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King Tuff on How Jimi Hendrix Broke His Mind and Early Oi!

King Tuff at the SPIN House / Photo by Jake Giles Netter

Given his irresistibly raucous, slovenly anthemic songcraft, it’d be easy to think King Tuff frontman Kyle Thomas’ favorites skewed towards trashcan kitsch and belching rock’n’roll. In person, though, Thomas comes across as friendly, thoughtful, and low-key, a far cry from his wild rock’n’roll sound — heard in budding form on the upcoming King Tuff Was Dead reissue, out May 28 on Burger Records. 

We caught up with the guitar-slinging Vermont native at the SPIN House at the Ace Hotel + Swim Club in Palm Springs during Coachella’s first weekend to talk about his favorites, from cult authors to psychedelic touchstones. 

Jimi Hendrix
“I think the first person who kind of broke my mind was probably Jimi Hendrix. Listening to him opened my mind up to where you can take music, and how far you can take rock’n’roll. That was a pretty early influence, but I don’t know about my singing technique. I think I figured that out over the years, and am still figuring it out. I’ll go back and listen to my old recordings and be like ‘I definitely don’t want to sing like that anymore.’ Just from playing shows, that’s how I’ve developed my singing.”

Richard Brautigan
“I like obvious writers like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, but I got really into [novelist and poet] Richard Brautigan when I was a young kid. He’s a writer, not a musician, but he wrote Trout Fishing in America and Watermelon Sugar. It’s surreal fiction, and that influenced my writing early on.”

Guitar Gods
“I never took any guitar lessons or anything; I never really learned to play covers.  I’m actually happy that I never took lessons as a kid. Now, I’d like to take lessons to kind of go deeper. But I think sometimes lessons can steal a person’s personality away, because they’re trying to do things so technically. I love [Black Sabbath’s] Tony Iommi, and Mick Ronson from David Bowie.”

’70s Drum Sounds
“I love the sound of ’70s glam records. I love that snare sound. The recordings I like, it’s all based on if the snare sounds good. The drums have to sound great. Drums are most important for me in production. If you ever listen to any of the early Oi! bands, their recordings are really good. For some reason, those skinheads knew what they were doing.”

Dead Moon
“When I think about where I’m going to be in twenty years or something, I always think of Dead Moon. It’s this guy and his wife, Fred and Toody Cole. He was in this band in the sixties called the Lollipop Shoppe. Then he started playing in other bands with his wife, and they eventually started Dead Moon in the early ’80s or something. It’s just the most badass, street rock’n’roll. They’re still playing as Pierced Arrows. They’re in their fucking sixties now and they fucking kill it. I think of other old rockers who are just cheesy now, and I don’t want to be like that. Dead Moon are kinda my role models.”

Mom and Dad
“I’ve got the best parents you could ever ask for. My parents are from New Jersey, and they met in Vermont in college. My Dad grew up listening to heavy, psychedelic music. He’s my biggest fan. He saw Hendrix, Pink Floyd and everybody back in the day. He’s got a black-light room. They’re the chillest.”

Beer and Weed
“I’m not a big drug user. I like to drink a good beer every now and then and smoke weed, but that’s about it. People always come up to me and offer me coke, and I’ve never done it in my life. I’m like ‘I ain’t gonna ruin this beautiful nose, bro.’ The drug I use the most is probably my asthma inhaler.”