Union Transfer


The Thermals

The Thermals

Hop Along, Cayetana

Sat, May 25, 2013

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

Union Transfer

Philadelphia, PA


This event is all ages

The Thermals
The Thermals
I don’t know how to write a bio for an album. I’ve never written one.

I’m a comedian. My job is to talk onstage for long enough that the trapped, drunken audience has to buy more chicken wings from the club. I am not qualified to write about music. And yet here I am, writing a bio for the new Thermals record, We Disappear. Thank god it’s a great fucking record.

The first time I heard The Thermals was on broken headphones while riding the A Train to Rockaway, Brooklyn, flying mere feet over a frozen Jamaica Bay on a too-bright January morning. I had just fallen in love with a wonderful, terrible woman who was thousands of miles away. I was very fragile, I had no boundaries, and I was the strongest I’d ever been. And that’s how this album feels. There’s a new vulnerability here, but The Thermals’ sound is as strong as it’s ever been.

The Thermals are best at making songs you put on mixtapes named ‘Drunken Sing-alongs When You’re Sad.’ They specialize in late-night, secret conversations about feeling simultaneously romantic and resentful over being raised Catholic. They’re the soundtrack to breaking glass, and an ode to the beauty of brokenness.

They say that the mark of intelligence is the ability to hold two disparate and conflicting truths in the mind at the same time: I am a good person; I am not a good person. We Disappear lives in this delicate, in-between place: at once hard and noisy, while also soft and personal. And seeming contradictions abound on this album. We Disappear is an all-too-real, dark, and intensely personal album – in the past most of singer Hutch Harris’ lyrics have been mostly fictitious tales – about how we try to outrun demise, whether personal or physical. It is an emotional document of how two people can tear each other apart, while simultaneously making you wanna get up and jump around the room.

The deeply dark, yet oddly catchy “Heart Went Cold” plays on the double metaphor of loss of love/life and features the sad realization “I pushed you away”, but is immediately followed by the super poppy “oh-oh oh”. The classic fucking rock anthem “Hey You” is a paranoid fantasy about running from the Grim Reaper as he calls after you, about “being terrified of death,” says Harris, but “a celebration of that feeling as opposed to feeling sad about it.” A surprisingly uplifting eulogy of the death of a relationship, “Thinking Of You” is explained by Harris as “one of the most straight-forward love songs we’ve ever written, a point-blank post-break up song. It’s a song that says exactly what it means. It and a lot of the record are about regret, i.e. still loving someone after a break-up and hanging on to these feelings.”

We Disappear is also about separation in terms of technology, how it can isolate us and impact our relationships, and how humans have embraced it to the point where we’ve already assimilated into it. “The Great Dying” and “Into the Code” examine how we’re so afraid we’re going to be forgotten, or overlooked, that we upload everything about our lives onto the Internet.

Harris explains, “Technology, love and death are the three obsessions of the record. Our privacy used to be so important to us and now everything has changed – we freely offer once private information about relationships and reveal everything about our day-to-day lives. We’re trying to preserve our life digitally so when we’re gone people won’t forget us. We’re using technology to become immortal. You can even set up Facebook and Twitter accounts to continue updating after you die! We Disappear is about how humans fight the inevitable.”

I’m sure you want to know that the record will come out March 25th, 2016 on Saddle Creek, that it features the longest running Thermals line-up of Hutch Harris, Kathy Foster, and Westin Glass, and that it was recorded in Portland, OR at Kung Fu Bakery (The Shins, Tegan and Sara) and in Seattle, WA at The Hall of Justice (Nirvana, Mudhoney), and produced by Chris Walla (formerly of Death Cab For Cutie). But what really matters is that this record GETS IT. It walks that fine line between truth and lies, between death and life, between depression and joy – all the while recognizing that one cannot exist without the other. And it brings us with it. That’s the reason to listen to this record: Because it’s a fucking great album, by an amazing band. Long Live The Thermals.
Hop Along
Hop Along
Frances Quinlan has been meditating a lot on power. “When I was younger, I kept thinking that one day I would have a partner and that person would give me power,” she says. “That never came to be.” Instead, what Quinlan, the songwriter, lead vocalist, and rhythm guitarist of Hop Along, has found is that “power has an inherent awfulness to it and people who have it tend to be disappointing in how they wield it.” In this particular moment in history, this thought begs a greater question: what do we do with power and the men who so freely brandish it? “I’m angry that I believed in this false idea for so long, that a man would come along and show me what I was worth.”
This theme propels the Philadelphia-based band’s third studio record, Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Written over the course of 2016 and 2017 and recorded in the summer of the latter year by Quinlan, Tyler Long (bass), Joe Reinhart (guitar), and Mark Quinlan (drums), the album imagines what it’s like to cast off longheld perceptions, often without being certain about the new ones that will replace them. Much like on Hop Along’s first and second records, Get Disowned and Painted Shut, Quinlan seeks in real time to work through these emotions. On Bark Your Head Off, Dog, she also grasps at something more complicated. “Growing up I was constantly in my head and not a part of the world,” she says. “Now I’m trying to force myself into the world.” 

Throughout Bark Your Head Off, Dog, one gets the sense that Quinlan is wandering in the thicket of a forest—a state of being that will feel familiar to longtime listeners—and on this outing, she hasn’t left a trail of breadcrumbs behind her. The album’s artwork, which Quinlan painted herself, invites the listener into that forest, as well. “There is a terror in getting lost,” she says, “the woods are at the same time beautiful and horrifying.” This curious wandering gives the album, both lyrically and musically, a heightened dimensionality. On “Somewhere a Judge,” Hop Along explores a dancier side to their sound, while “What the Writer Meant” showcases a string section and enormous, full harmonies. “One That Suits Me” welcomes and embraces the sound of a Rhodes and tambourine, but with a syncopated vocal rhythm on top, almost building to a call-and-response. Throughout, the music is full of gratifying, new deviations.
Bark Your Head Off, Dog is, without question, Hop Along’s most dynamic and textured record yet. Self-produced and recorded at The Headroom in Philadelphia by Reinhart and Kyle Pulley, Bark Your Head Off, Dog features the familiar sounds that have always made the band allergic to genre: grunge, folk, punk, and power pop all appear, with inspiration from ELO to Elvis Costello to ‘70s girl group vocal arrangements. This time around, they’ve added strings, more intricate rhythms, lush harmonies (featuring Thin Lips’ Chrissy Tashjian), along with a momentary visit with a vocoder. In more than one place, Mark Quinlan drums like he’s at a disco with Built to Spill.
“We wanted to get back to using the studio as a writing tool and bring elements of that in,” Reinhart says of the production process. “When you’re sitting there and you force yourself to figure something out, in the studio, there are unlimited possibilities.” This visit to the studio often required a lot of throwing things at Quinlan’s new demos, then scaling them back after the fact. “Why are we doing mandolin? It’s 5am. We have to get on a plane tomorrow,” Reinhart says of the thirty-five day recording process. “But then we ended up keeping it.”
On the album’s opening track, “How Simple,” Quinlan wrangles with what it’s like to learn about yourself—which can get ugly. “People romanticize the idea of finding themselves, but when they do, at least in my experience, it can be really difficult. You see how you fail others and how others fail you.” The theme carries through to “How You Got Your Limp” and “Not Abel,” where Quinlan sings about the ways other people can be disappointing, relative strangers and biblical figures. The record also calls upon references that Quinlan has woven throughout all of the band’s albums: the wild presence of animals (rabbits, foxes, dogs, and blue jays all appear on this record) and historical touchstones (from a podcast on World War I to books by Karl Ove Knausgaard). Hop Along’s songs continue to reveal the curiosities nesting in Quinlan’s mind.
Most significantly, Bark Your Head Off, Dog shows the band at its strongest and most cohesive. Hop Along (which originally began as Quinlan’s solo project under the moniker Hop Along, Queen Ansleis) has never sounded so deliberate, so balanced. “Really, there are four producers in the band,” Reinhart says. “Everybody has ideas. Maybe somebody riffs on this thing, while somebody else says, ‘Let’s do it like that, but backwards.’ The last record was a snapshot of a band becoming a band.” On this record, they are truly that: a band. “Our confidence grew in our ability to express what we mean,” Quinlan says. 
“So strange to be shaped by such strange men” is a line that repeats on more than one song on the album. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot. That I just deferred to men throughout my life,” Quinlan says. “But by thinking you’re powerless, you’re really robbing yourself. I’m at a point in my life where I’m saying instead, ‘Well, what can I do?’”
Cayetana, a three-piece from Philadelphia, PA, formed a band and a great friendship in early Fall 2011, creating indie punk poppy jams full of raw sound and energy.
Venue Information:
Union Transfer
1026 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123