Tuff talk

Catching up with one-man rock band King Tuff

Kyle Thomas, totally tuff.

Kyle Thomas, totally tuff.

photo by Jeffrey Sauger

King Tuff performs at Harlow’s Wednesday, July 25, 8:30 p.m., with Jaill and The Coathangers.
Tickets: $6-$8, available at launchsacramento.com or at the door.

2708 J Street
Sacramento(916) 441-4693

Although he’s a young man (he plays it coy when asked (“18 or 19 or 29, I can’t remember”), Kyle Thomas, aka King Tuff, has lived nine lives as a musician.

In the mid-aughts he was in Feathers, a cult (and slightly cult-like) folk collective from his hometown of Brattleboro, Vt. As a teenager, he recorded an album (Was Dead, 2008) alone in his bedroom in the persona of King Tuff. And along the way he’s had stops in bands as diverse as the metal band Witch (with J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.) and East Bay bubblegum-pop stars Hunx and His Punx.

In the years since Was Dead’s release, the punk/glam/ pop/bubblegum masterpiece spread by word-of-mouth and became a bona-fide underground hit. Thomas had already moved on to his next band, Happy Birthday, but King Tuff called him back.

With a new, self-titled album out on Sub Pop to support, King Tuff will be stopping at Harlow’s in Sacramento on Wednesday, July 25. The News & Review talked with him by phone in Los Angeles.

CN&R: Where are you right now?

King Tuff: I just got back to L.A. yesterday, so I’m in a parking lot somewhere because I don’t have reception at my house.

What neighborhood?

Echo Park.

You just got back from Vermont?

Yeah, I was hanging out with my family for a little bit. It was beautiful. I was swimming every day in the mountains and the trees.

What is Vermont like?

Right now is the best time of year there. Summer in New England is incredible, because everyone is so bummed out all winter and then they get psyched, so the energy is crazy.

Brattleboro is a pretty artistic town, right?

Yeah it’s a little freak town. It’s really nice.

Your “freak folk” group, Feathers, was based in Brattleboro. Were you pretty immersed in folk music at that time?

I started working at a record store and met the guy I started that band with, Kurt Weisman. We were just getting into a lot of different stuff at the time and writing acoustic songs and experimenting. … There were all these other bands doing it at the same time that we had no idea about, and all the sudden everyone was on the same page. It was a really cool time. I had so many awesome experiences playing in that band.

Why did you move to L.A.?

Well, you know I lived in Vermont my whole life; I never really felt the pull to move anywhere else. … I started coming out here a couple of times and just getting a really amazing family of friends. … It really drew me to it.

Is the L.A. vibe going to influence the songs you write?

It’s hard to tell. I haven’t really written any songs this year. I go through really intense waves of songwriting. … My surroundings really do have a lot to do with if I’m able to write or not. I need to be secluded. … I think I’m going to have to go on some kind of hermit writing experience. I would really like to spend some time in the redwoods or something.

The production of both the Happy Birthday and this new King Tuff album has this spacey AM-radio type of feel …

I’ve heard people say that AM radio thing before. What does that mean?

It’s a kind of distance to the sound. It always gave AM radio this eerie feel of its own.

That sounds really cool! I’m glad my music sounds that way. I just make things and they come out a certain way. … I just record things and the sound makes itself. Every time I try to make something sound a certain way it always comes out a different way; you can’t really control it.

As the popularity of Was Dead grew did you feel pressure to go back to King Tuff? It seemed like you had moved on to Happy Birthday.

I didn’t necessarily feel pressure; it just seemed like the right thing to do because people would talk to me about it all the time. I made that album years and years ago … when I was 17 or 18. I recorded it in 2006 and then I kind of didn’t do anything with it and then someone put it on record and it started spreading by word of mouth. … It’s just the thing that’s always come back over the years, so I eventually gave in to it. … I just try to follow what the universe tells me to do.