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Kyle Thomas, aka King Tuff or Tuffy, shuffles between blasting glammed-out garage rock and breezing through power-pop harmonies. An unapologetic fan of stoner-rock riffs and all things ‘70s, the Vermont native has cartoon-like charisma that seeps into his magnetic live performances and his music—-song topics include drinking witches’ brew and heavy metal-loving guitars.
After releasing his 2008 self-titled debut as King Tuff, Thomas spent the next few years unleashing his psychedelic style via other bands, playing with the folk-tinged Feathers and Witch, a fuzzed-out metal act formed by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Now, the Sub Pop artist is back with a new album, Black Moon Spells, and plenty of bizarre banter.
Arts Desk spoke with Thomas about King Tuff’s latest album, sarcophagi, and how demonic vortexes are taking over Instagram. Catch the artist tomorrow night at Black Cat with Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires.
You’re in Dallas at the moment, right?
Um … I think so. Yep, I’m pretty sure we’re in Texas.
How’s the city so far?
Awesome. We’ve just seen the stage and the bathroom. Those are kind of great. Plus, we’ve seen some really magical jeans.
Who’s playing with you on this tour?
Magic Jake on the bass and big Old Gary on the drums.
I read that King Tuff is a play on words with King Tut and your initials. Have you ever thought about rocking the golden King Tut death mask on stage?
Well, yeah, that would be really cool. Coming out of a big sarcophagus would be pretty awesome, too. With some smoke and stuff.
Would you describe the recording process for Black Moon Spell as magical or maddening or both?
Um… it was probably more maddening. There was definitely some magic sprinkled in here, but you’ve gotta go through hours of pain to get a little taste of the sweet, sweet magic.
Where did you record the album?
Just down the street from my pal’s house in L.A.
Were the songs on the album written relatively recently? Or have they been in the works for a while?
They were all pretty much written in the studio. There were a couple that were older, but mostly they were written in the studio with the band and the producer. I’ve never done an album that way, so it was a different experience. In the past, it’s just been me alone in a room. You know, making puzzle pieces come together in my brain.
Do you think it’s easier to put the puzzle pieces together when it’s just you? Or when you have a group of people involved?
Oh for sure just me. When a bunch of motherfuckers are around me, shit gets complicated. It turns into, like, a 3-D puzzle. It goes from, like, a crossword puzzle to, like, a Jenga …. no, actually, more like a Rubik’s Cube.
What’s your opinion of demonic vortexes: scary or awesome?
Well, you know, they’re all around. You’re interacting with them all the time and you don’t even realize it. Pretty much any time you’re looking at the Instagram, there’s a demonic vortex there.
Can you tell me about some of the backwards messages on the album, or are they a secret?
Well, I mean, you’ve just gotta find them yourself. I don’t know who put them there; it wasn’t me. But they’re there.
The artwork you did for the record is awesome. What came first, the music or the illustration?
It’s usually the music first and then I’ll figure out what works. And we were on a real time crunch with that one, so I ended up just taking that cover image from a t-shirt I was going to make.
I like the purple you used on the cover.
Yeah, you know, I didn’t really set out to make a purple album. It just spoke to me in that way.
Do you work with any other mediums like sculpture or photography?
Yeah. I’ll do anything. We made a bunch of little heads recently, so that was really fun. I’d like to do more sculpture. It’s pretty strange, because you’ll be, like, molding it with your hands and it’ll start to get a personality. It’s pretty weird. It’s like you’re injecting life into it as you mold it.
What bands are you listening to right now?
We’ve been listening to a lot of pop country. Magic Jake is really into that “Neon Light” [by Blake Shelton] song. There’s another song called “Rum” [by Brothers Osborne] that’s really good that I really like. But, you know, the same old shit.