King Tuff has high standards

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Over the course of a conversation with no shortage of crazy diversions, one gets the feeling that there are other things Kyle Thomas would rather be discussing than the music he makes as King Tuff. That’s kind of surprising, given that his new Sub Pop release, King Tuff, is one of the most intriguing records of 2012, with the singer proving himself as adept at bubblegum-flavoured psychedelia (“Anthem”) as he is at country-slicked rockabilly (“Stranger”) and glam-spackled ’70s rock (“Bad Thing”).

The phone chat starts out with a three-minute discourse on vertigo, chiropractors, and partying to the point where puking on a pile of dirty dishes ends up being the only viable alternative to making it to a toilet.

“Oh, man, I don’t think I’ve even done that,” Thomas says of the hurling, adding with a laugh: “Oh, wait, actually I have.”

Things then swerve to Tiki-Ti, a tiny Los Angeles watering hole that’s Mecca for anyone obsessed with original-recipe tropical drinks. Raised in Vermont, where he skateboarded and played in punk bands with Matt Johnson from Brooklyn DIY champs Matt and Kim, Thomas hasn’t been to Tiki-Ti since settling in L.A., but he’s definitely intrigued.

“There’s been a lot of talk about tiki stuff lately,” he says with a demeanour best described as laid-back. “I just had some tiki drinks the other night. I honestly don’t know the name of what I had—my bartender friend made it for me. But it did come in one of those crazy glasses, and it was kind of pineapple-y and really, really good. I’ve been seeing tiki heads all over the place. It just seems like tiki is coming up a lot. And this place sounds like paradise in my mind.”

From there, the conversation pinballs from smoking (Thomas doesn’t) to the bomb shelter in his parents’ Vermont house (built by previous owners, and unfinished) to baseball (which he is great at but has trouble finding the time for).

There is also talk of touring, something King Tuff has done constantly over the past year. The group’s profile has been raised not just with the Sub Pop deal, but by the fact that Thomas has been part of a number of other projects, including Witch with J Mascis.

“I love shows, meeting people, and playing cool places and stuff,” he says. “But half the time you’re driving, and it’s hard for it to be a great time the whole time. You end up going places you don’t like, some places don’t treat you as well as others, or you end up sleeping somewhere shitty. But it’s all part of the job.”

That job isn’t always easy, mostly because of the standards that Thomas sets for himself. That nitpicking spilled over into his recording of King Tuff, which—explaining the album’s winningly fuzzed-out and retro-hazy vibe—was done not in a studio but in an abandoned high school in Detroit. That the album’s songs were slaved over during the mixing… Well, enough about all that stuff.

Let’s talk, instead, about obscure bands, which, in a refreshing change of pace, Thomas isn’t going to pretend that he enjoys half as much as the Beatles.

“When I was first getting into psychedelic ’60s records, I’d hunt down all the rare ones and the reissues that no one had ever heard of,” he says, pausing, before adding with an impish laugh: “But you know what? Most of the time that shit actually sucks. There’s a good reason no one has actually ever heard of it.”

King Tuff plays the Waldorf on Friday (December 7).

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