Westin Glass is the drummer for the Thermals and last week when he checked in from North Carolina where he was visiting family, he wanted to talk about friendships. More specifically, he wanted to talk about his relationship with his two band mates.
"They're really my best friends right now," says Glass of Thermals founding members, guitarist and vocalist Hutch Harris and bassist Kathy Foster.
"It's rad. I don't know how you tour otherwise. I love the dynamic we have. The three of us hang out almost every day even when we're not playing music," says Glass.
It might seem bizarre that Glass is gushing so lovingly about his bandmates, but let's provide some context here. Glass is new to the band, having joined The Thermals after the recording of 2009's excellent Now We Can See and having played on the band's tours for the better part of the last two years. Now, Glass' surging percussion - a sound he calls "Thermals style," something he easily picked up having been a longtime fan of the band before asking to enroll in the lineup - can be heard on the band's new album, Personal Life. The disc will be released on Tuesday, September 7, just one day before the band appears at the Tower Theatre as the latest band to take the stage as part of the PDXchange Program. And the album is, for the most part, about relationships - so Glass' thread is fitting, even if unintentional.
Personal Life is quintessential Thermals - loud, powerful ,but consistently melodic, poppy and replete with the sort of deeply cerebral lyrics with which Harris has been lining the band's songs since they broke into the indie consciousness in 2003. But whereas Now We Can See was seemingly politically charged, partially angry and always loud, Personal Life is more focused and awesomely hum-along worthy, and, of course, it's well-equipped with the great "whoa-oh-ohs" fans have come to expect from the band. But that doesn't mean the band has ditched any of the rawness that has made them one of the only prominent punk-oriented bands to stand out in today's Northwest music scene. The strength of the album might have something to do with the production work from Death Cab For Cutie's Chris Walla, who engineered the band's 2004 record Fuckin A.
Walla recorded the album without any overdubs or digital bells and whistles, recording it on analog with live takes, giving the record that wildly raw, "Thermals sound" Glass was referring to. This album may be the most complete offering in the Thermals catalogue and Glass seems to agree with that. To say the least.
"This is the thing I'm most proud of in my life and I'd say that even if no one was going to listen to this," says Glass, "There's always that feeling of I wish I would have done this or that, but I don't have that with this record."
Personal Life carries its love-found, love-lost theme throughout the record, which opens with the audaciously titled "I'm Gonna Change Your Life" and is then bookended by a cut called "You Changed My Life." In between are other songs that revolve around the issue of love and relationships, but also incorporate the sort of political angst and social commentary the band has always thrived on. In a way, it's almost a 32-minute concept album - even if the band isn't ready to call it a "concept album."
"It's not a concept album, but there's a loose concept there and I love that in a record," says Glass.
Concept or not, there's a lot of sound coming out of this band and its mere three members on this album. In a time when rock bands have leaned on synths and three guitar-attacks, trios are increasingly rare. Well, more accurately, trios that don't suck are rare. And trios that get along... those are even harder to come by.
The Thermals, The Autonomics
8pm Wednesday, September 8. Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St. $15. All ages (minors allowed in balcony area). Advance tickets at towertheatre.org.