King Tuff Talks ASMR, Sleep Paralysis and the Elusive 'Other' | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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King Tuff Talks ASMR, Sleep Paralysis and the Elusive 'Other'


Published May 16, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated May 16, 2018 at 2:04 p.m.

  • Courtesy Of King Tuff
  • King Tuff

Those who've followed Brattle-boro's music scene over the past decade or so might remember some of King Tuff's earlier incarnations and associations. Born Kyle Thomas, the artist played in the freak-folk collective Feathers, a metal outfit called Witch that featured Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis on drums, and the garage-pop band Happy Birthday. That last project's self-titled album landed Thomas a spot on the roster of hallowed indie label Sub Pop.

Now based in Los Angeles' wild Mount Washington neighborhood, Thomas just released his fifth album as King Tuff, The Other. Conceptually speaking, the title relates to a psycho-spiritual abstraction — which Thomas defines vaguely at best. Essentially, "the other" is an ethereal homing beacon, a guiding, benevolent force that permeates his existence.

On The Other, Thomas' dramatic glam-rock anthems and psychedelic freak-outs are more refined than ever. Fuzzed-out, gelatinous guitars and nasally vocals elicit frequent T. Rex comparisons.

King Tuff performs on Tuesday, May 22, at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge in South Burlington, with support from Cut Worms and Sasami.

Seven Days caught up with Thomas by phone.

SEVEN DAYS: I get the sense that The Other might be your proudest accomplishment as King Tuff.

KYLE THOMAS: I mean, I don't know if I'd say that. I'm proud of it. I don't think I have a proudest accomplishment. It feels good that I did it all myself. Those are usually the projects that I feel most proud of: the ones I feel like I really put everything into.

SD: And that's a shift from your last record, which you wrote as a band, correct?

KT: It was more of a band effort with a producer, which is cool, too. But I don't feel as fulfilled by that.

SD: So, The Other gets back to your roots a bit.

KT: Yeah, it was more like my first record, Was Dead, in that way. I did most of it myself.

SD: And this concept of "the other" — it's this enigmatic force in your life. Do you see any parallels in the way you define it with other spiritual or religious concepts or practices?

KT: Yeah, sure. You could consider ["the other" as] God, or any kind of god. It's something that you can't really see, but you believe in it and you know it's there and you can talk to it. There's some kind of communication happening that's on some higher plane. Where do ideas come from? It's a very amorphous thing.

I'm a visual artist, too. Sometimes I just sit down with a piece of paper and not know what I'm gonna draw. And then I just start drawing, and something comes out that I never could have imagined. And it's shocking to me.

[It's] the same thing with music. A lot of times I'll just start something, and if I'm really free and open with it, something will come out that I didn't know was inside me. Maybe it wasn't inside me. Maybe it just came through me.

SD: I really like your new song "Psycho Star." It's one of the funkiest songs on The Other, but I feel like the lyrics are just utterly bleak.

KT: That song stemmed from another song where I was kind of talking about how people are always talking about space travel and moving to another planet — which is ridiculous, because this planet is perfect for us. But we don't care about it. So that's where a lot of those lyrics came from.

And I just started thinking a lot about how humans are the aliens here. We're the only creatures on this planet that do the things that we do. And some of those things are great, but others are just so alien-seeming. Humankind definitely seems like a disease on the planet. On a daily basis, I experience people being weird and fucked up to me.

SD: Do you tend to take people's actions with a grain of salt, or do you hold people accountable?

KT: I'm a pretty patient person. If somebody's in the wrong, doing something fucked up, I'm not gonna let it go on. I'm not a very confrontational person. I don't like fighting.

SD: I feel like you put a lot of stock in dreams. Have you ever had a dream that directly inspired a specific song?

KT: I do have music in my dreams sometimes. It's incredible. But usually when I wake up I can't remember it.

"Sun Medallion" [from Was Dead] was definitely inspired by a dream, lyrically. I take cues from dreams, and I like to give dreams more credit than most people do. I kind of think of it as not just something our brain is making up, but actually another place that we go.

SD: Have you ever had lucid dreams?

KT: I have. But the second I become lucid, I can only hold on to it for a few seconds.

SD: What about sleep paralysis?

KT: I've definitely had that a lot, and it's terrifying. I've seen shadow gnomes beside my bed and felt like I was possessed, [and I get] weird audio hallucinations. That shit is spooky.

SD: Has anything been blowing your mind lately?

KT: I'm stopped at a Buc-ee's right now. Do you know Buc-ee's?

SD: Uh, I don't think so.

KT: Buc-ee's blows my mind. It's the Texas equivalent of a gas station — but it's the size of a Walmart. It's the Holy Grail of gas stations when you're out on the road, because you can get whatever you need here, including these delicious treats called Beaver Nuggets.

SD: Excuse me?

KT: Buc-ee's logo is a beaver.

SD: What constitutes a Beaver Nugget?

KT: Well, it's sort of a caramelized, kind of puffed — I don't know what it is. It's like a puffed-corn, caramelized nugget.

SD: Have you tried Bamba?

KT: No.

SD: They're these Israeli snacks. They're the size and shape of a cheese puff, but they're peanut butter flavored.

KT: Mmm, that sounds great.

SD: I was watching one of those ASMR [autonomous sensory meridian response] videos — have you seen any of those?

KT: Love 'em.

SD: I was watching one with Gal Gadot, and she was whispering and eating Bamba. Then I was at Trader Joe's and was like, "Hey! There's that peanut butter snack Wonder Woman was talking about."

KT: I'll have to try those.

SD: They're great.

KT: I don't get into the whispering ASMR videos. I'm much more into the kinetic sand [ones].

SD: Do you experience the physical ASMR sensation everyone talks about?

KT: I don't know. They have some [kinetic sand videos] where they slice it with a knife. And it really just makes your brain feel fizzy. So I got some [kinetic sand], and I slice my own.

SD: What's something you could never live without?

KT: I'd have to say coffee. I am a — can I say the word "whore"?

SD: You can say whatever the fuck you want.

KT: I am a whore for coffee.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Dream Weaver"