When I moved to Portland this summer from Maryland, my friend and I drove across the country. As we entered the Columbia River Gorge, I decided to get sentimental and play a CD from a Portland band. My choices came down to the Decemberists and The Thermals. Did I want to enter town on a literate, slightly snotty note or in the hell-blazing garage rock fashion of the Thermals? The blaze of glory won out.

As 2008 draws to a close, the Thermals have signed to a new label, finishing up a new CD and embarking on a mini-tour that includes two dates at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland where they played a mix of songs old and new to a sold out crowd. Frontman Hutch Harris was kind enough to grant me a two part interview (the second installment will come in the spring when the new album is released).

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Hi, Hutch! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. I am a big fan of The Thermals and I really appreciate the opportunity.

Hi David, it’s great to be here. Let’s do this thing.

So by now, with the magic of the internet, everyone knows you totally fucked up your finger. How did you manage to do that?

I was working on a record cover for the Paper Chase, delicately cutting the glue from the spine of a book on health and medicine, when I delicately cut a huge gash into my index finger. Then I delicately screamed for Kathy to take me to the hospital. Nine stitches, brilliant!

Moving away from the body and blood details, let’s focus on the machine. You have a new album, Now We Can See, coming out in April. What can we expect?

As a journalist, you can probably expect to get it for free, and you can probably expect to give it to someone else, for free. Thanks a lot, in advance.

How has your sound changed/progressed since the last time we’ve heard from you?

We take small steps, and we only take a few a year. Our songs and recordings are always moving in the same direction – wider, brighter, deeper.

On your last album, you sounded really pissed off with the direction (the country) was headed. What’s your vision now? Are you totally optimistic?

I have to say with Obama, I am feeling what I think you call cautious optimism. Our last record, like this new record, is mostly fiction. Some people had a hard time understanding that our last record wasn’t supposed to be a realistic account of what we thought the Bush administration had done to the country. It was mostly angry Christians that did not understand this. Our last record was more like a science fiction tale of what COULD happen in this country if we continued to let Christian nut jobs run it. But the new record leaves religion and politics at the door, thank you (god)!

Since we will be catching up with you again in a few months, I’d like to focus on a local level now. As you know, I just moved here. You happy about Jeff Merkley getting into the Senate?

Oh, yeah! I forgot we voted for other stuff besides president.

Just a few more questions about Portland…could you tell me some of your favorite restaurants here and why?

To me, Portland is all about Thai restaurants. Pad Thai, Lemon Leaf, Thai Peacock, these are all delicious places.

I’ll have to try them. How about record stores? What are the cool places to hit?

My favorites are 2nd Avenue, Everyday Music, Jackpot, Anthem and Q is for Choir.

I see you’re playing the Doug Fir in December. I just went there the other night for the first time. Is that your favorite venue in Portland? What other places do you like/hate?

I love the sound at the Doug Fir, but we usually try to play only all ages. We’ve done great shows at Backspace, Berbati’s, Wonder, the Crystal… Doug Fir definitely has the best sound. However, we did a free show at Backspace and blew the fucking roof off, I mean us and everyone there going crazy, and who knows what it sounded like, probably not great! But the energy was there for sure.

All right- I’ll let you go. Last question- what do you hope Barack Obama accomplishes in his first year in office?

Right now, people in this country needs jobs, and they need affordable health insurance. Obama knows this, he just has to show the country he can do something about it.

Thanks so much, Hutch. I can’t wait to catch up with you in March and talk more about the new album! Good luck on this upcoming mini-tour.

Thanks, David!

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