With his first three albums as King Tuff, songwriter Kyle Thomas established himself as a modern master of riffy, debauched garage-pop. On The Other, his surprising new record, Thomas ditches the rock-excess posturing, opting instead for a widescreen approach that reflects deep-cut influences from the past half-century. Flagpole caught up with Thomas to find out what inspired him to shake things up. Here are three specific experiences that His Tuffness says played a role in his musical leap.
Building a Home Studio
“I knew from the start that I wanted to go back to recording myself for this record,” says Thomas, who self-produced The Other—his first time behind the boards since his debut, Was Dead. “I wanted to do it the way I used to when I was younger, playing most of the instruments and experimenting in my own little late-night world—only with better tools and knowledge picked up along the way.”
The Other is a studio album—more so than any other King Tuff LP to date. But it doesn’t feel cloistered. Sonically, it marries the warmth and sparkle of ’70s-era glam with the digital wooziness of modern psych.
“It took about a year to buy everything I needed and get it all set up, but once I did, I knew instantly it was right,” says Thomas. “I felt so inspired by all this gear that I had no idea how to use. I would spend hours just turning knobs and playing with sounds, and I’d emerge wild-haired, and a whole day would have passed without my knowing!
“I find any new tool or instrument to be the most inspiring thing,” he adds. “Each instrument holds its own songs, and you have to play around with them to get the songs out. So, really, it was a time of discovery making this album, which is also a theme in the lyrics. I feel like I’ve still only scratched the surface of what my studio is capable of, and that’s a very exciting thing.”
Thomas, whose all-encompassing grasp of rock and roll was evident on his previous records, set out to expand his horizons while making The Other.
“My ears had gotten pretty sick of electric guitars at that point, and I was constantly seeking out new sounds in my daily listening,” he says. “I was listening to more jazz, funk, soul, ethnic and experimental music.
“I’m very much a collector nerd, and records are like drugs to me,” he continues. “It’s a total addiction. I just love music, and there’s so much out there to be discovered—it’s endless, really.”
King Tuff’s new album flirts with proto-disco (“Psycho Star”), cosmic twang (“No Man’s Land”) and sunkissed electropop (“Raindrop Blue”), with each element providing a glimpse into Thomas’ musical Rolodex.
“It’s kind of like having a stack of old National Geographics to cut up and make a collage out of,” Thomas says of his ever-growing collection. “I just love seeing all my records when I walk in the door, knowing there’s so much possibility that lies within. It’s like a library of alien information stored on shiny black UFOs. I’m broke because of it, but it’s so worth it.”
When he got stuck during the making of his latest album, Thomas says, he put down his instruments and headed out the door.
“I’ve always found inspiration from taking long walks,” he says. “Something about the rhythm of walking gives me all kinds of ideas. Ideally, I’d love to have some sort of studio that I could control with my brain while walking, but i’m not sure how that would work.”
The Other moves at the head-clearing pace of a thousand mid-afternoon strolls.
“It’s just important to take a step back while you’re working on something and get perspective, and sitting in the studio all day is definitely not good for ye ol’ beach bod,” jokes Thomas. “I have this walk I like to do that I call the Megaloop. If I’m stuck on something, I just go do the Megaloop, and the problem is usually solved when I get back.”
Ever the sage, Thomas stresses the importance of cardiovascular fitness vis-à-vis the creative process. “I’m actually developing a new genre alternative to rock ’n’ roll called walk ’n’ stroll, so keep your ears open for that in the future.”
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