A roaring current of raw artistry runs deep beneath the glossy veneer of Los Angeles. In a city more often associated with Hollywood glitz and glamor, it’s comforting to know that people are still making furious and sweaty garage rock.
Kyle Thomas is a charismatic practitioners of those no frills dark arts. I spoke to the bearded guitar slinger – best known as King Tuff – in early March, a few days before he hit the road in support of his most recent release, last fall’s Black Moon Spells.
With performance scheduled throughout the country, Canada, and potentially a few dates in Brazil with Sub Pop labelmate J Mascis, 2015 is shaping up to be a huge year for the California resident and Vermont native with a soft-spot for the Occult and old Lester Bangs interviews.
How do you pass the time when you’re not on tour?
I mostly try to stay in bed as much as possible. I’ve got that King Size bed. I did a lot of research on this, and a California King is not as wide as a regular King; it’s just longer. And I like it wide, baby! I don’t need no long. [Laughs] And to each his own, but wide is pretty grand.
Are you watching anything good on TV these days, or are you just sitting in bed and sleeping a lot?
I don’t watch TV, but I go for a lot of walks. I watch the woodpeckers peck around, and I fucking – I fucking build a fire, and I watch the fire. Fire is like a primitive TV.
Do you build a fire in the traditional Boy Scout way, like rubbing two sticks together? Or are you more of the type to throw gasoline on a pile of stuff?
[Laughs] You know, whatever works. I just burned the Christmas tree the other day, and it was a crazy fireball.
That must have smelled really nice.
Everyone left the party feeling quite pleasant.
How do you decide what project to work on? Your focus is on King Tuff now, but how do you decide how to delegate your creative output between all of your projects, like Happy Birthday, Feathers, and Witch?
Witch is really the only band that’s still active out of those other ones, but I’ve really been focused on King Tuff for the last couple of years. It’s at the point where that’s my main thing.
But I feel like I need to do something else for a little bit, just to get my head in a different zone for a minute, so I can come back to it. That’s why I always had those other projects in the past – I write in different styles sometimes. I do one, and then I want to go back to the other.
Where does the inspiration for performing and writing music for King Tuff come from? How does it differ from your approach when creating music for other projects?
I guess it’s not one specific thing. It’s just certain songs seem like they should be one or the other.
Well, on the last album, on Black Moon Spell, there were a couple of songs that felt as if they could have been Witch songs. But I don’t know – it’s kind of just what hits me at the time, and I’d really like for King Tuff to really be whatever I write. Once you start to feel like you have to write in a certain way, or play in a certain way, it gets really old.
What are you thinking of doing for your next project? What are you intrigued by these days?
I have a couple of things in mind, but I’m not really gonna talk about them. I mostly listen to country music, but I’m not gonna pretend that I’m going to put on a fucking cowboy hat, so don’t worry about that. [Laughs]
What drove you to pick up a guitar?
The thing that made me really think about the guitar first was probably Jimi Hendrix; listening to some kind of Hendrix collection on headphones, and hearing the stereo stacks, and realizing the different things the guitar could do.
Around the same time, my dad had bought a [Fender] Stratocaster, and those two things went hand in hand. I remember trying to figure out “The National Anthem” – the Jimi version – when I was maybe seven years old. [Laughs]
I think that was probably the first thing that made me a guitar guy. But I was young, and I was really into the top punk stuff at the time – obviously like Green Day type shit to start off, but then I went deeper because of that: Lookout Records, thrash, and hardcore; all that kind of stuff.
How did your collaboration with Ty Segall come about? I know he played drums on the title track off Black Moon Spell.
You know, we’re just good friends from being in the music scene. All the musicians know each other, and you just fuck around in the studio sometimes. We had a blast. We talk about doing stuff all the time, and I’m sure we’ll do more.
What’s the best part of living in L.A.? Do you miss anything about the East Coast?
Well, obviously the weather is great, but it also drives you insane. It’s like living in “The Truman Show” or “Groundhog Day”: It’s the same day on repeat. It’s just too perfect all the time. [Laughs] I need something to fucking get me depressed already! I get depressed that I’m not depressed. It’s fucked up.
L.A. is having a renaissance, and all kinds of creative people are moving here, so it’s a good time to be here right now. There’s a lot of creative energy and good people coming around, so it’s an exciting time for the city right now. But I’m sure it will go to shit soon. [Laughs]
I miss the boredom of living in a small town, and having nothing to do except for create. Boredom is the key to creativity, and it’s hard to create when you’re not bored.
Have you seen any coyotes or mountain lions out there? Are those things still around L.A.?
I see coyotes all the time. They’re really cool. I get a good vibe from a coyote. I hear them every night – just packs of them going nuts. What the fuck are they doing? They’re partying! [Laughs]
I live in a relatively woodsy area for L.A., and I go and check out all kinds of shit. The lizards are doing push-ups everywhere. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a lizard do a push-up, but they do these crazy planks. Lizards are the fucking kings of planking. [Laughs] I wonder if the Lizard King was good at planking. I mean, it seems like he probably had a six-pack. Later on, he gave up the planking a little bit, but he was definitely still rotund but svelte.
Strong but soft.
Exactly. [Laughs]. That’s kind of what I’m going for these days.
If you could buy a voodoo doll of any one person, who would it be of?
Uhh… probably of myself. [Laughs] And I think you knew that I was going to answer this way when you asked me that question.
I would make myself do some sweet shit, and then it would happen. I would put the voodoo doll in a planking position, and then I would just automatically have a six pack.
I just bought a pull-up bar, because I’ve been having this recurring dream that I can do infinite pull-ups.
How many pull-ups can you do at the moment?
Probably like one – I haven’t set it up yet. [Laughs] But I unwrapped it, and I’m looking at it right now.
How does King Tuff stay fit on tour?
Oh you know, loading the gear. [Laughs] I do a few reps with my Marshall [amp].
I’ve heard that you’re a big fan of Lester Bangs. What’s your favorite piece or review by him?
I really like the one that he did about Kraftwerk. Did you read that one? It’s not even really a review; he just kind of goes to one of their shows, and he’s talking about them backstage. The way he writes is the way that they talk – it was just hilarious. [Speaks in German accent] “We do not let people take pictures of us! We have our own photographers, because we are paranoid.” [Laughs]
I saw them play last year in L.A. at one of their 3-D concerts, and it was fucking sick. And I’ve got those 3-D glasses with me right here.
Do you ever wear 3-D glasses to do normal shit?
You know, I have, but you start to see things you don’t want to see. You gotta be careful. Spirits can slip through when things are divided into two dimensions. [Laughs]
What are you most looking forward to in 2015?
We’re going down to Brazil and doing some shows with Mr. J Mascis in May, and I’ve always wanted to go down there, so that’s pretty exciting for me. I think there’s a couple of shows – it’s in one town I’ve never heard of that starts with a G, and I don’t know how to pronounce it. But there might be a Sao Paulo show as well. We’re still working it out, I think.