The Top 50 Albums Of 2012: #20 King Tuff
King Tuff ‘King Tuff’ was listed at #20 in The Fly’s Top 50 Albums of 2012. Read the list here.
“I don’t remember which bed I was in, let me think…”
Kyle Thomas is trying to recall the specific duvet he was under the last time we spoke. He removes his baseball cap and scratches his head with a dirty finger. It sounds like someone rubbing a cheese grater on a dirty carpet. Prompted with a few more details of our conversation (golden showers, his bassist pretending to swim like a dog), something flickers in his eyes.
“Yes, I was at home half-asleep, I remember!” On the other end of a transatlantic phone call, Kyle Thomas was full of croaky jokes and hissing laughter, he’s much the same in person, only captivating to watch. His eyes bulge and dart around as if trying to jump off his face, his nose crinkles and his mouth does its best to keep up. King Tuff are in London to play songs from Kyle’s second album under the name he made up as a teenager; a self-titled mess of stadium rock choruses, drool- stained guitar lines and cartoonish lyrics.
A week before we meet, Kyle was confronted by two frontman-hugging stage invaders and a room-wide mass of pogoing bodies. It was the first time King Tuff had played these songs in Europe and the crowd knew every word. ‘King Tuff ’ came out to little fanfare, but its patchwork of tightly wound songwriting, toilet humour and stories of romantic, lonely weirdness was instantly engaging for some. It’s not an album to merely appreciate; it’s one of those rare records that inspires crazed devotion or nothing at all. On the surface, Kyle Thomas appears a scruffy grown up punk, playing big riffs and singing about being weird. But ‘King Tuff’ is a deep, precise and deliberate album, built on songwriting with a radio-friendly sensibility and, principally, the singular vision of a wildly talented artist.
“It’s cool that I’m in the Top 50, and that the crowds here have been so crazy,” Kyle says, “but I think I know why people like the record. It’s the songs, people connect to lyrics they can hear and sing along to, that get stuck in your head.”
He’s right. But as well as that, ‘King Tuff ’ is an album that tells a story of a man who walks around at night barking, gets high alone, falls in and out of love and generally inhabits a more unusual world than the rest of us. “The idea was to pick a collection of songs that weren’t just the same thing over again, to give it variety, a nice arc and to tell a story; to be an adventure to listen to,” Kyle says of an album produced by The Go’s Bobby Harlow and recorded with Keith Lemon lookalike and bassist ‘Magic Jake’. “It’s about embracing the imperfections. That’s one of my favourite things about music, the way people look, everything. Stuff is so clean nowadays; you don’t get that human, strange element anymore.”
‘King Tuff ’ is full of tics, itches and rough edges, its affectations are so prominent that the impeccable quality of the production can’t cover them. The barking noises on ‘Stranger’, the whispered “The place you gotta go to change, is deeper into the strange” on ‘Unusual World’ (Kyle’s favourite lyrics on the album), the whined lines about daddy long legs and Frankenstein on ‘Keep On Movin’ – they’re all unavoidably visible like bogies on a toilet wall.
Each song has a story. The character in riff heavy punk‘n’roller ‘Stranger’ (“I’m in the shadows I’m on the outside, and I walk the streets in the middle of the night, everywhere I go I am a stranger, and all I do is bark”) is Kyle himself. “Writing the album I was spending a lot of time by myself. I’d be up ‘til five or six in the morning, strolling as the sun came up. That blueish hour is one of my favourite times. It’s very romantic and my creativity comes when I’m alone,” he croaks with wacky intonation.
Then there’s ‘Alone And Stoned’, the one that sounds like Krusty The Clown’s high school punk band. “I’m saying it’s good as well as questioning why people do it. Obviously some of the greatest times I’ve had are just listening to music getting my mind blown, and weed definitely helps with that. But other times it makes you feel terrible and wanna die, you know?” he asks, now sounding like a creepy children’s entertainer.
Kyle’s voice changes a lot, in both conversation and on record. People think it’s affected, put on. But his larynx has been wobbling between sleazy whine, dopey drawl and buttersoft croon ever since he can remember.
“I was always making noise when I was a kid. When I started singing it just happened, my voice changes with every song, the music dictates it and I honestly can’t help it!” he squawks, eyes popping.
After spending months with Kyle’s skewed, classic album and an hour in his company, there’s one question still unasked. Does this loveable pop-worshipping painter, songwriter and perennial misfit think what he does is weird? Does he really live separately from everyone else?
The answer is expectedly open-ended.
“I feel like people think I’m weird, and I take joy from the weirder side of life. But you can talk to me and it’s not like you’re talking to a crazy person. Is it?”