King Tuff is releasing their new album, Black Moon Spell, and Northern Transmissions got to catch up with Kyle Thomas, and find out how the magic happens. According to the Sub Pop website, “for some reason, no one can really explain how the Black Moon Spell came to be. It just appeared one day…” So when Kyle began to speak, we waited for revelations to emerge. With a laugh that comes out of nowhere, so big and contagious, if a little spooky, he had a warm way of making anything seem possible. Alice Severin had intended to ask a lot of practical questions, but before she knew it, she was learning about ants and where to buy records in LA, and how to be a personal witch. She managed to copy down some notes before the words mysteriously faded. Now all that remains is a memory of trying to describe the music as being like AC/DC if they were born in the States, and the vocal as the love child of Ozzy and Marc Bolan. And that strange vision of multiple heads – one of them was Jack Nicholson’s Joker, and one of them was Groucho Marx. A disembodied voice said, “And I’ll let you decide the other ones. Come up with twenty heads, that’s what I am. Twenty rotating heads.” Then there was the laugh, obliterating everything. It’s a hell of a record.
NT – So the new album, Black Moon Spell, is out September 23rd.
KT – Pretty soon! Coming up!
NT -Are you rehearsing for the tour?
KT – We don’t rehearse. Rehearsing is for squares. No, we’ll rehearse a little. We like to keep it spontaneous.
NT – Do you find yourself improvising on stage?
KT – Yeah, sometimes we improvise. It’s not intentional – you just wind up there sometimes, you know? (laughs)
NT – Is it like an extended jam? I read somewhere that you like the Grateful Dead.
KT – Well, I like some songs. It’s not like I’m a big Deadhead or something. Though being from Vermont, you’ve got to be into the Dead a little bit.
NT – There are some great guitar riffs on this album. There was just some countdown of the 100 greatest guitar riffs. What would you choose?
KT – Well, anything by Zeppelin or Sabbath. I like riffs, I’m more of a melodic guitar player, not a shredder, like Van Halen, or something like that. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with it.
NT – Have you always played an SG?
KT – I started out playing a Strat, but then I moved to an SG and have played them ever since. It’s the horns, got to have the horns, you know, right? It’s just a sexy guitar. And it goes with the album cover.
NT – Did you do the artwork? Are you an artist as well?
KT – Yeah, I did most of it, with my brother. I do pen illustration…and sculpture. I’ve been making some little devil heads. (laughs)
NT – There are some classic lines in the album – like “a face like a boiled boot.”
KT – Oh man, I can’t believe you heard that. Yeah, that is a good one. I’ve got a friend who is always saying that.
NT – It’s always interesting, the lines that stand out.
KT -Yeah, that’s why I don’t like the idea of giving out the lyrics. You know, if they’re on the album then people just sit there and read them, read along. It’s more interesting when you listen. Or when people get them wrong. Like ‘excuse me while I kiss the sky” or “revved up like a Deuce, another runner in the night.”
NT – Those are definitely the classics that people never get right. Do you have any favorite lyrics on the album?
KT – There are some good ones on Demon from Hell, and Headbanger. At the end of Eddie’s Song I say something in French, if you can make it out at the end.
NT – What would be the ideal setting to listen to the album?
KT – Driving. It’s a great road album. Or in a hammock, with a grilled cheese and coke. Or finding your house has been invaded by ants and running around killing them.
NT – Are you more inspired in the city or the country? Now you live in LA. How does it compare to Vermont?
KT – Well, I think I’m always going to be a small town boy. But the country, you know? There’s just so much nature. And not so much going on. It’s easier to focus on being creative. It’s hard to find a groove here in LA. I mean, you just don’t see people, it’s not like you can go out walking around. It makes you a loner. And I’m a bit of a loner anyway.
NT – Did you start playing guitar early on?
KT – Never had any lessons or anything like that. Yeah, so that’s probably why I can’t really play like Van Halen. (laughs) But I can play – and I only really use two fingers, so it looks like I have this weird sort of claw.
NT – When you strum?
KT – No, on my fretting hand, I only use two fingers mostly. Like a little dinosaur claw. I didn’t even realize I did that, until I saw a video of myself playing and I thought – well that looks weird. (laughs)
NT – Where did you record the album?
KT – Just down the street, same guy that recorded my last record, Bobby Harlow, from Detroit. Moved out here, and put together a studio we found a, just like a shitty old, I think it used to be a motorcycle garage, and kind of found a bunch of stuff, and put it together, we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. Just kind of went for it, you know, and that’s what came out.
NT – Do you think you were conscious of people’s expectations for the album? In the notes you say “without giving a shining fuck about nothing”.
KT – Well, you know, it’s almost impossible to not think about kind of shit. ‘What are people going to say?’ You know. What grade are the fucking teachers going to give me when I hand my fucking album in? You know? It’s sad that it’s kind of like, you know, that’s what happens, because it’s not even meant to be judged. It’s just meant as a piece of art, you know? I mean, I’m not trying to be like ‘this is my art’ or anything, but it’s like, it’s just meant to be enjoyed. And if you don’t enjoy it, why even pay attention to it? So you really have to ignore all that stuff, because thinking is like, it’s the worst thing to do when you’re trying to create. Thinking ruins everything.
NT – Do you have ways to avoid thinking? Are there things that you try to do to just focus on what you want to get out there, what you want to do?
KT – Uh, mostly I just drink coffee. I drink so much coffee I just drink myself into a stupor. I like to describe it as, I drink coffee until my eyes are like pissholes in the snow. I told that to Rolling Stone and they didn’t print it, I was so upset. (laughs) I’m just going to say that in every interview, somebody’ll print it.
NT – That’s a lot of coffee then.
KT – Well, you know. We all have our things that we do.
NT – When you write the songs, you’ve got people and the band with you. But do you ever play things for them –like, this is how I want the drums to go?
KT -Yeah, I mean sometimes I have a real clear idea of what needs to happen. But I’m always open to other interpretations – that can be really valuable. Cause you get things that you would have never really thought of.
NT – Did you bring in other people besides Ty Segall?
KT – Mostly the record was made with me and my band, Gary and Jake, and Bobby, the producer, so that was really the majority, except for that one song with Ty, and I did a couple on my own, but, yeah, most of the album is all of us working together and, kind of figuring out the songs, which is cool, because I never made a record that way before. Um…that’s how you get the energy, you know?
NT – How did you do it before?
KT – Every album’s been different. I used to just play everything myself. And multitrack it, you know. And I don’t know, I’ve made them all kinds of different ways. This is like the first time I just went into the studio without songs really, and the band, and we just kind of did it.
NT – The riffs on the album are great. Do you build the songs around the riffs?
KT – Are they te-riff-ic? (laughs) It’s always different, um, yeah, a lot of times, you know, you’re just going to play, just sit down and play the guitar for hours on end and just play the shittiest, most shit, shit, and then you’ll get a little twinkle of an idea. Yeah? And kind of run with that.
KT – You know, I got ants crawling on me. I’m like covered in ants right now. I’m like a Hungarian meatball hosting the ant Olympics.
NT – What color are they? They’re not red, right?
KT – They’re not red. They’re nice. They’re fine. They’re just doing their thing.
NT – Do you like touring?
KT – I do, you know. I said this the other day, it’s like a thirteen sided sword. It’s everything. It’s joy, and sorrow, and madness, and pain, and love. You experience all those things.
NT – It sounds pretty intense.
KT -You know, it’s a day job. And a night job. (laughs)
NT – And, some albums that you always return to.
KT – I like finding albums. There are some good record stores out here, some in Highland Park, which is close to where I am. Gimme Gimme Records. And there’s Permanent Records, Wombleton, Amoeba. Let’s go with
Powerage – AC/DC
Killer – Alice Cooper
The White Album – The Beatles
Live Fast, Die Fast – GG Allin