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The Key to King Tuff’s Success: Only Working with Maniacs and Having Nothing Better to Do

The guitar virtuoso talks about how living in Vermont led him to shred.
October 2, 2014, 1:54pm

Photo: Dan Monick

Rare as it may be in the current state of the music industry, there are times when an artist surfaces who is something of a prodigy. After the release of his latest record, Black Moon Spell, it can no longer be argued that King Tuff, a.k.a. Kyle Thomas, is not one of these people. Evolving his style with each record, Black Moon Spell is the culmination of King Tuff’s potential. The hooks are catchier, the riffs more invasive, and the overall song structuring is stronger than ever. Black Moon Spell starts off solid and only gets better with each subsequent listen. While it contains elements of the dreamy psych-folk style of Was Dead, and isn’t a far stretch from the more upbeat pop rock follow-up S/T, Black Moon Spell features a sound that is uglier, more aggressive. Black Moon Spell is the darkest and most dynamic of King Tuff’s records; cascading points of reference, styles, and influences come together to craft something entirely of its own.

Through a bit of creative revisionist history, people have kind of treated King Tuff as an overnight success—with his solo debut LP Was Dead released in 2008. 2008 may be the year that King Tuff broke, but it followed years of hard work without as much recognition. Was Dead was written, recorded, and self-distributed by Thomas long before the first pressing on the Tee Pee records imprint, Colonel Records, was released. In addition, Thomas has toured and released records as part of the pysch-folk band Feathers, psychedelic stoner rock super group Witch, and Happy Birthday. Since 2008, King Tuff has been nonstop touring, writing, and recording. In light of Black Moon Spell’s release, we talked with Kyle Thomas about the record, the evolution of King Tuff from solo project to a full band, and, most importantly, about his love of working with maniacs.

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Noisey: How long after the S/T was it until you began working on Black Moon Spell?
Kyle Thomas: Two years, I guess. The S/T came out and I just toured for the next couple of years, and then I got off tour and we just went into the studio and started writing and recording.

Black Moon Spell then was written with a full band, as opposed to just a solo creative process?
Yeah, I had some ideas but then we just kind of hashed them out.

Would you say that you prefer the current dynamic, or do you think that you’d like to take it back to a solo effort?
I like working with all different kinds of people, to keep it fresh. So, I don’t know what the next one will be like, but it will probably be different.

The album feels a lot darker, almost sludgier, than the S/T and Was Dead. Was this a natural progression or something that was intentional?
I definitely have always kind of wanted to go more that direction with it. I have at least been thinking about that for quite a few years. Just bringing it at more of an equal balance—with the dark and the light.

What track stands out the most for you?
I really like “Handbanger” a lot. It’s kind of the sound I was going for on this record—really the vision I had came through with that one.

I can’t help but think that the song “I Love You Ugly” sticks out the most. It doesn’t really resemble anything else on the record, yet it fits in perfectly with the rest of the tracks. It is really unique. At what point in the writing process did that song arise?
That one came about after the record was already finished. I just was recording some random stuff, and we just kind of threw it in there. It added another dimension to the experience, so we kept it.
And it was pretty brilliant that it comes right after “Beautiful Thing,” a funny sort of contradiction: you have one song praises beauty and the next praising ugliness.
Yeah, I didn’t even really realize that until later. It’s interesting when you make an album and then noticing the things that you didn’t even do on purpose.

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The happy accidents.
Yeah, those are always my favorite parts.

Along those lines, something about the record that really works, is the flow from song to song. It feels a little like it was written with the order in mind. Was this a conscious effort during the writing and recording process?
There was no thought beforehand of how it was going to be laid out. And I actually didn’t have a say really in the sequencing of the tracks, that was all done by the producer (Bobby Harlow) and our friend Mike Wartella. I wasn’t even at the studio. They put the whole thing together. They lost their minds—they stayed in the dark studio a week straight, not eating, and they just went deep within and came out with that. And then, I couldn’t really argue with it when it was done.

So as the records have progressed, your authorial claim has loosened a bit, from the complete control of Was Dead. Is this something that you are happy with, relinquishing your control?
You know, I like doing it both ways. It is hard for me to give up the control, obviously. It is really hard having someone craft your vision for you. It can be really frustrating, but it can also be really rewarding. No matter what you just have to have maniacs, you have to work with maniacs no matter what. That’s the key. I only work with maniacs.

With the release of Black Moon Spell, it is all the more clear that your work doesn’t adhere to any sort of formula. You have a very eclectic style that is constantly evolving. Do you think that growing up in Vermont, in a more secluded area, had a major effect on your unique identity?
For sure. A big part of it is having absolutely nothing else to do. It is really boring. I definitely wasn’t exposed to as much as I would have been if I had lived in a city.

What is the importance of the record to you; what are you trying to say with the release?
It is not trying to be anything other than a rock album that you can fucking blast your head off with. That’s all it is really. I think the world is lacking that right now.

Joe Yanick practices his scales everyday. Follow him on Twitter - @joeyanick