Politics, religion, and now songs of love. Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster have played in a number of bands together, but have been The Thermals since 2002. Although reviewers and fans thought of them as a political band when they first emerged, The Thermals are trying to stray from that label with their latest album, Personal Life, about love and relationships.
As much as some people want to believe the songs are referring to a romantic relationship between Harris and Foster, they are in fact about other people.
As Harris said in an A.V. Club interview with Kyle Ryan, “Kathy and I have known each other for so long—17 years or something—and we dated from ’97 to 2000. So that’s fucking been a while. It doesn’t matter. Anyone that actually knows us knows. So much information on the Internet in life is just incorrect. There’s not much you can do about it.”
But I can do my part, let’s get the story straight.
Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster met just after high school in San Jose, where they had both grown up. The first band they ever played in together was called Haelah. In 1996, Harris began working on the project The Urban Legends, and in 1998, he and Foster moved the band to Portland, Oregon, where they performed with Harris on guitar and vocals and Foster on drums.
Pre-Thermals, Harris and Foster spent a year recording a new album as Hutch & Kathy. The duo played what Harris has described as “folky pop.”
It was in Portland, in 2002, that Harris started writing new songs. The songs were political and fun and the songwriting more energized and fierce than the Hutch and Kathy style, so the duo decided they needed a new name.
“Naming the band after an article of clothing seemed rock’n’roll to me,” Harris once said in an interview with Spin Magazine. “I remember that Kathy had this purple thermal undershirt that she always used to wear. Wearing a thermal shirt with, like, black cut-off jeans and Doc Martens boots was a very grunge look, which obviously had some resonance for us being from the Pacific Northwest. Then I looked it up and a thermal is also a gust of hot air, which was another funny take on the name that I liked, as if the band was a bunch of hot air. Mostly, though, I was into the idea of naming the band after Kathy’s shirt.”
And thus The Thermals was born.
Their first album, More Parts per Million, was recorded in Harris’ home and released in 2002 with drummer Jordan Hudson and guitarist Ben Barnett. But the band didn’t work as a quartet and Barnett left before The Thermals’ second album, Fuckin A, was recorded in 2004. Harris took over on guitar for the album that was mixed by Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie.
It wasn’t really until The Body, The Blood, The Machine that The Thermals started gaining recognition. Their third album, released in 2006, started making top album lists and the band began a lengthy tour.
Hudson had left the band during the recording, so Foster took over on drums in the studio and Lorin Coleman joined the group as drummer for the tour.
The Thermals had released their first three albums under indie label Sub Pop Records, but they signed with Portland label Kill Rock Stars for Now We Can See, released in 2009. Foster again played drums on the recording, but Westin Glass took over as percussionist for the tour and still remains in the band.
Personal Life, the band’s fifth studio album, was released September 7, 2010.