Within the contiguous United States, Florida and Oregon are essentially as far apart as two states can be. So when the Portland-based band, The Thermals, goes on tour, sometimes the sunshine state gets left out of the party due to time constraints. To rectify matters, The Thermals are playing an eight-date Florida-only tour in December, and their show in Pensacola will be the first in the band’s 11-year history.
“It seems like we only get down there every four or five years,” said bassist Kathy Foster. “There are a lot of people who want us to come there, so we just decided to do a Florida tour. We always have fun shows there.”
The Thermals are touring in support of “Desperate Ground,” their sixth studio album, and their first on Saddle Creek Records. Released in April 2013, many, including Foster, have noted the 26-minute, 10-song album is a return to the faster, more driving pop-punk sensibility of the band’s first three albums.
Originally, the music Foster and drummer Westin Glass were writing for “Desperate Ground,” the band’s first album since 2010, was a bit slower and heavier in tone. Foster said she grew weary of the sound and soon wanted to write faster songs. The concept for the album—a look inside the mind of a killer—came after the music started to take shape.
“We started with a handful of epic songs and Hutch [Harris] started working on lyrics for those. They were kind of inspired by fantasy metal,” Foster said. “We started there, kind of epic lyrics about the sword and battling. We started writing faster songs, but that idea kind of stayed.”
Similar to 2006’s landmark “The Body, The Blood, The Machine,” lyrics for one song soon inspired others, and the individual songs wound up telling an overarching story.
“We were watching and talking about all kinds of action movies from ‘Die Hard’ to ‘Lord of the Rings’ to ‘Game of Thrones,’ and talking about how in American culture there is a lot of violence in entertainment. We’re always at war. People are always having problems with guns,” Foster stated.
“It’s kind of a statement that our culture is obsessed with violence, but not saying whether that’s good or bad.”
With songs written less as protests or indictments, but more as examinations of certain aspects of American culture and politics, war, and sometimes love, The Thermals have consistently captured the ethos and basic elements of old-school punk filtered through a 21st century indie rock lens.
Foster and vocalist and lyricist Hutch Harris grew up in California and met in 1997 as teenagers while playing in bands in San Francisco’s South Bay area. The two began playing together and relocated to Portland in 1998. The Thermals formed in 2002 with two other musicians they knew from playing the all-ages scene, and the band went through a few different incarnations before arriving at their current lineup with drummer Glass in 2008.
The trio recorded “Desperate Ground” in New Jersey in October 2012 with producer John Agnello, who has worked with Dinosaur Jr., Patti Smith, and Sonic Youth among multiple others. “We got along with him so well,” Foster stated. “We like to have a pretty organic, analog sound. Just set up and play, and get the sounds the way we want them—the way we play, without a ton of effects. He was totally into that.”
The recording process was sped up due to Hurricane Sandy, which hit during the band’s last week of scheduled studio time. “He mixed it and got it all done and we got out of there the night before the storm,” Foster marveled of Agnello, who then took the band to his house where they stayed for five days with his family. “He’s such a generous, warm guy.”
Equally happy with their new label Saddle Creek, Foster said the label’s comparatively small staff helped turn out an album in virtually no time to accommodate their desired early-2013 release date.
“We recorded the record not knowing what the label was going to be,” said Foster. The band had only two weeks to get all the album components together, including making their own art, once they signed. “It was a cool marathon session,” remembered Foster. “I feel really good about working with them.”
And so a new album and U.S. and European tours earlier in the year have at last led the band to Florida again. Hollywood, Fla.’s own Beach Day—who The Thermals first saw sound checking at Portland’s Bunk Bar—will open each date of tour. “We knew that they were from Florida, so when we were talking about the tour we thought we’d see if they would want to do it,” said Foster. “That will be really fun.”
THE THERMALS AT VINYL MUSIC HALL
WHAT: The Thermals with Beach Day and Deadly Fists of Kung Fu
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $10 – $12 All ages show; $5 surcharge at the door for those under 21
DETAILS: 607-6758 or vinylmusichall.com