane Sandy.
Scary, that's pretty crazy timing.
Yeah, it was pretty crazy. We ended up doing some additional mixing of songs, just changing little things in the mix after that, but at that point the record was substantially finished. We spent the next week in John's apartment in Jersey City with no power, just hanging out. The whole experience was pretty surreal.
What inspired you to go with John this time instead of Chris Walla?
We just love so much stuff he's worked on. All of the Dinosaur Jr. records, Sonic Youth, I'm personally a big fan of Chavez and he's done a few of their records. We didn't know him personally or anything, Hutch [Harris, singer/guitarist] just got in touch with him online and he turned out to be an incredible guy when we got to know him. He's really cool and he helped us make an incredible record really fast. He's also become one of our closest friends as well.
There's also been a label change this time around, with Saddle Creek putting out the record instead of Kill Rock Stars.
Yeah, we were just looking for something new, a new place and Saddle Creek is so awesome. As I was telling you earlier I just got off a conference call with them and they're a joy to work with. We've also loved their bands forever, Hutch and Kathy [Foster, bass] have been friends with some of their bands for years and I'm a huge fan of their artists so it makes perfect sense. I also think the dark side on this record is really at home in their catalog.
What would you say was the most difficult part of the actual recording process?
Just deciding what's next to eat at one time of day, we were snacking so hard the whole time. Honestly I felt like everything went so smoothly making this record. We spent a long time writing it and that was probably the most hard work that we put in. We really worked on the songs, everything song has gone through one or two or three completely different revisions before it turned into the song that it is now. When we actually went to record everything came together really quickly and easily.
Where exactly did the concept for Desperate Ground come from?
The title came from The Art of War by Sun Tzu and it really describes what's going on in the record. Tzu describes all these different scenarios you could be in, but desperate ground is when you basically have to fight or flee, you have no choice, you can't stay where you are. It's urgent and critical, you've got to run or fight. That's the scenario we tried to go for in every song on this record, that's what it's all about.
So you'd agree that it's kind of a concept record about killing?
Yeah, I'd say that's the most simplified way of putting it. It's about aggression, killing, being hunted and just violence between people. That's what it's all about.
What's your favourite track on the new record and why?
That's so tough because it changes every day. Today I'd say it's "Where I Stand" just because it's 110% the whole way, playing that song just feels like a total adrenaline rush. That's what we were going for on the whole record, but that's one of the most intense songs for me to play.
My personal favourite is "The Howl of the Winds" and I was wondering how that song came together.
That one was the very last one we wrote, we kind of came up with that main riff, but like everything else on the record it went through some revisions before it came what it is now. The lyrics that Hutch wrote for that song are so perfect, it's like a little movie for your mind. That was also the last song John was mixing as the hurricane was building outside of the studio. And at the same time we were watching the San Francisco Giants win the World Series and while we were watching the announcer said "the howl of the winds," he said that exact same phrase on TV and we were like 'What?' It's sort of weird how that ended up working out.
Was there was a conscious effort to use rougher production, much like on the earlier Thermals records?
Yeah, we definitely wanted to go back to that sound. Hutch recorded vocals the exact same way they were recorded on More Parts Per Million, which is to say through this one mic through the cassette 4 track cranked up really high so it distorts. It was the same vocal sound, but then everything that John did, he just really nailed the balancer. It sounds lo-fi and rough edged, but it still sounds really good.
Speaking of More Parts Per Million, I know it was just re-issued earlier this year through Sub Pop.
Yeah, I think it was mostly because it's been out of print for awhile and the label had been getting lots of requests so I guess the 10th anniversary was just a good time for them to do it. We also played a bunch of shows in March and we played almost all of More Parts Per Million. We basically just played that, stuff from the new record and hits from The Body, The Blood, The Machine. It was really cool because a lot of those earlier songs I hadn't learned before so it was fun for me to learn them on drums. It's really fun to play, but really physically challenging as well.
What's next for the Thermals?
The record comes out April 16, April 20 we play the record release show in Portland and then we head out on a US tour. In June/July we're going to head to the UK/Europe for tour as well.
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / MP3
7" / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / MP3
LP / CD