Noam Galai, AOL King Tuff may well be the garage-band sleeper rock star of…
- Posted on Oct 23rd 2012 2:30PM by Caitlin White
Noam Galai, AOL
Soon after, we're sitting on a couch crowded with guitar cases, cables and pizza boxes and the man born Kyle Thomas is cooing about the time one of his other musical projects, Feathers, went on tour with the backwoods-blues folk legend Michael Hurley. Thomas has been in several bands and musical projects, including Feathers, Witch and Happy Birthday, but he said King Tuff is the best so far.
"It's my favorite because it's closest to my heart. It's the first thing I did originally and it's just always there and just been me. I feel like it's the one that's the most me. It seems the most natural for me. I feel like I can do whatever I want with it. It will always be rock 'n' roll to me, but having some of those softer songs on the album and stuff I felt made it possible for me to go in different directions," Thomas says.
King Tuff is not easy to pin down, and it's increasingly clear that he aims to keep it that way. Folk, psychedelic pop and garage rock pulsate outward from his scruffy rock 'n' roll heart. Then, there are his lyrics, which feature the same zany tropes as counterculture poet and novelist Richard Brautigan, a figure Thomas cites as a major influence on his writing.
"Probably the first book that really blew my mind was In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan," he says. "I do sit and think about my lyrics a lot, and I'm glad you're asking me this and noticing my lyrics because nobody ever talks to me about the lyrics and it really hurts my feelings!"
Thomas yells the last line with a serious howl that dissolves into his signature snicker within seconds. He's not joking about the sentiment though, and ignoring the literary nature of his lyrics is just one of the many oversights that critics have made regarding Tuff. The 29-year-old is a walking enigma, a mild-mannered punk rocker, and almost everything he says or creates is housed in ambiguity.
"There's elements of everything. Most of my songs come from something that I know very well, something very personal. But they also have humor in them and double meanings. The double meanings tend to happen naturally without me even realizing until afterwards. I don't try to write ironic songs, though. That sounds terrible."
Thomas is deadly serious about his art, hasn't smoked pot in months and refuses an offer for a beer, insisting on a Shirley Temple instead. It's a contrast from the second track on his LP, "Alone & Stoned," and he's happy to share a few tales from the blazed mind of King Tuff.
"One time I had one of those mixtape from Mississippi records in Portland. It was like one of the more bluesy ones or something, and the music started sounding like it was coming from hell to me, but like in a cool way, but it scared the fucking shit out of me. I like those kind of experiences."
Seemingly unafraid of anything, Thomas agrees to a carry his guitar 15 blocks through the streets of Williamsburg to conduct a photo shoot for Spinner in a railroad-style Brooklyn apartment.
"The trick to modeling is slight movements," he tells us during the half-hour, spur-of-the-moment shoot. It's this type of random shuttling that makes festivals like CMJ so endearing for artists, journalists and attendees alike -- the sheer immensity of the whole event creates a sort of leveling effect and everyone's humanity is opaque again.
What's even more apparent by the end of the evening is that Kyle Thomas and King Tuff are truly two sides of the same coin. Kyle walks back to the venue with us, discussing which "Twin Peaks" girl was the hottest and asking for advice on how to throw a killer 30th birthday party. Once he's on stage though, it's all King Tuff. Chameleon-like, he becomes a rocker that crowds mosh to and girls scream their love for, a musician seriously challenging the borders of music in 2012 and pushing the fringes of marginal and weird right back into the center.
"I'm a bad, bad, bad thing" goes the refrain from "Bad Thing," the lead single off the record, but morally, Thomas vows he's trying to be good. Evil is just a little too fun at times.
"I do believe in good and evil. I'm on the good side. But really? A lot of evil is really fun. And, we all love to dabble." Paradoxical down to the last word, Thomas remains what may be the most interesting, confounding combination of gentle lyricist and dangerous rocker the music world has these days.