ARTICLE NATASHA STAGG
King Tuff, a.k.a. Kyle Thomas is an underground anomaly. I met him years ago, when he played guitar and sang for basically every Burger Records band, for Witch (with J Mascis), and for himself. His first solo record, Was Dead, which was pretty much done in 2003 but released in 2008, has always been an extremely rare find for record lovers—until now. In the age of MP3s, the King Tuff vinyl and cassette collection is in its highest demand, and Thomas can’t say no to his fans. He’s re-releasing the debut on Burger, and still selling plenty of 2012’s King Tuff, which made it to No. 2 on the CMJ charts.
June 2nd, five days after Was Dead is again available, we meet at the Bowery Ballroom before his New York show. Just to illustrate how popular King Tuff has become, halfway through the interview, I suggest we go outside to greet his fans. “I’ll get insecure,” Thomas pleads. “No one will be out there.” We stand in front of the venue for ten minutes before three teenaged girls walk up to us and ask King Tuff to sign some (and keep some) art they’ve made for him. For the next ten minutes, I watch these adorable girls giggle about how important he is to their lives and how he’s the most famous person they’ve ever met. The art (pictured above) is totally homegrown, and a pin that one of them wears displays a hand-painted King Tuff face. He signs the back of that one with a note, and draws a cartoon version of himself on the inkjet printout of a dandelion stock image wearing a crown (“King Tuft!” the artist exclaims).
Each drawing has a handwritten note on the back, which I don’t read, since they seem so painfully personal. Somehow King Tuff has cultivated a following of analog-loving indie girls, who buy disposable cameras and collect pins, T-shirts and records. In other words, he’s beat the almighty music industry’s downward trend by still selling merch and tickets. How does he do it? “Rock and roll.”
I think I saw you last when…
Kyle Thomas, a.k.a. King Tuff: We did karaoke.
That was really fun.
KT: And we stayed at that Beastie Boy’s house [laughs]. So this is for V Magazine?
KT: That’s that big-ass magazine?
“The biggest magazine in fashion.”
KT: Such a big magazine!
Do you live in L.A. now?
Are you a diva?
I didn’t know that about you. Do you have a crazy rider?
Do you have an assistant?
KT: No. Are you recording this?
So… Why are you re-releasing Was Dead on Burger Records?
KT: Because everybody was constantly asking me for it and I felt bad. It’s always been hard to get, even when it first came out.
Your type of music is the kind that people actually still buy.
KT: I should hope so. Rock and roll music: people want records. For me, it’s the whole thing—the package. I don’t get satisfaction from buying an MP3.
It’s harder to buy records if you live in New York. There’s no room for them, and there’s bed bugs. That’s like, their favorite place to hide.
KT: You got the bugs?
I gave them to [our mutual friend]. But he gave me scabies, so I was getting him back.
KT: I’ve heard so many people tell me that he gave them scabies.
But how many people got him back?
Do you ever see him in LA?
KT: I’ve been on tour for a while…
KT: Pretty much all year, since my record came out. It’s kinda scary. I’m like, sitting in the van and I think: I could die at any moment. I just need to survive this. The fucking tour manager is like, puking while he’s driving…
You have a tour manager that drinks?
KT: No. He just wasn’t feeling good. But he just kept going. Scottish. [A Bowery Ballroom employee walks by, saying “I gave up church to work this show! Oh hey, how are ya? I didn’t see you standing there.”] I love that guy, who’s he?
He’s always here, I love him too.
KT: I want him to be my tour manager.
Do you think he really gave up church?
Maybe he meant it in a metaphorical sense.
KT: The bar. Or the woods.
KT: The forest.
I thought you meant the bar called The Woods.
KT: Can’t say anything these days without it being the name of a bar.
Do you have to load out right away after the show?
KT: Oh yeah. And I have the heaviest fucking guitar case. My other one fell apart, and so I had to get, like, a flight case. It used to belong to the Alice Cooper Band, and I was like yeah, I want that, it’s got Alice Cooper stickers on it! And then I’m in Europe carrying it across a mile-long airport, like, “Fuck this case.” But I’m getting buff from it [flexes].
This tattoo on your bicep looks new.
KT: That’s my appreciation of butts.
When you flex, the butt gets cuter.
KT: That’s my style. I like big butts.
Do a lot of people with big butts come to your shows?
KT: There are just people with big butts everywhere, right? [laughs] I look at everyone’s butt.
Do you get in trouble for that?
KT: No. I mean, my girlfriend has the best butt around.
Are you still in a bunch of bands?
KT: Not really. I will do other shit, but this is the thing that I’ve done since I was a teenager.
What do you listen to?
KT: Friends’ bands, other Burger people… I gotta know what everyone’s doing so I can do it better [laughs]. I listen to top 40, old country, blues… I’m really into Roger Miller. [Sings from “My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died”] My alarm on my phone is going off.
That’s for pizza. Here it comes.
How was Australia?
KT: So we’re sitting at a stoplight, and it had tinted windows, and all of a sudden the window rolls down, and Steven Tyler is like, sitting where you are. I looked over, and I didn’t realize our window was down, and I instantly had the reaction to be like, “Steven Tyler!” I just screamed. And he was still looking forward, and then traffic started moving and he turned and looked deep into my eyes and gave me a peace sign.
How did he look?
KT: He looked awesome. I thought he looked awesome. Gary, our drummer, he looked over and thought, Oh there a weird old woman sitting over there, with like, plastic surgery.
Did he have a scarf on?
KT: He had like, forty scarves on.
Do you do your own Twitter and Instagram?
KT: Yeah, mostly.
Whose Twitter do you love? I love Frances Bean’s.
KT: I saw Frances Bean at a Blink 182 show. And she was with a guy who looked just like Kurt Cobain.
Why were you at a Blink 182 show?
KT: I love them. And my friends Matt and Kim were opening. I think it was two years ago. They also played with My Chemical Romance, who were amazing. [laughs]
They broke up.
KT: They didn't seem too happy backstage.
Not like you, dude!
Was Dead is out now on Burger Records