Interview :: King Tuff
April 22nd 2013
Kyle Thomas is what you might call a musical factotum.
He’s plied indie-pop stylings with Happy Birthday, gone the cryptic route with forest-folk luminaries Feathers, and braced unrelenting stoner and doom milieu as singer for the much-heralded Witch. But when recording and performing as King Tuff, he prefers to keep things simple and draw liberally from rock ‘n’ roll’s wellspring of honest-to-god good times. King Tuff’s songs glide and swagger with refreshing verve; as much a throwback to golden years gone by as an expression of the exciting new ambits of the genre. Sitting tight in his pad in LA, Kyle was kind enough to lend FBi’s Charlie Howard a few words in advance of his upcoming Australian tour.
FBi: Your self-titled album from last year is refreshingly pure and forthright in both spirit and execution. A song like “Keep on Movin'” with its fuzzy guitars, shimmering hooks and street-wise bravado is ear candy and rallying cry rolled into one. Is the personality and energy in your songs an extension of what occupies your thoughts and conditions your day-to-day life or is it the volition of some wild alter-ego?
Kyle Thomas: I wouldn’t say it’s too much of an alter-ego; it’s pretty much me. I try to let my personality come through, and I think personality is one of the biggest parts of songwriting and singing songs.
The album has a nice mix of tempos: a few acoustic passages here and there, some contrasting moods, a lot to sink your teeth into. Personally speaking though, I’m a big fan of the faster numbers. For instance, I can imagine you blazing through songs like “Stranger” or “Bad Thing” in a live setting. Do you speed some of these songs up even more when you play live or generally keep true to the pace of the records?
You know, we don’t really play the gentler ones live too much. When I play live I have so much energy going through me that it’s kind of a bummer for me to play the slower songs; I want it to be loud the whole time. It’s also hard to figure out where to put the slower numbers in, because it tends to break up the set if you put one in there. So, we’ve experimented with doing those here and there, but I just get so much more excited about the other ones.
That’s actually true to how I imagine your set playing out: one loud song after another peeled off at breakneck speed.
Yeah. I mean, for me the recording and live situations are pretty different. I don’t really feel the need to totally recreate something live; it usually just turns out having a different kind of energy.
So you’re living in LA these days, being originally from the other side of the country. Music-wise do you feel like you’ve encountered more like-minded souls and maybe more of a scene for what you do in LA than some of the other places you’ve lived in or experienced?
Well, there are definitely people doing more things that are similar to what I do here, but there’s just more people in general (laughs). I’m from a really small town, so you find yourfriends and stuff, but you know, not everyone’s going to be a rock musician. But yeah, I’ve definitely found a large community of rock ‘n’ rollers here and the West Coast in general is just a great place for the kind of music we’re doing.
I’ve seen your music variously described as power pop, garage rock, lo-fi and even glam punk. Do you identify much with genres and tags or are you just kind of out to do your own thing?
Whenever anyone asks me I just say I play rock ‘n’ roll.
Well, some of the songs definitely seem to have a bit of a retro flair to them. I think of T Rex in some places and The Stooges or maybe New York Dolls in others. Do some of your listening habits inform the directions that your songs take? Are you conscious of being part of a revival?
There definitely is something happening as far as straight-up rock ‘n’ roll goes; there’s a lot more of it now than there was a few years ago. So, there’s absolutely a kind of resurgence going on. People don’t want to go out and just see somebody playing a computer when they go to a show; they want real instruments and stuff.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on visiting Australia? Is there anything in particular you might be looking forward to or possibly dreading?
I’m looking forward to learning some of the local slang, though I already know “mappa tassie”. I also really like that Bundaberg ginger beer you have. I love that little cap it has that you can peel off and wear like a ring. Hopefully, I’ll be chugging those all day. The flight from LA is about twelve hours or something? I’m think I’m going to have to go into a deep meditative trance on the plane.
*Tune in: King Tuff is joining Chris Twite on Arvos on FBi at 4pm on Tues 23 April – tune in here*