The Thermals' Hutch Harris On Leaving Sub Pop, Hummer, Optimism, and His Personal Life

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The Thermals -- featuring frontman Hutch Harris -- plays Bumbershoot on Sept. 6, the day before their new album, Personal Life, hits shelves via Kill Rock Stars.
A few weeks ago I interviewed Hutch Harris of The Thermals -- the Portland trio who famously turned down Hummer's $50,000 offer to license one of their songs for an ad -- for a story we ran on indie bands and artists licensing their wares to a Washington State Lottery campaign. While I had Mr. Harris on the phone, we chatted about the band's forthcoming album, Personal Life, why he The Thermals left Sub Pop, and why he's wary of his optimism.

On licensing music:

Really, the most money we make does come from licensing, and it's the least amount of work. All you have to do is sign a piece of paper and they send you a check. It's my favorite way for the band to make money, and it pays really well. The amount of money you make in a year (on everything else), sometimes just one placement will be same amount.

On whether or not the band regretted turning down Hummer's $50k

We always felt really good about that. When someone hears your song, you don't want them to think of Corn Flakes.

Do you view Personal Life (out Sept. 7) as conceptual in the same way that Body the Blood the Machine was?

Maybe not as much. After that record we really got into the idea of theme. This record is about relationships and the dark side and how difficult it is. There's definitely a theme, but it's not as much of a story as Body, but there's definitely a thread that runs through the whole record.

On being more optimistic while making this record than previous efforts:

I don't know ... I must be. As soon as Bush got out of office I think a lot of people (became more optimistic). But at the same time, no president is going to solve all the problems in the world. Sometimes I think when I'm feeling optimistic that I'm more kind of not paying attention.

This is the second album you've made since leaving Sub Pop. Any particular reason you left Sub Pop?

We love Sub Pop. Their contract calls for Sub Pop to own all the masters (of recordings). We really wanted to own our masters. That was the main thing. With Kill Rock Stars ... all the money's split equally, then after 7 or 10 years the rights (to the masters) revert back to us.

We feel better knowing we own our recordings. All the costs are split as well. You could easily make the same amount of money on Sub Pop. With Sub Pop, you get a percentage, but they have all these people in-house (licensing, etc.) You don't have to pay them. With KRS, you're splitting it, but hiring all those people out of house.

 
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