King Tuff Was Dead, but Now He Feels Like a Kid Again

Kyle Thomas recently purchased a yellow coat. It’s a Swedish military snow parka, and he loves it. “Just having the yellow on me, man,” he says. “It’s so good.” He got some suits made too, which make him feel like a “bedazzled motherfucker.” For the 35-year-old songwriter and multi-instrumentalist better known as King Tuff, it’s a brightly colored experiment as he grows up. “I think as you get older, you can look one of two ways—you can look classy or insane,” he says. “I think those are the two ways to gracefully be an old person. I’m just kind of seeing if I can combine the two.”

Thomas has been crafting scuzzy, catchy power-pop for well over a decade. He’s been a fixture in the grime-coated West Coast indie rock scene, playing bass alongside Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis in Witch and forming a loose collective of prolific guitar masterminds, trading in and out of bands with Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin. Was Dead, Thomas’s second album as King Tuff, came out in 2008 and became a cult hit, passed around for exorbitant amounts of money by indie kids in the know; Happy Birthday, the first and only record by his band of the same name, came out around the same time. By 2012, when his breakthrough LP King Tuff came out on Sub Pop, Thomas was a cult icon.

That status came with a certain aesthetic. He was, for a time, the personification of double-denim, his elbow-length hair held in place by a novelty baseball cap, a cut-off tee usually hanging off his torso, a wide grin across his face. King Tuff appeared to be a domestic beer-swilling party animal, a guy who made terrible decisions and didn’t care about the consequences, someone who’d wander into a 7-Eleven at 3 AM, buy an 18-rack, and walk out with all the greying pizza slices they had left under the bulb. On the solo-laden “Bad Thing,” a standout from King Tuff, Thomas seemed to revel in his devilish reputation: “Now I’m going rotten / I’m turning green / Cause I’m a bad, bad thing.”

None of this actually reflected Kyle Thomas though. He never drank much—the occasional beer, maybe—and, though he smoked his share of weed, he never touched anything harder. In the end, King Tuff became a character for Thomas to play. “It was just one of those things where I don’t think I ever meant to come across in that way,” he says. “I never was really a party animal or anything that people thought I was. The music and the way I look—people got ideas about me. And then after a while I was like, ‘this is kind of what people think of me and what they are expecting of me, and it’s not really who I am at all.'”

The Other—out now on Sub Pop—is the fifth full-length King Tuff album, and the first since 2014’s Black Moon Spell. It marks a new start for Thomas. The record opens with a six-minute title track, a gentle keyboard melody relaxing into a simple synthesizer as Thomas sings about searching for his soul, driving around with “No agenda, no master plan / No important dates.” He spends the next nine tracks coming to cosmic realizations over vintage psychedelia: “We don’t belong in this world,” “Death does not exist,” “Everybody’s going blind / In the neverending sunshine.”

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