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Tuff Talk

Having cut his musical teeth with the freak folk band Feathers and stoner-rock icons Witch, King Tuff frontman Kyle Thomas has carved out a distinct musical niche as a melodic garage rocker. King Tuff's two albums – 2008's Was Dead and this year's King Tuff – combine gritty guitars with sharp, retro-leaning melodies and androgynous vocals. The recently expanded quartet make their Cleveland debut this week at Now That's Class.

You started King Tuff when you were a teenager living in Eastern Vermont. What made you want to start the band and what brought you back to it?

I had punk bands in high school, and then in my last year of high school I started taking songwriting more seriously and started writing songs that were more on the pop side of things. I was making lots of home recordings. That was the first King Tuff stuff. Over the years, I made those solo records and didn't do anything with them. They'd pop up every three years. I'd think about doing King Tuff again. Finally, it seemed to be the right thing to do.

When you were young, you worked in a thrift store. I know you bought a necklace that's become your good-luck charm, but did you get any good vinyl albums out of the place?

Yeah, totally. The one I remember the most is the GTOs, which was produced by Frank Zappa. It was this group of groupies. If you see the pictures inside, they're so cool. The songs are just them talking. It stands for "Girls Together Outrageously." I bought it because it just looked awesome. I bought it for like a dollar, and it's pretty rare, I guess.

You wrote both "Swamp of Love" and "Hit And Run" on piano.

I wrote those when I was subletting in Laurel Canyon. There was a cool vibe up there and a weird, mysterious sort of energy. It's beautiful. There's this totally fucked-up old piano there. I've never had a piano around before. There was one in my parents' house, but it didn't sound so good, so I never fucked with it. On this one, half the keys worked, and I don't know how to play piano. But you could get chords to sound so good, and you can't replicate it on guitar. I was having a good time playing that piano into the morning hours.

Did J. Mascis give you tips when you played with him in Witch? Not really.

He doesn't really talk much, though, does he?

Actually, he does talk a lot when he's comfortable. I was just doing my own thing with the band. He's definitely one of the best. One time, he bought a guitar when we were in the van. He was soloing the whole van ride. It was one endless solo, and it was all good. It never got bad. It was endless awesome. He was playing on one of those tiny cigarette-box amps. I was sitting in the back like, "Fuck you."


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