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King Tuff

King Tuff

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Tuesday 23rd April, 2013 8:58AM

King Tuff is an enigmatic scuzzy pop artist currently based in L.A, who cut his (gold) teeth in various bands in the tight-knit music community of Detroit. He released his latest, self-titled album recently and is heading to New Zealand to play two shows next week. UTR caught up with Tuff A.K.A Kyle Thomas to discuss the journey he went on to write his latest album, his relocation from Detroit to Los Angeles and why we should give The Hobbit a chance.

Hey dude, it’s nice to finally get hold of you!

Oh right yeah I was driving and I was trying to find a parking spot and I just missed your call last time.

Yeah sweet as, what are you up to at the moment?

Sitting on my back porch playing guitar.

Where do you call home at the moment?

Los Angeles.

Cool, when did you relocate from Vermont to Los Angeles?

Two years ago.

And are you enjoying being there, or do you miss Vermont? Tell me a little bit about living in L.A.

It’s totally different. I love living in Los Angeles just as much as I loved living in Vermont but it is totally different. I do miss Vermont, but the main thing I miss are the trees.

You do heaps of interviews in which you talk about what you’re doing at the moment, but I’m interested in what got you into music in the first place - in the early days in Vermont?

Well, I guess as a teenager I sort of discovered punk rock and so me and my friends got into that together and started punk bands, but you’re never sure of any of those bands. It’s a real small place so you meet a lot of people who just go into their own world and write and record music because there’s not a lot else to do there. There have actually been a lot of success stories of people who have lived there that you might not necessarily realise lived there. It’s a good place to work on your own thing and then present it to the world.

You were in a few bands while in Vermont right? Tell me about the multiple projects you’ve been in over the past few years.

Yeah there’s Happy Birthday and Witch and Feathers and those are all just bands where I met friends and started projects, and worked on music with them for fun. They were all just different outlets for different kinds of music because I don’t really like doing one thing – I’ve always written lots of different kinds of songs. Now I’m kind of sick of having so many bands so I’ve just got the one.

Yeah it seems like you’ve made a decision to focus on King Tuff right?

Yeah I would definitely say so.

And you released your latest, self-titled album relatively recently: tell me a little bit about writing and recording that one.

That one was definitely a bit of a journey. I had to break out of my shell to make that album happen; I wrote all the songs while I was still living in Vermont and wrote all the demoes there but then I moved away. I just got a backpack and my guitar and left and didn’t know what was going to happen – I just wanted to go on a journey. It took me to a lot of different places and I met a lot of different people, and I ended up recording the album in Detroit. It’s a long story with a lot of weird coincidences and stars aligning and things like that.

Tell me about stepping out of your shell; it sounds like this journey was about self-discovery?

By that I mean I’d lived in Vermont my whole live and I knew I had to do something if I wanted to make music my life for real, I just had to do something. I didn’t know exactly what but I knew I had to leave. I had to bust out because it was too easy to live there.

You needed to be thrown into tougher circumstances to produce work that’s meaningful?

Exactly, I had to jump into the void.

Reflecting on the album now that it’s a finished product and you can look back on both the experiences and the album that came from them, how do you feel about the sounds and the themes that are on there?

I’m definitely happy with it. I think the producer and I would do some things a little bit differently – maybe give ourselves a little bit more time. We were working straight through for two weeks and we didn’t really have time to experiment or anything, so I think for the next one I want it to be a little less on-the-clock and a little more natural.

And the artwork’s really cool, who did that?

It’s mostly me and my brother. My brother did all the drawings and I did a little bit of drawing and all the layout and stuff.

It’s part of this bigger King Tuff aesthetic: the artwork, the video clips and the music fits into this ‘King Tuff Persona’. Is this something you’ve constructed for performance sake or is it really just who you are?

It definitely is me, I’m not putting on some different personality but it’s definitely a more exaggerated version of me or something.

It must be comforting to have a persona to step into when performing live?

It’s the most amazing feeling in the world when people are singing along and jumping all over the place, so performing live is definitely a cathartic thing. Everything fits together for me: it’s not just music, it’s art and it’s my life.

Yeah and it's really disappointing when you hear an excellent song but the other pieces of the puzzle that make up that artistic output aren’t of the same quality.

Yeah it’s funny because I was having this conversation the other day with Ty Seagall because he has really good album covers too. We were just saying that if the artwork is really good it’s just that much more powerful – it becomes the full package. I was in Wholefoods the other day and I saw the new Eric Clapton album and it’s called Old Sock or something and the cover is just some shitty photo and I was just like he could’ve put more effort into it. He probably didn’t even see the album cover before it came out but…I don’t like to talk shit so I’m not really going to talk shit…there are still a lot of good album covers coming out but it’s a bit of a lost art I think.

I wonder if - because a lot of record sales have moved online - it’s less of a focus of the record labels?

Yeah, definitely but to me there’s absolutely nothing less satisfying than buying an MP3. I’ve done it, I’ll buy an album on iTunes if I just want to hear it in that moment but there’s nothing to hold onto there. I’ve never totally fallen in love with an album that I’ve bought there because I can’t hold the physical thing.

The flipside of that is that bands who have fans who like buying physical product have arguably focussed more on packaging in the digital age: putting together limited edition product.

Yeah it’s cool to make an actual thing. Maybe that’s just the visual artist side of me likes to have an actual product.

So what are the future plans this year with the King Tuff project?

I’m looking forward to getting in the zone! Playing out of my full stack! Going back into the studio with absolutely no idea what I’m going to do.

You’re coming to New Zealand – have you been here before?

No I haven’t but that is also very exciting.

Have you got any preconceptions about what this place is like?

Well, all anyone talks about is Lord of the Rings right?

Yep: I was on a plane from Australia to New Zealand last night and they’ve created these Lord of the Rings archways...

It could be worse though right? Wizards are pretty cool, and elves and trolls, it could definitely be worse. But somebody told me that the Hobbit village still exists…

Yep it does, you can take a tour to the Hobbit village.

Have you gone there?

No I haven’t, I’m not actually a Lord of the Rings fan so I haven’t been to the village.

Well maybe you should consider going to the Hobbit village and partaking in some of the magic?

Yeah don’t knock it until you try it right?

That’s what I’m saying!


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