2016 Artist Survey: Kathy Foster of The Thermals
Foster on 2016's Best Albums, Trump and the Election, Self-Driving Cars, Bowie and Prince, First Kisses, and Scary Movies
Jan 11, 2017
Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary
Find It At: AMAZON
For Under the Radar's 14th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2016. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2016 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Kathy Foster of The Thermals. The band's latest album, We Disappear, came out in 2016 on Saddle Creek.
For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about Trump and the election, 2016's deaths, self-driving cars, Stranger Things, first kisses, scary movies they shouldn't have seen as a child, which Friends character they are most like, and much more.
Pick up or download Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue for Artist Survey interviews with Amber Arcades, Austra, Faris Badwan of Cat's Eyes and The Horrors, Boxed In, Caveman, The Charlatans, Cursive, Lucy Dacus, The Dears, C Duncan, Sadie Dupuis of Sad13 and Speedy Ortiz, Dutch Uncles, Ezra Furman, Robyn Hitchcock, The Invisible, Justin Lockey of Editors and Minor Victories, Lost Under Heaven (LUH), Lush, Midlake, Phantogram, The Range, Springtime Carnivore, Sunflower Bean, Surfer Blood, TEEN, The Thermals, Nick Valensi of CRX and The Strokes, Jenn Wasner of Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak, and Yuck.
A shorter version of The Thermals' survey appeared in the print version of Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue, this is the full unedited version.
Top 10 Albums of 2016
1. Lithics: Borrowed Floors—Lithics is my favorite Portland band right now. This record is so good, and my favorite of the year. It sounds fresh and old at the same time, recalling bands like Pylon and Bush Tetras. Angular yet smooth
and fun. I love Aubrey's deadpan vocals and her striking guitar lines mixed with Bob's funky bass lines. Art punk at is best.
2. Rihanna: Anti— don't like most of Rihanna's albums all the way through. I like a lot of her songs, but can never get into her albums on the whole. This album though! It's so good all the way through. I love it so much.
3. Kleenex/LiLiPUT: First Songs-So stoked that Kill Rock Stars and Water Wing Records joined forces to release this collection of Kleenex/LiLiPUT songs on vinyl. I can't wait to get my hands on it! These Swiss punks from the late '70s/early '80s are one of my favorite bands.
4. Jessie Mae Hemphill: Jessie Mae Hemphill—Another great release by Mississippi Records in Portland. I just discovered Jessie Mae Hemphill this year. She's an amazing blues musician from the '80s but sounds like she's from the '50s or '60s. She's a percussionist and guitarist and writes a lot of songs herself.
These recordings and songs hit me deep.
5. Iggy Pop: Post Pop Depression—I didn't expect to like this album as much as I do, but Iggy Pop + Queens of the Stone Age?? Hell yeah! Such a good combo. Iggy remains true to his dark, punk yet charming roots, and Queens do their thing. "Paraguay" is a highlight.
6. David Bowie: Blackstar—Ugh, these songs gutted me when Bowie died. How did he coordinate this so perfectly? It's like his death was another piece of art in his discography. This album is such beautiful gift he left us to grieve with.
7. Summer Cannibals: Full of It—Jessica Boudreaux is a force. The Thermals toured with Summer Cannibals earlier this year, and it was such a pleasure to watch them every night. The whole band is badass. Jessica's songwriting skills
and stage presence blow me away. These songs are tough, raw, and catchy. You can't help but rock out and work through some of your own shit listening to them.
8. Mattress: Looking For My People—Portland's own vampire crooner, Rex Marshall, has been giving us locals his deep, dark, sexy, synthy songs for years-a mix of Suicide and Nick Cave. It's great he's finally getting some wider recognition. Isaac Brock's label, Glacial Pace, released this album. I suggest you
go see him in his gold suit as soon as possible.
9. WL: Light Years—WL is an ethereal dream that reminds me of the good ethereal '90s bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush and Slowdive. They're organic and raw while sounding full and dreamy. I can hear the instruments going through the effects pedals and the amps in such a soothing and satisfying way. No laptops here.
10. A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service—Classic Tribe. Intelligent, enlightened, political hip-hop. I need this album at this time.
2016 was regarded by many as a fairly tough and negative year. Was it also a hard year for you personally? If so, how? And also what werethe high points for you?
It's been a draining year for sure for many reasons. Personally, my boyfriend was randomly attacked by strangers in a grocery store parking lot at the beginning of the summer and sustained a broken jaw. He doesn't have insurance so he's not only had to deal with a painful, senseless injury, but the bureaucracy of trying, unsuccessfully, to get help from state services. This has been a strain on both of us. High points were: releasing the seventh Thermals album, We Disappear; touring with The Thermals; touring with my other band Hurry Up; DJing with my crew, Strange Babes, on our XRAY FM radio show and out in town at our new monthly dance night (started at the end of 2015) at Killingsworth Dynasty in North Portland. The dance night is a great release and I love bringing the best people together. Spending time with friends and family is always a highlight.
What are your thoughts on how the U.S. presidential election played out?
This question and the next question overwhelm my mind. Too many thoughts to put into an end-of-the-year music magazine interview. This election was a disgrace. There wasn't one candidate I truly believed in from the beginning. It was a complete circus. There was no clear choice for the Republicans, no one to take seriously. So might as well go with the biggest clown, right? To distract the American people with antics, stirring us up into a frenzy, while the evil masterminds behind the clown go to work destroying everything we've built. Mind-boggling. Hillary seemed the obvious choice for the Democrats. She definitely seemed the most qualified out of all the candidates of either party, but in a standard-politician kind of way. I think she would have done some good things and some bad, not really changing things much from the way they've been going. I do believe she was egregiously attacked and torn apart under a microscope, with a depth of sexism so shocking even to the most cynical of feminists. It was exceptionally depressing to see how low people will sink into hatred and how desperate they were for her not to take office. Throughout the election race, everyday I could not believe what I was seeing, reading or hearing. I just couldn't believe how anyone could believe a single word out of Trump's mouth. He's just so obviously an idiot. And now there's talk of Russians meddling with our election, planting trolls, spreading hate and fake news, trying to break apart our country and destroy democracy. Maybe I'm just struggling to make sense of what is happening in our country, but I must say, I can believe it.
Let's discuss Donald Trump. What does the rise of Trump tell you about America in 2016? What concerns you most about a Trump presidency? How do you think his presidency might personally change your life? What message do you have for those who voted for Trump? What actions will you take over the course of the next four years to either protest a Trump presidency or support it?
I'm consumed with disgust and anger. It disappoints me so much that our country has come to this point—that a childish, tantrum-throwing, hate-inciting, compulsive lying reality-show star, an arrogant, hot-headed, two-faced billionaire with no political, military, humanitarian, or even employment experience has been elected president. I've always hated reality TV shows and their manipulation and exploitation of human emotions, all for ratings and advertising dollars. And they don't even portray reality. They're produced and edited to show you the reality they want you to get addicted to watching. In other words, you're lied to and told it's the truth. Hmm, sounds familiar. This is what we're in for for however long Trump is president, which I'm hoping, is not long. He's an entitled celebrity of the worst kind—a rich socialite, a reality TV star, whose experience lies (pun intended) in conning people out of money. I will never take anything this guy says seriously or believe him. It sickens me to think of him representing us in any way, speaking with leaders of other countries, having any sort of say in military actions, dealing with conflict. I could go on and on. There are so many different factors that have led to this point. There is so much wrong with our country and has been for so long. Immigrant-Americans, who are every single one of us except Native Americans, have been lied to, and perpetuated lies, since the first Pilgrims stepped foot onto this country's soil. About half the country didn't vote, and about half of those who did vote, supposedly voted for Trump. That shows us very clearly that we are a disjointed society. A lot of us—I believe, a majority—do want a progressive society, which accepts all people of all races, creeds, genders, and sexual preferences. We want equal opportunity for all. We want to eliminate discrimination. We want a working, affordable healthcare system. We want humane treatment of prisoners and protesters. We want to improve our economy by bringing more jobs back to the U.S. and by developing alternative and sustainable energy resources. We want a healthy planet. And on and on. But then there are still way too many who are living in the dark ages of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and misogyny—fear, basically, fear of change and progress—and are holding us back. And there are a huge amount of people who are politically apathetic because, I'm assuming, they don't care or they don't think their voice matters or they don't believe the government is going to work for their livelihood. Well, this election is a wake up call. Silence, apathy, and ignorance have spoken! We all need to get more active in our government, starting with our own communities. We need to pay more attention to legislation, speak up, and call our governmental representatives. We all need to vote! We need to educate ourselves with real news, not fake news or propaganda. Fact check! Do not share anything on social media without fact checking. We need to support the organizations we believe in and who defend us, with our ongoing donations and/or time. We need to fight for what we believe in, consistently and relentlessly, now and forever. This is what I plan to do. If you voted for Trump, you have been conned. I hope you are waking up to that truth and joining the fight for our rights. Trump doesn't care about the truth and he doesn't care about you.
What reality TV star would you have rather been elected president?
If you were president, what would you try to accomplish in your first 100 days in office?
I would try to motivate people to work together and not against each other by speaking often. (When is Trump going to actually address the American people instead of hiding behind whiny tweets?) I would increase taxes for the rich and for corporations, work to improve the Affordable Care Act (repealing it is not the answer), defend all women's healthcare centers and organizations, work to improve refugee relations, help Syria in whatever way we can, stop all pipelines, and put major investing into further developing renewable energy sources. To name a few things.
What are your thoughts on Brexit and the future of the European Union? To what extent do you think the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump were motivated by the same factors?
I don't know much about it. It totally caught me off guard. I didn't even know they were voting on it until it happened.
We lost three highly influential music icons in 2016. What are your thoughts on the passing of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen? And what are your favorite albums by each artist?
Prince—1999 and Purple Rain are probably my favorites but there are so many amazing singles. The B-side, "Erotic City," is one of my favorite songs of his. I've listened to Prince for practically my whole life. He's been a constant inspiration. He left us too soon. David Bowie—The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is my favorite studio album but I have favorite songs off many of his other albums. I was hit unexpectedly hard by his death. He was such an amazing human (and alien) and more of a comfort to me than I realized. Leonard Cohen is one of those artists who I've always meant to listen to more of, but I just haven't gotten around to spending time with him yet. I will.
What do you think Prince and Bowie's afterlife project sounds like?
I mean, they are sounds we can't even imagine because they are of another realm.
Which Friends character are you most like?
Oh come on.
What scary movie did you see way too young as a child, how'd you end up seeing it, and does it still scare you now?
Friday the 13th and Halloween. These are still pretty vivid memories. I was 5 when Friday the 13th came out but I saw it at my cousin's house, which means they must have rented it or maybe it was on HBO. I think I was about 6. I really didn't want to be watching it but everyone was in the living room watching it, and the rest of the two-story house was dark. There was no way I was going into another room by myself. So I sat there with my eyes tightly shut and my fingers in my ears for pretty much the whole movie. I was terrified. As for Halloween, I was at a friend's slumber party in second grade. Whose parents would put that on for a bunch of 7-year-old girls?! I had to have my friend's dad drive me home. I still can't watch horror movies.
Are you ready for self-driving cars and a more automated future?
No. I don't trust humans and I don't trust machines programmed by humans. Also, self-driving cars are worse than Portland drivers. I recently visited my mom in the Bay Area and saw a couple being test-driven around (a human was in there but the car was labeled "self-driving"). They were so slow! Can you imagine driving around among a bunch of cars going 10 miles below the speed limit? Now you know what it's like to drive around Portland.
Tell us about the most memorable fan encounter you had this year.
A girl gave me a card of a crafty collage she made of me. She set it onstage. It was really sweet. Fans often have sweet words for me or tell me they love me. I'm happy to inspire love in others.
Tell us about your first kiss.
It was with my first real boyfriend, Ray Madrigal, in eighth grade. We were slow dancing to "Please Don't Go Girl" by New Kids on the Block at a party. We went out the whole school year but never kissed with tongue. It was Catholic School after all.
Under the Radar has been around for 15 years now, since December 2001. How do you feel the music industry has most changed in that time, both for the better and the worst?
The Internet has changed it for the better and for the worse. Less money is going to artists due to streaming and downloading. It's awesome to have access to anything ever recorded but it sucks that not as many people buy records now. We have great fans who buy our records at our shows and directly from us from our website, but we still have to tour to make money. I like to be able to check something out online and then decide if I like it enough to buy the record. Also, because of the Internet, we're overly saturated with music, with everyone and their dog recording and releasing music. So there is a lot of shit to wade through to find the good stuff. But you can find some really cool stuff that has been self-released. Bands don't have to wait for a label to release their music. They can sell it themselves, which is great. Support the artists you love and buy their records! And I'm glad your magazine is still in print. I don't really read online magazines. I just can't get used to it and there are too many of them! That's another downfall of the Internet-too many blogs, music and otherwise. I'd rather not spend my time sorting through it all. Anyone and their dog can be a "journalist" now. (Guess what, you're not. Try proofreading once in a while!)
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