In July of 1996, Kris Thompson showed up for a barbecue at Jon Bernhardt's new home in Somerville, Massachusetts. Kris had played in several Boston area bands, including Nisi Period, Jasmine Love Bomb, and, most recently, Abunai!. Jon had been hosting a morning indie-rock program on MIT's community radio station WMBR-FM since 1984. Between bites of his sausage sandwich, Jon mentioned to Kris that he had recently built a Theremin. "What a coincidence," replied Kris, "for I have recently built one too. Why, wouldn't it be fun if we found some other Thereminists and assembled a Theremin orchestra?"
This idea was nearly forgotten until December of 1996, when Kris and Jon heard about a psychedelic music festival that was to take place in Providence, Rhode Island, the following April. Entitled Terrastock, it was a benefit for the British music magazine, Ptolemaic Terrascope. Both Kris and Jon were longtime fans of the magazine, so they figured that if they were ever going to attempt the Theremin project, Terrastock would be a good place to perform. Jon contacted the organizers who were so intrigued by the concept, that they immediately gave the guys a slot. Thus, Kris and Jon had booked their first gig before they even had a band!
Theremins: Not a Word Often Seen in its Plural Form!
Feelers were sent out to find other Theremin players, but there was little success. There was the guy from New York City who said he'd drive up for rehearsals (he was politely turned down). One woman joined up, but after asking to postpone their first rehearsal several times over the course of a few weeks, finally decided that she didn't have the time. Finally, Kris talked his friend (and Abunai!-mate) Brendan Quinn into joining. Brendan didn't own a Theremin, but he knew someone who'd give him one on "permanent loan." Brendan didn't really have the time either, but he managed to make most of the rehearsals, so they kept him.
It seemed like it would be a good idea to have some drums to hold everything together, so mutual friend Ramona Herboldsheimer was asked if she'd like to join up. Ramona has also played with many Boston area bands, including The Wild Stares, New Parts From Old, Twig, and most recently Orans (a.k.a. Balloon Chase Team). After practicing with the boys for ten minutes she decided, and they agreed, that the combination of the sharp sounds of the drums with the sharp squeals of the Theremins was just too ..... sharp! She picked up the guitar she had only begun to learn a few months earlier, and everyone realized immediately that it was the right thing to do. Ramona's guitar playing serves the same function as a drummer in more "normal" bands, providing a rhythmic foundation for the theremins to play against. At this point, adding more Theremins would only make things more chaotic, and things were plenty chaotic as it was. The Lothars had their lineup settled.... for now.
Four Theremins... One Guitar... All Heart!
After recording an album's worth of material with David Minehan (of Neighborhoods fame) — material that would become the band's debut CD Meet The Lothars — Brendan decided that he really didn't have the time to play with The Lothars on a full-time basis. Feelers were sent out once again, but this time to better effect. Valarie Forgione joined up for a well received gig opening for The High Llamas (who brought Kris and Jon on stage to play theremins for their last song), but she was too busy with her other band Mistle Thrush to stay on permanently. Mike DiMilla, who was an occasional DJ on WZBC-FM, joined up for the first 7 months of 1998, playing his Sonochord accordian along with the theremins, until he moved to New York City. Next, Jon, Kris and Ramona were joined by Dean "Deknow" Stiglitz, who played in a Trip-Hop duo called Bionic Harmonic and was recruited through a theremin internet mailing list, and Jon Hindmarsh, a student at the Berklee School of Music, who Jon B. met at a theremin workshop in Asheville, North Carolina.
The Only Theremin Ensemble That Matters!
Jon H. was a Lothar for over three years, long enough to help record the full-length CDs Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas and Windy & Carl & The Lothars, but he also eventually found himself too busy with other projects to stick around. In his place, the now "core" members of Jon, Kris, Ramona and Dean have recruited various folks to join them for short-term projects. For example, the band was joined by guitarist Mark Sullivan and vocalist Ramesh Srinivasan at the Terrastock 5 festival, the rehearsals for which resulted in the Connected CD.
Going forward, The Lothars hope to collaborate with many other musicians, and to continue the evolution of their sound.