King Tuff's congenial rule and turn to glam rock
Kyle Thomas gets glittery with 'Black Moon Spell'
Kyle Thomas isn't so sure about all that sunshine. The artist, who makes fuzzy garage pop as King Tuff, moved to Los Angeles more than a year ago but has only recently gotten a face-full of its manically cheerful weather, thanks to a break in touring. "It's just — there!" he laughs. "Every day, it's like, duh, it's sunny again."
While lounging around his West Coast home he shares with his brother, Thomas took a few minutes to talk about recording in a slightly haunted studio, not taking himself too seriously, and being naked.
Thomas makes good-natured jabs at L.A.'s weather patterns, hailing from the exaggerated seasons of Vermont. There, he started calling himself King Tuff as a teenager. "No, that's not an Outsiders reference," he says. "That's just my name. KT. Kyle Thomas. King Tuff — kinda like King Tut but cuter." In high school, Thomas recorded mostly odes to the Smiths and devoured his father's comic book collection.
After a stint with the sludged-out Witch project with J Mascis, and another with acid-folk outfit Feathers, Thomas re-released his first King Tuff offering, the neo-psych gold album Was Dead (originally released by the Colonel Records) via Burger Records. But for his sophomore release, Thomas smoothed the stubble and teamed up with Sub Pop to drop King Tuff in 2012. This fall saw the ruffian enlisting peers like Ty Segall and others to produce the wildly glam, decadent rock record Black Moon Spell.
Sub Pop peddled the album with a deranged opus Thomas penned himself. "Yeah, that's called an acrostic poem, I think," he says, explaining the haunted prose that fleshed out the album name in its press release. "Can you feel the spell creeping up the back of your neck yet?" Black Moon Spell's "C" asks. And truly, well, yes.
The album positively glitters with gasps from T. Rex's legacy, ostentatiously marinating in self-indulgence. It raises goose bumps before digging deeper beneath one's skin. Black Moon Spell conjures an ethereal wonderland, lambasting the sacred. It howls about boning in the graveyard and deformed creatures. It begs for Charlie Daniels Band lyrical parallels.
Bobby Harlow produced and mixed most of the joint in Burger Records' Studio B, a "slightly haunted" spot to which Thomas attributes much of the album's witchy feels. "Oh sure," he says. "At lot of places and stuff are haunted, and it's not always a bad thing."
Thomas explains the extra spiritual energy lent a colorful zap to the record overall, bleeding even into the tracks he produced and mixed himself, "Radiation" and "I Love You Ugly." But why do these two on his own? "I just had these ideas I had to record after we were all done in the studio," Thomas says. "Those guys wouldn't let me in during the mixing because, well laughs. It's probably easier if I'm not there, breathing down their necks."
"I Love You Ugly" strikes a particularly wacky chord. It's clearly a love song, but a half-baked and bizarre one. It calls back to Tuff's especially lo-fi, bedroom-recording days. It's stripped to just a guitar and Thomas' woolly, candid vocals gently hollering, "I don't care if your foot's too big/I don't care what you've got under your wig/I love you, I love you, ugly ... You're the opposite of cute/You look like shit/And I'm telling you the truth."
It's hardly a minute long, miraculously capturing a very specific affection. "You know when you know a little weird animal that's so ugly but you love it anyway?" Thomas asks. "It's that. That's what I mean."
Thomas takes a stranglehold tenderness with his songwriting on Black Moon Spell. "Headbanger" is a twitterpatted pop song, packing in catacomb hookups with Spinal Tap references — "My love went to 11 when you/Bang yah little head, bang yah little head, bang yah little head/You and me will never love the magic/Running free in ecstasy and chains and leather jackets."
The strangely sweet lyrics curl in a post-coitus mellow around a still-grinding guitar, still-smacking snare.
Taking slow, syrupy steps, "Staircase of Diamonds" pours thick and amber. It follows the similarly surreal feel of the album, smeared with a touch of moon dust. Tuff leans in to softly bellow: "Above the stars/To Venus and Mars, where she sends me/I'm lost in the dark/And I need a spark."
Wispy female vocals back up the second half of the chorus before fading to whining feedback and frustrated solos, and then a starless night sky. "Eddie's Song" wraps the album, suggesting the party continues after the record has stopped spinning.
Despite the annoying constant sunshine thing, Thomas has burrowed a cozy little cubby in the L.A. music scene, befriending a bevy of artists in his general genre vein and riffing between each other. "You always find inspiration from your peers," he says, explaining garage rock menace Segall's drumming cameo on the album's titular track. And more: "You know White Fang? Those guys are incredible," he says. "It's like any community. You want to inspire, support, and help each other."
Not that anyone should expect anything contrary, but Thomas sounds, frankly, happy. Elaborate comedics aside, he's an honest guy and takes on his role as King Tuff in a similarly benevolent way. He cracks jokes, laughs constantly, and refuses to take himself too seriously. Among other topics, he gleefully waxed on what should be the official hybrid food of rock 'n' roll. Nacho-pizza was one candidate until learning about Gato Cafe's omelette-a-dilla, an Atlanta staple, and a masterful mash-up. "Really?" he nearly screams. "I'm gonna ask for that on my rider."
Before hanging up, he ponders if there's anything he'd want Creative Loafing's treasured readers to know. "Uh ... I've been naked this entire interview," he says, laughing.
"Me too," I reply.
"That's the best," Thomas says. "This should be normal."
How's that for honesty?