How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bands Who Are Younger Than Me

Hutch Harris of the Thermals used to hate the kids.

I’ll be honest. In the past I have sometimes pretended to like bands that I didn’t actually like. Some of them were bands I disliked for no good reason — or no reason that had to do with how they actually sounded. Sometimes it was because they were too pretty or too perfect. Often it was only because they were young. That is to say, younger than me.

Taste is subjective. I can say a band is terrible, you can say they’re terrific. And we’re both right — but in my heart I know that I am truly right. I won’t bother arguing it with you. As the old saying goes, there’s no accounting for your bad taste. And I’m obviously not always honest with my opinions, so I don’t need to fight to defend them.

Why was I pretending to like music that I didn’t really like — and why do I think age matters when it comes to my fickle taste in music? Well, I was trying to stay positive — or at least project positivity. Also, I know age matters, for I am old. I am forty, and although very old people will tell me I’m very young, I live in a world in which the best of my kind blossom in their late-teens and then either burn out or fade away by the end of their twenties. If I were a genius I would’ve died at twenty-seven like Kurt Cobain or Tupac or Amy Winehouse. Unfortunately, at twenty-seven I was still alive, super unknown, and living in the comfortable obscurity of early 2000s Portland, Oregon. I had released one record on Sub Pop (the Thermals’ first LP, More Parts Per Million). I was proud of where I was then and I still am now.

I performed and produced that record by myself, on a four-track cassette, in the kitchen of a small house that I was renting. I was just getting started with my musical career at twenty-seven, statistics be damned. I was hungry and excited and ready to work. I, and we (the Thermals), have continued to work hard for the past fourteen years. Some would even say we’re still hungry. It might be only one person saying that, and they may be currently serving us at a truck stop diner. But I would still agree, and I still haven’t met an artist who didn’t have to work, and eat, every day of their lives. We are all hungry here.

Hard work pays off — a fact that still surprises and disappoints me, for although I work hard, I don’t necessarily like it. If you practice every day, your band will sound better. If you tour relentlessly and put on a decent live show, your fan base in the cities you visit will grow. You might enjoy it; you might not. The risk is that whatever you devote your life to might one day become the bane of your existence, an endless chore that is never completed no matter how doggedly you stick at it. You may resent your choice in art, in career, in the execution of the insane desire to combine them. You may end up resenting yourself for choosing a life that is constantly demanding and satisfying only in short spurts.

Or, you may start resenting the people (bands, in my case) around you. It may start with your closest peers and friends — anyone you determine to be doing better than you artistically, financially, sexually, etc. Personally, I don’t need a reason to like someone — I feel that most people I meet are friendly and interesting and worth spending at least a short amount of time with. But I don’t need much of a reason to dislike someone, either. Easy come, easy go. The same goes for bands. You had me at your first two songs and lost me by your last two. I liked your T-shirt but I hated your earring. Uh, I feel like I was close to making a point here but I’m losing it…

Ah, yes. The resentment grows. Resentment can come at any age or level of success. I went for a long time without resenting anyone, though. I focused on my own music, my own path and the journey of the band. (Thermals bassist) Kathy Foster and I manage all the business of the band, and business has always been busy, even when it’s not incredibly lucrative. The harder we worked, the busier we were, the less time or energy I had to worry about who might be doing better than us. We were doing OK, that’s all I needed to know.

Then a funny thing happened. I got old. It happened very quickly! One day I was definitely not old, and then all of the sudden there I was, old AF. This happened in my mid-thirties, when I had the stark realization that forty was coming no matter how childish I insisted on acting. So yeah, I got old and I found myself resenting younger bands. They had it all! They were sexy, talented and dumb in a way that I would never be again. Oh, I had been dumb like them before, for a long while, but sadly I grew out of it. However, just because I wasn’t young and dumb didn’t mean I stopped acting young and dumb. I’m not like them, but I can pretend…

I found myself growing old and resentful, and just as important, scared that people would know I was old and resentful. Now, you can look at me and know I’m old(er). I mean, on certain bad hungover days. Not always. Hey, I still get carded! But I wanted to hide the hate, wanted to keep it off my face. I’ve usually felt supported by the scene, and I always want to support the scene. I listened to younger, exciting, up-and-coming bands. I wanted to support these bands as I felt I had been supported when I was younger. But I wasn’t always being honest.

Then a funnier thing happened. I got even older! Science never ceases to amaze me. Not only older, but possibly even wiser — or at least more positive. Just as old age (30s) had found me cruel and bitter, real old age (40s) somehow finds me optimistic with love and hope for a younger generation of musicians. There are so many young bands I now really love. I don’t have to pretend anymore! I would like to say that my heart just magically opened up or that I did some major soul searching. But the truth is, ignoring new music only made me feel older and farther from the things I love. And pretending to like bands I didn’t like was ultimately doing a disservice to those bands and the scene in general. I feel now that the best way to support a scene is to show up, support those who are doing good work and provide constructive criticism (when it is requested).

It has also been helpful that new music has finally cycled back to my tastes. I went to high school in the ’90s, so the current alt/emo revival is tailor-made for me. Absence makes the heart grow fond, memories make the heart grow fonder and nostalgia cashes the checks, guiltlessly. Most of my favorite new(er) Portland bands — Mr. Bones, Genders, Little Star, the Ghose Ease, Sabonis, Pass, Summer Cannibals — remind me of high school, of the ’90s. I feel like all these bands would agree with me that the ’90s was a time when music was truly perfect and we must all strive to get back there as soon as possible. If I had a time machine, I would only go back to 1993, and I would mostly take it to the Kinko’s in Sunnyvale, California, where my friend Scott Bailey worked, so I could print my ’zine for free.

I often think about quitting. Not quitting music, but quitting my band. Putting it to rest. Hasn’t fourteen years been long enough? Where will it all end? Will it ever be enough? I’m happy with what I’ve done, but lately I’m more excited about what other bands are doing, and I’m incredibly glad that I still find music, and especially new music, to be vital and relevant to my life. I feel positive and young again, and I look forward to feeling even younger, the older I get.

(Photo credit: Jaclyn Campanaro)

Hutch Harris was born in New York City, raised in Silicon Valley and has resided in Portland, Oregon for the past twenty years.  Harris founded and was the lead singer/songwriter of the Thermals. He is currently working on his first solo LP. Follow Harris on Twitter here.

(Photo Credit: Westin Glass)