King Tuff basically wrote the book on surviving in the garage rock scene. Actually, it was probably more of a Crayon-scribbled comic book that took about several years to make. Sizzling quietly under the mainstream radar before Sub Pop scooped him up in 2012, the Vermont native born Kyle Thomas already had the knack for putting out rambunctious rock songs at a break neck pace. Years of living the lo-fi dream and working with the right people (namely, his friends) turned him into an indie savant that just needed a little extra production value and a real tour budget to spread his gospel of rock anthem ridiculousness to crowds all over the world (including his first late night appearance on Conan last month).
Linking up with Burger Records in 2013 only helped matters once they offered to press a cassette version if his 2008 LP Was Dead. Like most bands charmed by the Burger boys, Tuff inevitably signed with the Fullerton-based label. He even squeaks down to OC from his new hometown of LA every so often. This week, armed with material from his newly released album Black Moon Spell (produced by longtime collaborator Bobby Harlow), King Tuff rides into the Constellation Room once again this Wednesday to bestow more fist-pumping guitar solos, onstage antics, and overall Tuff-ness upon us this time around. We recently caught up before the show to talk about the new album.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): How did you first come into contact with Burger Records?
King Tuff: Sean [Bohrman] just called me out of the blue one day back when I was still living in Vermont. He'd somehow got a hold of an old pressing of my album Was Dead and he called me up and asked me if I wanted to do it as a cassette. I wasn't opposed to it. At the time I'd never heard of Burger, it was still early on when they were just starting. A couple weeks later, I got a care package from them with a bunch of crazy drawings and all of their tapes. Then I ended up meeting them at South by Southwest and they were just wild characters, especially Lee [Rickard]. They made an impression on me and I started doing more and more stuff with them. When I moved to LA it seemed people were really starting to latch on to what they were doing.
Do you see their influence when you travel nowadays?
It's everywhere. We just got back from Europe and there's definitely fans over there who sport Burger shirts. And in other parts of the world, Southern California is like their dream land. People just look at it as this crazy scene. And it is…it doesn't exist anywhere else like it does here.
How would you describe the OC music scene to other touring acts as someone who plays here often.
I think it's by far one of the best places, if not the best for rock music in the world right now. There's all these bands living down here, so it's kind of a crazy moment in time. I think that this area's always been good for that. All kinds of punk came out of here, the original stuff and the '90s stuff. So it makes sense that it's still going strong here.
Did most of the songs come to you pretty quickly for Black Moon Spell?
This one has been sort of different from the others. In the past it's always been about writing a ton of songs and picking the best ones. For this one, when we recorded, pretty much everything ended up on the album. There's only a few that didn't quite make it. This one was written in the studio so there were more people involved. The producer Bobby [Harlow] had more of a hand in the songwriting process.
Did you also have someone else choose the title for the album as well?
It was actually our friend Mike Wartella, who is a cartoonist. He just texted us the title and we kinda went with it and it turned into this thing that we kinda got behind. So it was this random thing that kind of grew out of that.
Did you experience any happy accidents when it came to recording this album?
I kind of think of the whole thing as a happy accident. We didn't really know what we were doing the whole time until it was mixed. A lot of the songs went through a lot of changes where we'd almost write whole new songs on top of the original ones. We definitely worked them to the bone until them got into some sort of listenable state. It was a weird album from beginning to end. I almost felt completely not in control of any of it.
I've noticed you have a weird guitar style. How did you develop it?
It's been a lot of factors. I never took lessons so that probably brought out my individual style because I didn't have someone telling me how to do it in the beginning. I don't play it the proper way, I only use two fingers on the fretboard. Over the years I've worked with great musicians from folk to jazz and kinda picked up on these weird bits and pieces of techniques. So it's a culmination of all these weird little things.
Is there something about the aesthetic of ridiculousness in rock music that appeals to you in your stage show, songwriting, etc?
Yeah, the whole thing is ridiculous. I think rock music should be ridiculous. All the classic bands you love are all ridiculous in some way. Then everything got so serious in the past 10 years, people trying to be too cool or nonchalant. But rock is supposed to be weird, it's supposed to be fun and ridiculous. So I just try to embrace those parts of it.
Any ridiculousness on the set of the recent music video you shot for "Headbanger"?
The whole damn thing. Me wearing a fur coat with no shirt on underneath. You'll see when it comes out.