Thatcher: The Post-iest Punk Band on Campus?

Thatcher at Eclectic on Friday, September 12. From left: Alex Lee ’17 on drums, Chris Gortmaker ’17 on bass, Jesse Cohen ’17 on guitar, and Ryan Breen ’17 on vocals and guitar. Photo by Noah Mertz ’17.
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Although sophomore band Thatcher (Ryan Breen ’17, Jesse Cohen ’17, Chris Gortmaker ’17, Alex Lee ’17) has been floating around for nearly a year, cycling through different lineups and names, an energetic show at Eclectic on Friday, September 12th—one of the best I’ve been to here, by far—and the simultaneous release of their first EP has solidified their presence in the Wesleyan music scene.

Thatcher’s been described as “the post-iest punk band on campus” and informally, to me, as “rad as fuck.” Their fuzzy first single, “For Today,” offered the first tastes of the band’s sharp blend of post-rock and unhinged emotions that makes you wanna headbang for catharsis. Intertwined guitar lines and fearful words of alienation dance around each other in “Plastic Mouth.” One of the most melodic songs on the EP, “Squalor,” revels in the complicated dirt of human existence while the heavy and enjoyably off-putting “Wreck” shows off ripping bass and drum lines. (Those two tracks are my favorites.) The EP ends with “Future Tense,” a scream-y jam with the thrashiest build-up of them all.

I sat down with Thatcher last week to interview them, but since they answered all my questions before I actually had to ask them, I just got to sit around and listen to four friends tell me their stories. Read on about Thatcher’s new EP, influences, and evolution, but also about their collective spirit animal and whether or not they secretly hate each other.

Wesleying: When did you guys actually start?

Chris Gortmaker ’17: We started in the fall of freshman year in a different configuration—we had a different drummer, we didn’t have a name to start with. We just played some songs. But we have songs that date back to that fall.

Ryan Breen ’17: We had a revolving lineup. We’ve had like, a couple, a number of people sort of float in and out.

Wesleying: Why so much floating?

Breen: You just gotta feel it out, you gotta find out what works.

Gortmaker: And we didn’t even consider ourselves a band until a certain point, we were just some freshmen angsty to play some music together.

Breen: We didn’t have a drum set for a while.. We were using buckets.

Alex Lee ’17: We could’ve had a bucket drummer.

Gortmaker: That would be really different.

Lee: It coulda went in a number of directions.

Gortmaker: The drummer we’d had last year had decided to move on and work on other projects. We’d played two gigs with him under the name… should we drop these names, or should we leave them to pass?

Wesleying: Do it!

Gortmaker: Well, we played Duke Day.. that was our first gig, kinda, which was in November of last year. Probably were practicing for like, a month?

Breen: Tops.

Gortmaker: And we were called Klaatu Nikto, maybe an umlaut somewhere in there, which I still think is one of the coolest names, and is a reference to The Day The Earth Stood Still. It’s part of a phrase that the protagonist says to the alien Gort when he’s saving the world. I thought it was great. Probably didn’t have the sticking power.

Lee: It’s a great name if you know how to spell it.

Breen: And then.. did we play the Eclectic show.. was that as.. Gort Maker?? That’s my favorite.

Gortmaker: That was.. that’s my least favorite.

Breen: Gort Maker is an excellent name, though!

Gortmaker: So, they took my last name for that. We were in a pretty weird space. [laughs] Yeah, we opened for Swearin’, which was fun. Gabe Sunshine [‘17] hooked us up there.

Breen: Recurring theme.

Gortmaker: Yeah, recurring theme: Gabe Sunshine is amazing. In the spring, we got Alex. We really started groovin’, great energy, writing a lot, practicing a lot. And we didn’t find ourselves with any opportunities to play a show, so we kinda made our own. Came down to the last night of school, and we were talking to another WestCo band, Phatrabbit, great group of guys, they all lived down in the WestCo triple. And we’re like, “Alright — we all wanna play a show. […] There are no other acts we can open for, so let’s make our own show. Let’s have a guerrilla show.”

thatcher guerrilla

Thatcher’s guerrilla show with Phatrabbit in the WestCo Triple, 5/16/14. Photo from their Facebook page, by Henry Kinder.

Lee: And keep in mind, it’s been quiet hours the entire week of finals..

Gortmaker: It’s finals week.

Breen: 24-hour quiet hours.

Gortmaker: I think we initially wanted to do it before finals week, but that didn’t work out, [then] we wanted to do it during finals week, we ended up getting pushed back, and [we said] “Okay, we’re gonna do it the last night of school.” Friday night, no one actually has finals — I think. I hope not. I hope we didn’t really disrupt anyone. And we’re like “Alright, let’s just do it.” We made a Facebook group, we started spreading word, and the WestCo triple went down to…

Lee: We stacked some beds on top of each other, pushed everything to the sides..

Gortmaker: Yeah, barricaded the door.. Might’ve been a fire hazard. Definitely was.

Wesleying: Probably.

Gortmaker: You can leave that out. [laughs] But we had people coming in through the window.. It was nerve-wracking. For me. To begin with, ‘cause we were sure we’d get shut down. It was really loud, we um, had Phatrabbit play first — they killed it. And we were like, “Okay, I really hope we can play.” I was stressed out. But it went really well, and we came on and maybe had like, thirty, forty people in the room. And we played really as Thatcher for the first time. We had five songs, all of the songs on the EP! That was our set. It went perfectly. Best way to end the school year.

Wesleying: What’s the origin of your name?

[all four laugh slowly]

Jesse Cohen ’17: So. We had a show, but we didn’t have a name. And we realized that after, y’know, playing three shows under three different names, we had to decide on one, and just stick with it. So, maybe two weeks before the show, we knew it was going to happen, and we’re like, “Let’s be, like.. this!” “Nah..” “Let’s be this!” Someone didn’t like it, we couldn’t agree on anything.

Gortmaker: We had some weird names flying around, too.

Cohen: So then, I believe it was the Saturday night. The last Saturday night of school.

Gortmaker: It’s like a week before our show.

Cohen: Yeah, a week before the show, and we were like, “We need to start making flyers, doin’ stuff, so.. I set a deadline. I was like, “Okay, by like, 2 a.m., we’re gonna have a name.” So of course it’s like.. 1:45. And we all run into each other.

Gortmaker: We’d gone out; we were like, “We’re gonna come up with a name somehow.” And we all meet up again, a half-hour left.

Cohen: Okay, so I was just like, “Let’s go to Olin.”

Breen: Late night, we’re all pretty tired..

Gortmaker: Ha, “pretty tired.”

Cohen: We’re just gonna go through and look at books ‘til we find a name. So we made it up to, like, the oversized books, looking around. Tons of huuuuge books. Books like, [gestures to something around two feet tall] this big. [We were there] for like an hour, we’d be walking around, like, whatever. And [Chris] was just like, “THATCHER!”

Gortmaker: I saw this big, emerald green book with gold text on the side that said “Thatcher.” Whoa! Cool name! Like it! Sounds really cool. Um, I think it was a biography of Margaret Thatcher. We hold no affiliation to that lovely lady. But I’m like, “Hey guys, what do you think?”

Lee: And it just.. it clicked.

Gortmaker: “Now we have to go to bed.”

Wesleying: So you guys wrote all the songs before summer?

Breen: Yeah.

Gortmaker: A long, long, fluid process.

Breen: It’s pretty evenly split on the EP. There’s songs that I wrote, there’s songs that Jesse wrote, there’s songs that we all collaborated on very extensively. But yeah, ultimately we had all of the songs to a pretty high level of completion before we left in the spring. It was sorta the culmination of a year’s worth of songwriting, for the most part, from all four of us.

Cohen: Or longer. I think like, some of the skeletons were riffs that I played around with, y’know, in another band in high school, like.. we keep like one riff and come up with a bunch of new ones and everyone else writes new parts for themselves and it’s a different song. Some of them […] started from jamming in the spring.

Breen: Definitely the most collaborative experience I’ve ever had.

Lee: So there’s a range of stuff on the EP. And like, ending the year with that, that really organic way of approaching it, I feel like it kind of launched us into the summer and we were all really excited to be doing it so we decided to meet up like a month later or something like that after school ended, and just record them. Y’know, get it out.

lol (from Thatcher’s Bandcamp page)

Wesleying: How’d you record it?

Gortmaker: I have a studio in my basement. My dad does a lot of music production, playing with friends for fun, so we have a mixing board, we have a lot of mics, a drum kit, amps, so we thought we would find a weekend that worked for all of us. We based it around a show we all wanted to go to, actually.

Wesleying: Hah, what was the show?

Gortmaker: It was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it was Deafheaven, Pallbearer, Wreck and Reference, so.. [an] unbelievable show. So that was the Sunday. Ryan came up from Philly, Alex came down from Vermont, Jesse came out from western Mass, and we hung out in my house for like two days and just fleshed it out and recorded it. And uh, went to this crazy concert.

[all four laugh]

Breen: Yeah it was.. I mean, really incredible how much we got finished in two days but also then over the rest of the summer; all of us really spent a lot of time recording parts and filling out the bare instrumentals that were kind of laid down.

Gortmaker: Yeah, so I was at home with the board mixing it, and I had like, vocal tracks coming in from Ryan to flesh parts out, guitar tracks from Jesse, words of love from Alex.. [laughs]

Lee: We probably had like, four or five rounds of mixes. Just go out, come back..

Gortmaker: Just critiquing, critiques would come back.. And it was my first time ever mixing anything, so I was just experimenting. That came out pretty well, but it was.. intensive, but really fun.

Wesleying: What’d you guys think of your first show back?

[they all laugh and smile REALLY BIG, if only a transcription could do it justice]

[a collective “It was awesome!!”]

Cohen: I think we were very fortunate to be able to play with two really awesome bands, and also just to have a very serendipitous.. you know, like, tons of people came, tons of people got really excited about it. I think speaking from the little bit of experience we have playing shows here, going to other bands’ shows.. Like, the first show we played, we thought there were gonna be a ton of people there, but there were maybe like, five or six, you know? And then [for] this one, we didn’t really know what to expect, and it just sorta all worked out. We got to play last, which was awesome.

Gortmaker: Gabe Sunshine. [laughs]

Cohen: Yeah. Great energy, great attendance. It was really cool.

Gortmaker: It’s all about the energy. I feel like that’s what made it so good for us, too. We’re like, feeding off that. There were people screaming congratulations and like, hyping us up onstage that I hadn’t talked to in ages. It was great to see that kind of enthusiasm from people. Like wow, they must’ve heard of us somehow, they’re all here.

Breen: Definitely a lot of love from the student body.

Gortmaker: So it kinda blew away my expectations. I’m still like..

Lee: Just kinda riding that energy.

Wesleying: What are your plans for the next few months?

Ryan: Well, we have a lot of new material that we wanna work on.

Gortmaker: Yeah, some really cool stuff. So we’re gonna take a break now, maybe for like.. a couple days.

[collective laughter]

Gortmaker: Then get back to working on stuff, do some demos. Ryan’s got some cool noises, we all have ideas in our heads..

Lee: Maybe like, shows too, if we can. Maybe a little tour over winter break if we can pull that off.

Cohen: That’s like, the big long-term goal right now, to try to set up something over break. Play around campus here a little bit more, maybe even try to make it out to some other schools. See what happens.

Breen: And we’d love to play at Art House, if you’re reading this. ..Or anywhere. [Meanwhile we’ll] just keep honin’ in on our sound, and.. sky’s the limit. Shoot for the stars, and all that.

Wesleying: What’s it like being four friends in a band?

Breen: Dude, I hate these guys.

[laughter]

Breen: That was a joke, by the way.

Gortmaker: Um, it’s fun. Yeah, I mean, what’s brought us together is similar taste in music, but I’d say just stuff comes naturally, it’s fun to hang out with you guys, and there’s not that much conflict.

Lee: Yeah, we’re not limited to practicing music or hanging out at different times, we sort of just go from one to the next.

Wesleying: So who are your musical influences, then? Whether individual or collective.

Gortmaker: I’m into a lot of like, classic newer post-punk stuff, 80s and 90s bands like Wire, The Mission of Burma. Then some newer stuff, like Savages.

Cohen: Songwriting-wise, my biggest influence is probably like Unwound, [in a] similar vein to what Chris is talking about, and I feel like a lot of it’s based off of classic older stuff like that, 90s bands like Sonic Youth and like, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, and sorta getting that big noisy sound, but definitely […] what comes together with Ryan’s and my tastes is a hint of post-rock-y, Explosions in the Sky kind of stuff, which.. I don’t really listen to a lot of that, but I feel like a lot of music that hints at that, whether it’s a breakdown in like a Sonic Youth song, or in a Mastodon song, so that sorta bleeds in.

Lee: Yeah I mean, for me, before Thatcher I didn’t listen to a lot of similar music to what we play. I listened to a lot of things that were sort of influenced by post-rock and stuff like that, but at least for my drumming style, that comes a lot from more like.. popular rock stuff rather than like hardcore punk, like Radiohead or Bloc Party, stuff like that that has a certain energy to it. And so I try to kind of push that into this, and then also from what we create sheds new light on what I want to listen to in music.

Breen: It’s so fun to listen to everyone else’s responses, ‘cause I definitely come from a much.. a lot of post-rock, [and] I’m really into a lot of the emo revival stuff that’s going on right now, so a lot of the bands that played here last year like Swearin’ — I guess it’s not really emo revival — but also The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, and I’m definitely a big fan of like.. [laughs] I was gonna name-drop Drake right there. I dunno how much that influences this band, but definitely when you listen to a song like “Squalor,” a lot of it’s very […] emotional, like, aggressive and melodic. [That’s] my thing. I love pretty noisy bands, like My Bloody Valentine and stuff like that. So we sort of put it in a blender.

Lee: Yeah, I mean we all come from pretty different backgrounds at the same time, so we’re sort of culling from a large variety.

Gortmaker: And one thing I can’t neglect to mention is that […] we may in a few places have little tastes of doom metal. Maybe it was the Pallbearer show on the horizon when we were recording.

Cohen: Yeah, we’ll see if our whole sound goes that direction a little more.

Gortmaker: We’re gonna be honing our sound, so we’re gonna see where it goes in for future releases, future creations.

Wesleying: Does Thatcher have a collective spirit animal?

Breen: I dunno, I really like porcupines. No wait, dude, bear with me, this is gonna be excellent — because we’re pointy on the outside, but underneath it’s just soft and fuzzy.

Gortmaker: A universal analogy for the porcupine.

Lee: I like that! I think Thatcher as a name reflects that too.

Cohen: What’s the difference between Thatcher and a BMW? You guys know that joke? Though, maybe it would be a porcupine and a BMW.

Everyone: What?

Cohen: With a porcupine, the pricks are on the outside.

Breen: Heyooo!

Related links:
Thatcher’s Bandcamp page, where you can listen to their EP
Thatcher’s interview with Aural Wes (with Baked and Bueno)
Thatcher’s Facebook, where you can send them yr love