LA, Vermont, Detroit, and Seattle
King Tuff Discusses Cities, the Doughnut Robot, and Peanut Butter
I'd never listened to much King Tuff before last week, but when I sat down with 2008's Was Dead two days before this interview took place, smoked a joint, and pressed play, I was hooked approximately .5 listens through the thing. Truncated, loose, fun-time jams with proper hooks jumping out every which way and a scrappy-sounding dude who writes all the songs and never plans anything and sings shit like "I'll still be a freak when I'm dead" are always in order. Also, this dude has the best laugh you have heard in years; plays/sings for Witch, a heavy rock thing with J Mascis and Dave Sweetapple; and was part of tuneful pop-rockers Happy Birthday. His name is Kyle Thomas. We spoke on the phone while he was visiting the hinterland.
So you're in LA now.
Actually, I'm in Vermont.
Oh... what are you doing there?
I grew up here. The summertime here is perfect, and I couldn't miss out on it all the way, you know?
Um, okay. But you're living in LA. What's that like?
I really like LA. I have a bunch of friends there. It's a cool city once you let it into your heart. A lot of people have a stigma about it, but they don't really know anything about the place. They haven't broken through The Wall. I just cruise. I just cruise around.
Describe your typical day in the city.
For two months, I was subletting this super-nice house in Laurel Canyon. It was pretty great because it was secluded and there was a lot of nature around. I was getting ready to go record this album in Detroit, so during the day I would work on that and at night I would go down and hang out. A bunch of my friends are in a band called Crazy Band. Most of them had never played instruments before. So we often go see them play. Then I just eat tacos a lot.
What's going on with the record?
I went to Detroit and recorded with Bobby Harlow, who was in the Go and Conspiracy of Owls, and we recorded it in two weeks—16 songs. It was a shitload of work. Now we're trying to figure out how to mix it. Actually, he's there mixing it and I'm just kind of waiting in anticipation. I have no idea what it sounds like at this point [laughs]. It's just a matter of time now... Working on a record can be, like, the worst thing you've ever done.
First of all, I got a sinus infection the first day I got there. I felt incredibly weak and shit, then these fuses kept blowing, and shit's exploding all over the place. I was like, "Why is this happening?" [Laughs] We recorded in an abandoned school in the middle of summer. It was like summer school. It was like hell! [Laughs] We were all going crazy, staying up until six in the morning, freaking out at each other. That's just what happens, though.
How is it different from Was Dead? Or the same. Or whatever.
Basically, I sent Bobby like 40 demos, ranging from stuff that sounded similar to Was Dead to stuff that was nothing like it. I sent him some stuff I was writing for Witch, my heavier band, and he chose some of that and some other songs that I never thought would turn out to be King Tuff songs, so I just sent them anyway, and he actually chose them. I went into it thinking, "I just need to make a full-on rock album, but no matter what, I'm trying to write good pop songs, whether they're heavy or fast or whatever." Songs that you can identify with and songs that are easy to understand but weird at the same time.
What do you mean by "easy to understand"?
I hear a lot of music that seems very vague in what it's trying to say. Like you can't understand the lyrics, or maybe you can, but you don't know what the fuck they're talking about. I want a song I can sing along to and feel what it's saying.
Is Witch still going on?
We've been talking about making another album for a couple years now [laughs]. It's a lot of talk. I made some demos for it. It's probably just a matter of time, and everyone being in the right place. It will happen eventually. I don't know when, though.
Have you ever been to Seattle before?
Yeah, quite a few times. I mostly just try to go to the doughnut robot when I'm there.
The doughnut robot?
[Laughs] Wait. You're from Seattle and you don't know the doughnut robot?
It's down there in the Pike Place [Market]. It's just a robot that makes doughnuts. It's spectacular. [Laughs] Okay, it's not as spectacular as I make it out to be, but I like to make your imagination wander.
All right. I just ate half of a jar of peanut butter last night. What do you think about that?
Did you have anything to drink with it?
Uhhhhh. A beer.
What kind of peanut butter was it?
It was crappy.
Supermarket peanut butter? I can understand that, but if you're gonna eat real peanut butter—that's like a whole different baby. You can barely open and close your mouth. I'm much more into... what's it called? Jelly [laughs].
What do you think about Slayer?
I love Slayer. Mostly the classics. Reign in Blood and South of Heaven. You can't get more punishing but poppy at the same time. There's something strangely poppy to them. They're a pop band.
What are your plans for Pizza Fest?
I don't know anything about it. They better have a pineapple pizza there—because that's my jam—if they want me to play [laughs].