It’s Wednesday morning, and Kyle Thomas is wandering through the streets of Highland Park. “Some guy just walked by me in a tinfoil hat playing a melodica,” he tells me nonchalantly, then pauses. “That kind of thing is normal around here.”
As the frontman and mastermind behind King Tuff, Thomas has made quick work of his Los Angeles transition. Just two years ago, the garage rocker was living across the country in his hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, population 12,000, and flip-flopping between stints in freak folk act Feathers, punk project Happy Birthday, and sludge metal band Witch (alongside Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis). But ask Thomas, and he’ll tell you: King Tuff has always been his number one.
As the band’s lone songwriter and only permanent member, Thomas makes music that speaks to its architect. His self-titled sophomore release (and first for Seattle mega-label Sub Pop) is bubbly and brash, chock-full of brazenly catchy punk riffs, affectionately snotty lyrics, and a few surprisingly breezy AM radio–channeling ballads. (See the wide-eyed and dreamy “Unusual World,” for starters.)
This Wednesday, King Tuff makes their Santa Barbara debut at Muddy Waters Café. Below, we chat with Thomas about pets, hypnosis, and why he loves L.A., tinfoil hats and all.
What prompted you to end Happy Birthday and start doing King Tuff full-time? Over time, certain people don’t want to go on tour, and that can easily break up a band. [King Tuff] is a way for me to keep playing under the same name. I can always have different people and not have to change the band name every time. That’s the easy answer. It’s also the thing that just seems most natural. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Is it daunting being the one in charge? No, it’s relieving! I love collaborating with people, but I also really love working by myself. With this past album, I worked with a producer for the first time, which was a whole different experience. I’d like to do that again because I feel like it really paid off.
What did he bring to the album? Well, my specific producer [Bobby Harlow], I don’t think there’s anyone like him. He really put his whole heart into it and all of his time. He was completely OCD about it, and I don’t think I could find another producer to do that. He also brought out the softer songs that I probably wouldn’t have put on there. It probably would have been more of a straightforward rock album the whole time. He put more time into the record than I did in some ways.
What was your plan for those softer tracks? I don’t know. Those are some of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written, but it’s scary to put songs like that out because people are used to my live shows, which are loud and rock and people are jumping around. It sucks, but you always think about what people are going to think about it, even though you should just make the art and put it out in the world and not give a fuck.
Do you think about that stuff a lot more now that you’re signed to a big label? I think as far as the next album; I have a pretty clear picture of what it needs to be like. But I’m just going to not think about it anymore. I’m going to try and get hypnotized to try and not think about anything anymore.
Hypnotized? Yeah, I got hypnotized last night to try and get rid of my allergies. I think I need to do it a few times, though. I have terrible allergies, especially to cats. And everyone has a cat.
Why is that? Everyone’s lonely.
But, why not dogs? I don’t know! I love dogs. I think dogs are way smarter. Maybe I can be the dog spokesman for the rock world. There are a lot of cat people making rock music. I want to start talking about dogs, bro.
Do you think you’ll stay in Los Angeles a bit longer? Yeah. It feels like home to me now. Vermont will always be my home in my heart, but I really love L.A.
What attracted you to the city? It was kind of unexplainable. Magnetic force? I dunno. I never wanted to move anywhere, really. I just waited until it was the right time and I knew where I should go. It was partly meeting a lot of awesome people out here and establishing a second family of friends in L.A. That had a lot to do with it. I’m from a cold part of the world, so if I was going to move somewhere, I wanted it to be different so I didn’t have to deal with that anymore.
You’ve got 24 hours in L.A. What do you do? Sit next to a palm tree and meditate with it.
King Tuff plays Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) on Wednesday, December 12, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 966-9328 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info.