For the last 16 years, the Thermals have been a constant in the ever-shifting Portland experiment. At beloved bars now long gone, or on the speakers at a house party, they took us through three presidents and our rise from a city with cheap rent accessible to artists to ... this. When they announced they were disbanding in April, it came out of the blue for fans, but for the band, the decision was anything but hasty.
“The last couple of albums, we were like, maybe this is the last record," says bassist Kathy Foster. "It felt like it was coming to a close, and you start to get burnt out on touring. What kept us going was mostly love. Hutch and I are super tight and we've been playing music together since 1995.”
If you’ve been in this city longer than a three-minute Thermals song, you have a story from one of their energetic shows. Maybe it was one of the teeny ones inside a Stumptown café in the early days, with a single-digit crowd maxing out the space, or maybe in the front row at a sweaty club with a sticky floor that probably doesn't exist anymore.
“We played [now-closed] Berbati’s several times and it was always super fun and rowdy," Foster says. "Hutch got a reputation for stripping down to his underwear, which was funny because it had only happened a few times. Then one show there he got fully naked and the promoter got up. Foster giggles hard, talking through the memory. “She was trying to have him put his underwear back on, because I think technically you could see in from outside and you can’t be naked to the public. Can you imagine them whispering loudly on stage, 'Hey! Put your panties back on!'"
For fans of any band, breakups are hard for two reasons. There's the loss of new music and live shows, obviously, but then there’s the idea that the members of a thing you loved might—gasp!—not love each other any longer. That's not the story with the Thermals, though. Foster and percussionist Westin Glass are still devoted to their side project band Hurry Up—along with third member Maggie Vail, who is also the executive director of Cash Music, a nonprofit dedicated to building open source digital tools for musicians—and are heading in to record their second album in late summer.
As for the duo of Harris and Foster—buddies since they met in a South Bay, California parking lot back in 1995—their lifetime connection isn’t going anywhere. In Harris’s new role as a producer at the recording studio Destination Universe, he helped Foster record her new solo project.
In between gigs with her omnipresent dance DJ trio Strange Babes, Foster recorded and just released her first solo single under the moniker Roseblood—complete with a cover photo of Foster in a black veil shot by Westin, appropriately using the “Nostalgia" setting on his camera.
“When Hutch and I moved here, we were both working on music together and separately," Foster says of the slow build toward Roseblood. "We were always recording at home and each working on our own songs, but I just never really gave it my all. Something in me just wants to write an album, to grow as a songwriter. I'm an emotional person, and I want to let that come out, to try not to worry about being too vulnerable and actually embrace it.”
The result is the slow, sweet “Black Veil,” channeling Mazzy Star vibes, with Foster’s dreamy voice and fuzzy guitars tempting you to close your eyes and sway. It's an intimate sound from Foster that's definitely new, and one that we look forward to hearing play out on the full album when it drops. In the meantime, we can embrace the catalog of a band that has been as much a part of Portland as the airport carpet or doughnuts. When I told Foster we were putting together a playlist of our favorite Thermals songs, I asked if there was any song we should make sure to include.
“Oh, that’s easy,” she answered. “'Our Love Survives.'”