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The Law of Thermal Dynamics

Get existential with Portland’s The Thermals
The Thermals
The Thermals

Portland power-trio The Thermals are obsessed with death.

“It’s a subject Hutch [Harris] and I think about a lot,” Thermals bassist Kathy Foster tells EW. Harris plays guitar, sings and is primary songwriter. “It’s always present,” she says of the specter of death. “Sometimes it can be scarier than other times. Sometimes I get obsessed with it, think about it a lot and have this doomed feeling: It’s inevitable.” 

This may sound like The Thermals are all gloomy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Thermals come to Eugene behind their new release, We Disappear, out now on Saddle Creek label. Tracks like “My Heart Went Cold” and “The Great Dying” blend dark subject matter with the band’s signature upbeat and peppy, pop-punk sound. 

“It feels cathartic to play loud and fast and heavy,” Foster explains. “It helps deal with those heavy feelings. It’s like an outlet for them.”

She adds: “That’s also just been our style, to write songs that are fun to play with a little bit of a heavier lyrical theme.”

The Thermals are known for playing tight and fuzzy power chords backed up by a sharp rhythm section underpinned by Foster’s aggressive bass playing. On top of it all, Harris doesn’t so much sing as melodically nerd-rant in declarative sentences, dropping impeccable, well-timed guitar hooks like the outro from Disappear’s “Into the Code,” which opens the album. 

Throughout Disappear, The Thermals ratchet up the intensity: The tempos are driving, the performances more fevered and the feedback more blistering. Prior to The Thermals, Foster had never played bass in a band. She calls the Ramones an influence on her style and says Nirvana is one of her favorite trios.

Together since 2002 and with seven critically acclaimed studio records, The Thermals are now veterans of Portland’s indie-rock scene. Having been in Portland since the ’90s, Harris and Foster have seen the city’s music scene change significantly. 

“It’s a lot different,” she says. “It’s not just the changes in Portland but the changes everywhere that have affected music. I still feel like there’s a lot of music going on.”  But, Foster points out, “it feels more spread out, not as tight-knit of a community.” 

Foster says the band always enjoys their tour stops in Eugene. “We appreciate all the Eugene weirdos that come,” she jokes. “I feel like every time we come to Eugene it’s just very ‘Eugene.’”

Up to this point, The Thermals have recorded and toured as a three-piece. This time out, Jessica Boudreaux of rising Portland punk band Summer Cannibals joins on lead guitar. Summer Cannibals will also open for The Thermals on this leg of the tour, supporting the band’s own fantastic new release, Full of It, out now on the Kill Rock Stars label. 

 “We already knew we wanted Summer Cannibals to tour with us,” Foster recalls, “so we asked Jessica to play guitar with us. She’s such a great guitar player. She plays heavy and plays a lot of solos.”

Foster says the addition of a lead guitarist has finally allowed many Thermals songs to be performed as they were recorded. 

“The record we just made was the three of us,” she explains. “There’s a few places where there’s solos. It makes it a lot more dynamic. And it feels really good to play older songs that we haven’t been able to hear the way they’re intended for a really long time.”

The Thermals play with Summer Cannibals and Eugene’s Snow White 8 pm Saturday, May 14, at Hi-Fi Music Hall; $15 adv., $18, all ages.