King Tuff: Vermont Garage Rocker Gets Back to His Roots

King Tuff / Photo by Ward Robinson
King Tuff / Photo by Ward Robinson
David Marchese WRITTEN BY
David Marchese

WHO: The whole time singer-guitarist Kyle Thomas, 29, was melting faces with J Mascis in the stoner-rock outfit Witch, getting freaky with avant-folkies Feathers, and reveling in snotty mischief as part of punk outfit Happy Birthday, he was missing something — himself. "The very first music I recorded by myself, when I was 17, I said it was by King Tuff," says Thomas, who last year relocated to Los Angeles from his native Brattleboro, Vermont. "I ended up doing these other diverse things, but King Tuff is the thing I always wanted to come back to — just good, straightforward rock'n'roll. That music is the most me, you know?"

SOUNDS LIKE: If the King Tuff name represents Thomas' true musical self, then his eponymous sophomore effort, out May 29 on Sub Pop, is the sound of that self in full-flower. "Anthem" and "Stranger" are head-boppin' boogies, full of rollicking guitar and Beatles-y melodies. The chooglin' "Keep on Movin'" summarizes Thomas's laissez-faire worldview, and the wistful "Swamp of Love" is a grand ballad brushed with glam glitter. "Right before me and [producer] Bobby [Harlow] started recording, we heard some '70s Alice Cooper song on the radio," explains Thomas. "It sounded so good. The production was so full, and it had the strong melodies and guitars — it was definitely on our minds when we were making the album."

DIRTY WORK: A necklace adorned with a sun medallion that he found while working at a Brattleboro thrift store is a good-luck charm for Thomas, but it was far from the most unusual thing someone brought in. "We'd get crazy stuff," he says. "The worst was when I was sorting through a box and touched a dildo." The incident raised some obvious questions. "Who would want a used one of those?"

CAFÉ SOCIETY: King Tuff, augmented live by bassist Magic Jake and mono-monikered drummer Kenny, will be on the road this summer, but changing location isn't a big deal for Thomas. "My friends ask me what it's like moving from Vermont to L.A.," he says by way of example, "but no matter where I am, I pretty much just end up sitting in coffee shops, thinking about songs."

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