Longtime Portland punk band The Thermals — they define themselves as pre-“Portlandia” Portland — has released albums on Kill Rock Stars and Sub Pop.
But when it came time to put out “Desperate Ground” — an album about war and violence that hits hard and fast like a kick to the ribs — they turned to Omaha’s Saddle Creek Records.
There were many reasons, but mainly it was, in short, that they’re “bros.”
“We toured with Cursive and Ladyfinger. We’re friends with The Faint and Azure Ray. Really, like we were just friends with the whole crew,” said singer/guitarist Hutch Harris. “We’ve been bros for like 10 years, so it just was a natural choice.”
Just before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast last year, The Thermals were in a New Jersey recording studio putting the finishing touches on the album. They recorded without a label in mind and figured the band would shop it around sometime later.
Record label schedules often mean waiting most of a year for your album to come out, but Saddle Creek had a hole in its schedule.
“It just made sense,” said bassist Kathy Foster.
The band’s history with the Saddle Creek roster made it easy.
“We met Conor (Oberst) and the Bright Eyes guys a long time ago. We’ve been keeping in touch and staying at each other’s houses on tour,” Foster said. “We’d meet a ton of people in Omaha through other people. Then those people would stay at our house on tour.”
The Thermals even set up Bright Eyes’ first show in Portland more than a decade ago. It was a house show that featured Bright Eyes as a three-piece — Oberst, Roger Lewis and Ian McElroy — and they played to only 20 or 30 people in a living room.
“I remember this girl’s house was kind of nice. It was on the main floor and not in a basement or anything,” Foster said. “The girl was kinda worried. They were really loud, and Roger was playing super hard and loud.”
The Thermals are excited to have the album out and play some concerts, including at the Saddle Creek-affiliated Slowdown on Monday and Maha Music Festival in August.
Known for its energetic shows, the band hits the stage and usually gets the audience jumping and moving around. If not, Harris or drummer Westin Glass will dive into the audience to get them pumped up.
Something clicks when the band hits the stage, Foster said.
“I’m a pretty mellow person otherwise, but playing that music and being onstage and interacting with everyone gives me a lot of energy,” she said. “Hutch and Westin are both more highly energetic in general. I call them the Zing-Zang Twins. They kind of bounce off the walls sometimes.
“We all enjoy playing together, and the music itself gives us that energy. If the crowd is giving that energy back, it keeps feeding back and forth. Those are my favorite shows ... the shows where people go crazy, it’s so fun.”
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