King Tuff

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King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas is an in-demand guitarist and producer who worked with artists like J. Mascis, Hand Habits, and Hunx while crafting a series of album that show off his encyclopedic knowledge of glitzy, glammy rock & roll. Initial records like 2008′s Was Dead grabbed sounds and hooks from power pop, the British Invasion, frizzy psychedelia, and punk, while sounding like they were cooked under the heat of a mini-mart heat lamp. By the time of 2018;’s The Other, Thomas had tired of the party animal persona and sought to explore his inner self, while scaling back the noise, a process he continued with the help of Sasami Ashworth on 2023′s Smalltown Stardust, an almost guitar-less, poignantly nostalgic indie pop record.
Adopting the moniker in his teens as a play on his initials and the name King Tut, Thomas made his recording debut as Tuff in 2006, when he self-released an album via CD-R between playing with freaky folk revivalists Feathers and J. Mascis’ stoner metal band Witch. His official full-length debut, Was Dead, arrived in October 2008 on the Colonel label, and introduced his anthemic lo-fi songs to the masses. Touring with Hunx & His Punx and Witch and releasing an album with his off-kilter power pop band Happy Birthday, put the Tuff project on the back burner until 2011, when a split single with Hex Dispensers arrived. A year later, he issued the stand-alone single “Wild Desire” via Suicide Squeeze before making the jump to Sub Pop. They released 2012′s King Tuff, which found Thomas expanding his musical palette to show his fondness for retro-pop ’50s rock & roll, ’60s pop, and ’70s glam. He returned in 2014 with third album Black Moon Spell, a fuzzy eruption of glam rock and funky garage pop produced by the Go’s Bobby Harlow.
Worn down from years of touring and portraying what he saw more and more as a character whose rock & roll exploits were hard to live up to, Thomas decided to get back to basics, writing introspective songs that would hold up to solo shows on acoustic guitar, and self-producing the material in his home studio. While more thoughtful, the still colorful and psychedelic The Other saw release in 2018. It featured a cast of supporting characters that included Ty Segall on drums and Mikal Cronin on saxes, as well as background vocalists Kevin Morby and Jenny Lewis. When back home in Los Angeles after touring during the early part of 2019, Thomas began writing a new set of songs that revolved around memories of coming of age in his hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont. When it came time to record the songs he turned to housemate Sasami Ashworth for help. The two (along with Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy) formed a small artists colony and worked on each other’s albums at Thomas’s home studio during the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thomas appeared on SASAMI’s 2021 album Fun House and the 2022 Hand Habits’ release Fun House. For the 2023 King Tuff record Smalltown Stardust, Thomas and Ashworth (who played on and co-wrote most of the songs) created a tapestry of cellos, violins, keys, and vocal harmonies that surrounded the nostalgic, comforting lyrics with a warm glow of sound. ~ Chrysta Cherrie & Tim Sendra