Thermals warm up to sound of chaos


Good fortune seldom appears according to bus-schedule logic. Just ask busy musician Hutch Harris, who moved here from San Jose, Calif., five years ago. While dodging raindrops in Portland, Harris has had his own band Ñ the moody and exploratory Urban Legends Ñ formed a rocking electric folk duo with Kathy Foster (from the All Girl Summer Fun Band) called Hutch and Kathy, played drums for local pop sensations the Minders and even performed some solo shows.

'For all the bands and things I'd done before the Thermals, I'd always sent my recordings around to various labels,' Harris, 27, says. 'Nothing happened. Zero.'

Harris, freshly bruised from a failed romance, wrote a whole mess of angry punk songs early last year. Along with Foster on bass and drummer Jordan Hudson, he very quickly recorded 'More Parts per Million,' an album that Harris had envisioned as more of a one-off project than anything else.

'I pretty much look at everything I do as a project,' Harris says. 'I never expected this record to do anything. I just thought it would be fun to do some pissed-off punk songs. I was just going to pass out copies to friends.'

Ben Gibbard, leader of the Seattle band Death Cab for Cutie, got a copy of the album, played it for some interested folks at Sub Pop Records and ÑÊpresto! Ñ the Thermals are a real band with a real future and record label support.

'More Parts per Million' is an eerily accurate and bracing low-fi sweep through English punk rock from the late-'70s. Bands such as Wire, Buzzcocks, the Fall and the Undertones provide the inspiration for Harris' short bursts of agitation, quivering with raw guitar chords and loads of nervous energy. The recording is primitive and noisy, all the better for capturing the chaos. This is punk rock as it should be Ñ frustrated and snotty.

'Snotty is a good description,' Harris says.

On songs such as 'Break and Brace' and 'Born Dead,' Harris vacillates between lashing out at his absent lover ('Stuff your sentences into your boring diary') and hoping to rekindle passion's flame ('I may be out of it/but I'm still into you'). The sentiments are real, the scars are fresh and the music scorches everything in its path.

'I wasn't like in a total rage when I was recording these songs; I was really having fun with them,' he says. 'Now when I listen to them I can tell, 'Wow, I guess I was pissed!' '

Needless to say, the speedy success of the Thermals has left Harris in a bit of a quandary as to his next move. The band has been playing out locally and touring as a quartet with Ben Barnett of the Portland band Kind of Like Spitting on guitar, but Harris says they've recently parted company. 'We're going back to a power trio,' he says.

In addition to lineup logistics, there's the matter of what kind of material the band should address, because the first record came about under special circumstances. It's not as though Harris can break up with someone every time a recording session is on the horizon.

'We want to keep the energy the same,' Harris says. 'But we're going to emphasize the drums and bass with the guitar being more minimal, kind of like the Breeders or the Pixies.

'It's important that we maintain our sense of chaos.'