KYLE THOMAS, a.k.a. King Tuff, reigns supreme as garage rock's monarch of madness and sleazy shredding. Even as a kid, The Boy Who Would be King was crafting contagious pop songs, though it'd take some time until they were dressed up with snotty overdrive, unabashed '70s sheen, and absurdist, mythical allusions. His discography, including his latest, 2014's Black Moon Spell (Sub Pop Records), has been (ahem) instrumental in making guitar solos cool again, and he's coming down South to tear it up in the name of Savannah Stopover.
So you're heading out on tour tomorrow?
King Tuff: Oh god, am I?!
That's what they say!
I'm not ready!
Do you have any pre-tour rituals?
I'll figure it out. It's mostly just pacing back and forth.
You've been playing forever, right? Do you remember your first guitar?
I learned to play on my dad's Stratocaster. He bought one one day and I kind of picked it up when I was 7-8.
I see you've been playing SGs more recently.
Yeah, I've always bought my own SGs.
Why? Heavier tone?
'Cause it's got horns. It's horny.
Your parents seem really supportive. Did they play anything that influenced you growing up?
There still my biggest fans. My dad has always been a big hard rock and psych rock fan. We had all kind of records growing up—Blue Cheer, Hendrix, all that stuff. He stays up all night and just listens to heavy jams.
Was there a band or record that was one you both really liked? Did he take you to any shows?
He took me to a lot of my early concerts. He took me to my first concert.
Who was it?
(Laughs) Corrosion of Conformity.
Oh, man! How old were you?
I was 12.
What was that like?
It was fucking crazy! There was a guy in the pit swinging a chain. That was my first impression of mosh pits. I thought in all mosh pits, there's someone swinging a chain.
I heard that the really early stuff you wrote was very Smiths-y.
I was very into The Smiths. It was poppy – even more poppy than it is now. It was also very it was more surf-y and Modern Lovers-y.
Yeah. It was more romantic.
You recorded for a long time by yourself on an 8-track, right?
Yeah, same kind of 8-track that a lot of San Francisco bands have used. It was getting to be kind of the personal home recording Holy Grail – the Tascam 388 8-track.
But you were in-studio for Black Moon Spell. And you worked with Bobby Harlow again, who did your self-titled album.
Yeah. I wasn't even there when they mixed it.
Was that stressful, not having a hand in it?
I knew that he would do it and it would be good. I kind of like that part of it – it's fun to do that – but he wouldn't let me be there.
You just like, weren't allowed? Why?
He's an interesting man.
He's a wild one.
You seem to like the wild ones. Did you discuss the sound, your vision, beforehand?
Yeah. We were definitely both completely immersed in the writing and the recording. We did it over a few months. He was there, the band, Jake and Gary, were there to do the original basic tracks, but once those were done, it was just me and Bobby.
Burger Records seems like a close group.
They definitely played a huge part in creating my fan base over the years, first by putting out the Was Dead cassette and getting that out there to a lot of people who didn't know who I was. I wasn't really touring that music at the time, or even thinking about it. They kind of pushed me to come back to the King Tuff thing and focus on that; they had enthusiasm for it.
What was it like growing up [in Brattleboro, VT]? Were there people playing music?
Yeah – it's a very small scene, so the punks kind of find each other pretty quickly. All my friends were musicians growing up and we came up writing songs together. I grew up with Matt from Matt and Kim – that's who I did that first tour with. And a bunch of other people have come out of there; it's pretty interesting for such a small town.
You wrote a lot in the studio for the new record. Did you have sketches of songs when you went in, or was it from the ground up?
A few of them were loose ideas, but it really kind of grew out of recording it. That was the first album I'd done that way. Before, I'd already demoed all the songs, so that was kind of the first time I'd done it that way, which was kind of stressful, because you don't know if anything's good or not. You're shooting in the dark. It's also exciting, because when you demo stuff, it always has this magic. The first time you record something, it always has a special something to it, and you try to recreate something about the demo that you can't capture when you get the first energy down on tape.
So you think you'll keep going in this heavier, glammy direction for your next record?
The next will probably be totally different. I'm going to go back to working by myself the way I used to do it so I can find some new zones on my own and see where that takes me.