King Tuff on mint chip, Kevin Morby, and ancient pastries ahead of his April 3 show at recordBar

a man on a couch with a guitar

King Tuff. // Photo by Wyndham Garnett

Kyle Thomas has been performing indie rock as “King Tuff” for over two decades, along with fronting the band Witch and performing with The Muggers. Thomas sat down with The Pitch for a conversation about his favorite parts of playing KC ahead of his April 3 show at recordBar, where he’ll be stopping as part of his Smalltown Stardust Tour 2023 with support from Tchotchke.

The Pitch: Congratulations on the recent release of Smalltown Stardust. Where does the name of the album, its title song, and the tour you’re currently on come from?

King Tuff: The song itself and a lot of the songs on the record are referential to where I’m from, and a feeling of this sort of magic that I carry from there. I feel like that is part of my songwriting. There’s a lot of influence from that place in my songwriting, especially.

If you had to describe the new album as a flavor, a color, and an animal, what would you choose and why?

It’s probably a green mint chip. I’m gonna say it’s a bunny. Yeah. Because I read this thing with bunnies, and ever since I was a kid, I used to collect little stuffed rabbits and bunnies and whatnot. I’ve always felt a connection to the bunny. Whenever I see one out in the open, I follow it, which always leads me somewhere interesting. You gotta follow the rabbit.

You’ve been recording and performing as King Tuff for over a decade and have released over 20 albums and EPs. How would you say that your music has changed over time?

It’s gone through many phases. I first started using the name in 2001 or so. It just kind of changes with what I’m into at the time. Initially, when I first started writing songs and using that name, I was very into the Modern Lovers, The Smiths, Belle and Sebastian, and stuff like that. So it was a little bit more in that zone, and then it got kind of more into the glam zone, like NYC ’70s kind of punk stuff. Then again, it got more heavy and hard.

It just goes through all these things, and now it’s definitely more in the folk-leaning zone. I think I would like to kind of continue in that direction. It just kind of depends on my mood at the time. I like it when there’s an arc to someone’s career. It’s not just the same thing over and over again. It’s boring.

Where does your name, King Tuff, come from?

When I was about 18, I was sitting in a coffee shop and just wrote it on a piece of paper. It popped into my head. There’s an obvious reference to King Tut, but it’s also my initials. There’s no real grand story behind it. It’s just a stupid thing. How would I say it’s different? Kyle Thomas doesn’t sound that exciting. King Tuff sounds a little bit more intriguing.

What are you most looking forward to about visiting KC?

Normally, I’d be excited to hang out with my friend, Kevin Morby. He’s one of my best friends, but he’s not gonna be around. But I’m excited to eat some barbecue, hopefully (and probably be too debilitated to play). I went to that one that’s in the gas station. Joe’s KC?

I’ve had a great time in [Kansas City] every time I come there. I would just like to explore it a little more. We were trying to get there a day earlier or something just to hang out a little bit. I also saw some great jazz in Kansas City. I forget the name of the bar, but Kevin took me there, and it was cool.

What is the most challenging part of being a touring musician?

It’s just relentless. It’s usually at least six hours a day of travel. It’s exhausting to just sit in a car. So usually, by the time we get to the venue, you’re pretty tired from sitting all day. And it’s just that every day. So I think the hardest part is just never being in one place and never feeling like you have a real home. The van becomes your home. But it’s also a home shared with at least four people, so it gets interesting.

What’s your favorite place your music has taken you so far?

One of the most mind-blowing places was Athens, Greece. I was only there for less than 24 hours. I flew there, did the show, stayed overnight, and left in the morning. In that short time, it just blew my mind—it blew my mind that people there would know my music. People were singing along to the songs, and it was an amazing show. But just walking around before the show—every single thing is ancient. A frickin’ guy in a toga was hanging out on that rock over there. Holy smokes.

And also, the breakfast buffet the next morning was the best I’ve ever seen. It was miles and miles of ancient pastry.

What’s next in your career after this current tour concludes?

I’m just gonna keep making records. That’s all I really know how to do. So I’m just gonna see where it takes me. I think the next record I make will probably be quite different from this one, and people will just have to deal with it.

Categories: Music