King Tuff

by Dan MacIntosh

King Tuff is the stage name for Kyle Thomas. We meet him at the FYF Fest in Los Angeles, where he rocks a scruffy stoner look, topped off with a well-worn baseball cap.

Underneath that casual veneer is a serious pop songwriter specializing in a kind of modern garage rock. When you listen to the man talk about his music, you quickly realize he has both high standards and lofty artistic goals.

Except for a jet fighter flying overhead at the start of this outdoor interview, nothing could stop Kyle (King Tuff) for talking – and talking passionately – about his music.
[The sound of a jet fighter roars overhead]

Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I didn't count on that. I was prepared for music, but I wasn't prepared for planes.

King Tuff: Whoa.

Songfacts: Maybe you can start by taking me through the process of how you write songs. Do you come up with a riff, does that lead to a song?

King: It's always different for me. Sometimes I write lyrics and they sit around in my notebook for a while, and I'll have a bit of a song and I'll just look through the notebook to see if I have lyrics that fit. Other times - which is the best - is when I get an idea for a song title and I instantly write all the lyrics and all the music.

Songfacts: So the title is the most important part?

King: A lot of times a title will inspire the whole song. And I can just do it all that way.

Songfacts: Let's talk about some of your favorite songs from the new album. Do you have songs that when you play them, you look forward to in the set?

King: Yeah. I really like playing the first track, "Anthem." What else is really fun... "Baby Just Break" is a lot of fun.

Songfacts: You talked about that, how your guitar was breaking when you sang "Baby Just Break" early today at this festival.

King: Yeah. I dropped it. I was trying to do a move. Trying to do a guitar move and just being an idiot. And of course I snapped the head stock on it. I got it re-glued a couple of times, but now it's coming off, I can see it slowly... and I know that I'm just going to be playing a show and it's just going to go boiiiinnnnggggg!

Songfacts: I had that happen with shoes recently. I have one pair of dress shoes, so I only wear them when I have to wear to wear dress shoes. But I had to super glue them. And I just had this fear I'd get to some posh event and the heel of my shoe would come off. Are you looking forward to making a joke about it when it happens or do you think you're going to switch guitars before that?

King: I'm going to bring it to somebody and make sure that it doesn't happen.

Songfacts: Is it a favorite guitar?

King: It's really my only guitar and it's the one that I've written most of my songs on. It's like my baby.

Songfacts: Do you feel like it's your lucky guitar, like there are all those songs in the guitar?

King: Yeah. Well, I've heard somebody say once that every guitar has a few great songs in it. And I definitely feel like I've gotten some really good ones from my guitar. But I could get another guitar that could be just as magic.

Songfacts: Now, the song that you played ("Baby Just Break") that talked about breaking the rules. Was that inspired by a particular person?

King: That song was inspired by living. I was living in Vermont before I moved out here. It's about repetition and getting into a routine that's just not productive. I was in that mode, and then I just decided I had to throw everything out the window and jump into the void. So that's what that song is about, just breaking that fucking wall.

Songfacts: You seem very conflicted, because you've got an LA hat and you've got a Vermont pin on it.

King: I've got to represent both.

Songfacts: Is that like the duality of your nature?

King: Those are the two places I love. I'm from Vermont and I'll always love that, it'll always be my home. But I really found a love for LA.

Songfacts: And why did you come out to LA?

King: I don't know.

Songfacts: You don't know?

King: It was just the one place that called me to it.

Songfacts: You felt it calling you?

King: Yeah.

Songfacts: How would you describe that call?

King: Well, just the people that I met and the relationships that I was developing with people out here. And just knowing that I had to leave and this was the place that was the one that kept coming up again and again in my mind.

Songfacts: And this FYF festival kind of expresses the vibrant music scene that we have here?

King: Yeah. It's awesome. This is the first time I've been to FYF. So it's cool.

Songfacts: Have you done Coachella?

King: No. I've been there but I haven't played yet.

Songfacts: This is kind of like Coachella without the two hour drive. It's pretty nice.

King: It's pretty chill, at least for the artists. I've just been sitting on the couch all day. (Laughing)

Songfacts: Well, the sound of your music, what I like about it is, it's contemporary, but I hear a lot of British Invasion and that kind of thing. It's almost as if you're channeling Tom Petty sometimes. Are those some of your inspirations, some of those guys?

King: I really love Tom Petty, I always have. Pure American rock and roll. But it's got really powerful messages in it. They're like anthems. That's what I've always been drawn to. The Beatles, too, huge influence. Probably my favorite band of all time. But then I also love a lot of modern music, like modern Top 40 radio. I just love hits. I've got to know all the hits all the time.

Songfacts: So on your iPod you probably have have Katy Perry.

King: I've got some Nicki Minaj, I got Lil Wayne. I got "Call Me Maybe." I've got the hits. Because I'm interested in hit songwriting. That's what has always been my focus is trying to create perfect pop songs in the most compact amount of time that are exciting the whole time.

Songfacts: And that's a skill, too. Because I know a lot of times people look down on pop music as being disposable. And then there's real serious music. But writing the perfect pop song, wasn't that what Phil Spector was all about?

King: All those classic Motown songs. Every classic song, that's what I'm talking about. It's just the pop songwriting. And you want to be able to listen to it over and over again, and get it stuck in your head and sing along to it. I like a lot of music that you can't necessarily do that to, but that's what's closest to my heart is that kind of song.

Songfacts: So when you're writing songs, are you thinking of in a perfect universe this would be a Top 10 song?

King: My writing career, my music career has felt like that the whole time. I'm like, 'this is a goddamn hit song right here.' There's no way it's going to be a hit song in this world, for whatever reason. But I think I could I think I will write a hit song, actually. I might not be the one to perform it. I want to get into writing for other people. But I know I can do it.

Songfacts: What do you think are the elements of a great pop song?

King: The vocal is the main element, and it has to have a great melody, but maybe have something a little curious in it. And obviously something should connect with the listener. Probably something in the lyrics that people can connect with.

Songfacts: Tell me about the song "Anthem." What is that about?

King: It's kind of like a reverse National Anthem. It says, "Pledge allegiance to the blood in the shed."

Songfacts: What is the dynamic of the band? Do you collaborate with your band members when you're writing songs?

King: I have in my other bands. I've written a lot of collaborative stuff, like my last band, Happy Birthday, I was writing with the two other people in that band. And then I was in a old band with eight people in it, and there was four or five songwriters in that band, all really weird, interesting songwriters. And we would collaborate. It was really awesome, so cool. But this project has mostly just been me doing everything.

Songfacts: Is this your main project now?

King: It's definitely the one that was my first project and it's always been the one that's been me, whereas the other ones were writing with other people and it was more of a group feeling. But this one has always just felt like me. And over the years people have asked me about it and asked me when I was going to do it. And I'd be like, "I don't know." But I just waited for the right time to come and.

Songfacts: Who are your favorite guitarists?

King: I like Sid Barrett a lot. I like the guitar players that are raw, not technically perfect.

Songfacts: Are you a Neil Young fan?

King: I love Neil Young. I like people that can shred and play fast and stuff, but there's got to be something human about it. Not like going into Guitar Center and checking out all the shit. I love Greg Sage from the Wipers. He's got really his own style. I like soloists that play more melodic lines - stuff you can sing along to. Jimmy Page is like that. You can sing along to a lot of his stuff.

December 13, 2012
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