Between the Exploding Hearts’ demise and Elliott Smith’s suicide, 2003 might have been a complete bummer for Portland music. Luckily, 2003 was also the year the Thermals released their debut record, More Parts per Million. As Portland’s favorite pop-punks celebrate album No. 6, Desperate Ground, we asked singer-guitarist Hutch Harris for the band’s top moments from its first decade of existence. 

Recording More Parts per Million

Hutch Harris: That first day, I recorded "It's Trivia," which is the first song on that first record. I got this distorted, crazy vocal sound, and I had never made a song quite like that. A lot of times on the four-track, you'll record a song and say, "Yeah, that's cool," but you don't base a whole project around it. Well, I finished that song that night, and I was so excited about it, I was like, "I want to make a whole record that sounds like that.” 

Getting signed to Sub Pop

I love all the labels we've been on, but Sub Pop was the one I grew up with. I worshipped so many of those bands. The funny thing is, every other project  [bassist] Kathy [Foster] and I have had, we would make all these CDs and send them to every single label, trying to get signed. With the Thermals, we did, like, zero work to get signed. We just made something that people wanted to sign. 

Being onstage with the Flaming Lips at Sasquatch 2003

We got onstage and were dancing around, just acting like idiots, dressed like a giant mouse or something. [Singer] Wayne [Coyne], in between songs, was talking to the audience about the great day he was having at Sasquatch, and he told everyone, "I saw this band, the Thermals, and they were great," and the three of us were jumping up and down in fucking animal costumes.

Touring with Sleater-Kinney in 2004

Watching them every night, they were such professionals, onstage and off. Some bands, when you watch them play, or just how they carry themselves, it's so obvious—of course this band is that successful, because they're not fuckups.

Recording The Body, the Blood, the Machine with Fugazi's Brendan Canty

Brendan would be jumping up and down in the studio, and he would turn the board to 10, and I would just be standing in the doorway because it was too loud to walk in. Whatever we wanted to do, [Canty] was totally down. And, so far, that's everyone's favorite record we've made.

Quitting Stumptown (kind of) in 2007

I never quit at Stumptown, and I still haven't quit. I was just like, "Take me off the schedule, and I'll just see when I can work." I haven't had to go back.

Playing the Portlandia premiere in New York

This was the most famous people I've ever seen in one place. We're playing, and there's Lorne Michaels, and Heather Graham was standing there. I almost couldn't concentrate. A lot of people knew the band, which surprised me, because I always figure that no one knows who we are.

Self-directing the new “Born to Kill” video 

Even though we've always been on labels, we still like a DIY approach. This was yet another way for us to have total control over something. We've liked all our videos, but often, it's just, like, pictures that go with the song. We feel like [this video] fits the song better than any other video we've done.

Recording Desperate Ground as Hurricane Sandy hit

We were at [producer] John [Agnello]'s house for, like, five days—no power, no water. It was surreal, drinking wine and listening to the record. [Agnello] helps people find exactly what they want their record to sound like. I hope he's not offended by people saying [Desperate Ground] sounds like a four-track, but he gave it this really claustrophobic sound that makes it sound like More Parts per Million. The vocal is the same mic I used on that first record.

Ten Years of the Thermals in Willamette Week:

Unraveling the Thermals (March 5, 2003)

A Cleaned-Up Slate (May 12, 2004) 

Q&A with Hutch Harris (April 9, 2009) 

Love'n'Hate (September 8, 2010)