Escape from a post-apocalyptic Christian fundamentalist landscape, filled with elusive enemies, violence and cryptic images of disillusionment—seems like the perfect inspiration for one of the most fun, catchy and insistent punk albums of the year, right? The Thermals’ The Body, The Blood, The Machine takes rock ’n’ roll into a dark future, but at least it’s one with pretty melodies, grungy guitars and under-your-skin beats. Led by frontman Hutch Harris and bassist Kathy Foster, this trio from Portland, Ore., rampage through their third full-length release, crafting a cohesive vision that is dynamic, visceral and undeniably smart. The Scene caught up with Harris and the rest of the crew in North Dakota, on their way to meet up with tourmates Cursive.
Scene: Your new record is pretty political. Do you think music has the power to change people’s minds? Make them think? Or do you feel like you’re preaching to the choir?
Hutch Harris: I think it definitely makes people think. I would hope we’d be preaching to no one. And, if it does change anyone’s mind that’s great, but I would hope people would enjoy it first.
Scene:This music has some pretty serious subject matter, but it’s still fun music, punk rock music—it’s real melodic and upbeat. Was that important to you?
Harris:Yeah, for us it has to be fun first. More than anything, it has to be energetic and catchy. I wouldn’t want it to get so dark to where it takes away from it being fun.
Scene: The political content of the record deals mostly with religious fundamentalism, imposition on civil liberties and lack of freedom. Do you feel like those are the real casualties of our political climate right now?Harris: What I was doing, more so, was looking at the present and then fantasizing about the future in a really paranoid way. So, thinking, “Well, things aren’t terrible now but maybe if they continued at this same rate, how bad could things possibly get?”
Scene:So things aren’t actually this bleak, just potentially this bleak?
Harris: No... yeah, I mean they always are. Things are always potentially that bleak—humans are just terrible.
Scene: Do you think music has an obligation to be engaged socially and politically?
Harris: No. Everyone can’t be doing it. It would suck the life out of it. I don’t think [music] has any obligation. People should just be expressing exactly what they want to be expressing. That’s how you get good art.
Scene:You guys got “Best New Music” on Pitchfork. Sometimes it seems like we’ve been brainwashed into believing that changes everything overnight. You’ve been written about on there before, and have a lot of buzz outside of that. Did this coronation change anything for you?
Harris: I don’t know how much its changed things; there has definitely been a lot of exposure and [Pitchfork] was the one thing everyone was calling us about, that first morning it was on there. The record got great reviews in Spin and other places, but no one has even mentioned that stuff to us. But, with Pitchfork, obviously a ton of people are paying attention and take it really seriously. And we’re totally thankful for that, but I don’t know how much it’s helping us...yet.
Scene: Though the record is pretty broad and ambitious, do you still feel like it’s personal?
Harris: Um...I guess so. With all the lyrics I’ve written for this band I’ve tried to be a little more impersonal, using “we”and talking about “us” as a group, “people” as a group and less about “I.” A lot of the songs are personal to me, but I write them in a way that no one can really tell. I feel like I can write better lyrics that way. I’m bored by a lot of people’s lyrics....I try to think about something else beside myself.