With less than a week till the release of “Personal Life,” The Thermals drummer Westin Glass is nonchalant as he orders a cup of coffee to-go in a Portland, Ore. café adjacent to his band’s practice space in early September.
Casual over the phone, one can only imagine the week ahead as the indie rock group from Portland prepares to release its fifth, and perhaps most anticipated, album on northwestern record label Kill Rock Stars.
Glass joined the Thermals shortly after the fourth album “Now We Can See,” also the band’s Kill Rock Stars debut. The band stuck with KRS for the new album, and Glass said they enjoy the relationship they’ve built with the indie label.
“KRS is the best. I can’t even tell you how great they are. Tobi and Maggie Veil, they’re both amazing, super cool ladies helping us,” Glass said of the riot grrrls and influential northwestern rockers with which the band works.
In preparation for the new album, Glass said The Thermals, composed of himself and band founders Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster, had been “practicing, getting stoned, and making a lot of bad jokes.”
The new album showcases frontman Harris’s great vocal prowess with a more robust and brimful sound when compared to the group’s 2006 lo-fi breakout release “Body, The Blood, The Machine,” produced by Fugazi producer Brendan Canty.
Glass maintains that the fuller sound on the new album was in part concept, in part practice space. “Everything about that album just came about organically,” Glass said, detailing the band’s move from a cramped practice to a larger room in the same building.
“We were running out space for all the stuff and for ourselves.” Though excited to have the space, Glass said the room sounded terrible. “It was a big, cavernous room. We started to write songs—without realizing it at first—that just sounded better in that room. What ended up was songs without a lot of space in them,” Glass said.
Glass described “Personal Life” as the band’s natural reaction to fill the physical space, with a bit of inspiration from bands such as the Cribs.
“I was listening to dry recordings where the drums are right up in your face,” Glass said, citing the Cribs’ record “Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever.” “Everything on that recording is up in your face and dry. There is not a lot of roominess and space. It is so immediate and direct,” Glass said.
The Thermals recorded the new album with producer Chris Walla.
“We were talking to him about Tin Lizzy, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, just really dry, really direct-sounding recordings. Sonically that was the idea we were starting with. Chris really understood what we meant and knew how to get the sound we were thinking of. We all knew where we were going, we didn’t have to sit down and map it out, but found our way intuitively.”
“Personal Life” feels shiny yet still retains that simply epic nature for which The Thermals are known.
“‘Body, The Blood, The Machine’ was so loud sounding and in your face,” Glass said. “This record is a little more introspective. Chris did an incredible job of making it sound so full and rich.”
Bandmates Harris and Foster played The Perk in Billings in Jan 2007. The venue, lacking stage and packed with young and ambitious Thermals fans, produced a sweating, rocking divvy-style performance with lots of raw energy.
Band has made a lot of evolution since that 2007 show, yet live the band retains that raw energy fueled by fast-paced aggressive melodies.
“I am a person who sweats a lot,” Glass said. “I bring a lot of sweatiness and aggressiveness.” His favorite drummers include Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins, “dudes that pour it out on the stage and sweat it out,” as well as Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney).
“I strive to maintain that spirit as much as possible when we place songs from older records,” Glass said.
Glass’s former band Say Hi has toured through Billings and Bozeman. As the only non-founding member, Glass said he’s pretty comfortable with the group.
“I think it’s been working really well. Hutch and Kathy have been so great about making me feel like an equal member of the band since the very beginning. They are some really incredible people, and I’ve learned so much from hanging out with them and playing music with them and being friends with them. I feel we have clicked really well since the first time I played with them, which was what I was hoping to find in a band for a long time. It’s really natural.”
When asked to define the Thermals, Glass responded the band is, “totally badass. Undefinably amazing. I just love arbitrarily inventive genre names, which The Thermals have always been.”