King Tuff

Capitol Hill Block Party Presents:

King Tuff

Cut Worms, Sasami

Fri, June 1, 2018

8:00 pm

The Crocodile

Seattle, WA

$18 Adv.

This event is all ages

King Tuff
King Tuff
When asked to describe the title track from his new record, Kyle Thomas—aka King Tuff—takes a deep breath. “It’s a song about hitting rock bottom,” he says. “I didn’t even know what I wanted to do anymore, but I still had this urge, like there was this possibility of something else I could be doing… and then I just followed that possibility. To me, that’s what songwriting, and art in general, is about. You’re chasing something. ‘The Other’ is basically where songs come from. It’s the hidden world. It’s the invisible hand that guides you whenever you make something. It’s the thing I had to rediscover to bring me back to making music again in a way that felt true and good.”
After years of non-stop touring, culminating in a particularly arduous stint in support of 2014’s Black Moon Spell, Thomas found himself back in Los Angeles experiencing the flipside of the ultimate rock and roll cliche. “I had literally been on tour for years,” recalls Thomas. “It was exhausting, physically and mentally. I’m essentially playing this character of King Tuff, this crazy party monster, and I don’t even drink or do drugs. It had become a weird persona, which people seemed to want from me, but it was no longer me. I just felt like it had gotten away from me.”

The ten tracks that make up The Other represent a kind of psychic evolution for King Tuff. No less hooky than previous records, the new songs ditch the goofy rock-and-roll bacchanalia narratives of earlier records in favor of expansive arrangements, a diversity of instrumentation, and lyrics that straddle the fence between painful ruminations and a childlike, creative energy untarnished by cynicism. The soulful and cosmic new direction is apparent from the album’s first moments: introduced by the gentle ringing of a chime, acoustic guitar, and warm organ tones, “The Other” is a narrative of redemption born of creativity. As Thomas sings about being stuck in traffic, directionless, with no particular reason to be alive, he hears the call of “the other,” a kind of siren song that, instead of leading towards destruction, draws the narrator towards a creative rebirth. Elsewhere, tracks like “Thru the Cracks” and “Psycho Star” balance psychedelia with day-glo pop hooks. “The universe is probably an illusion, but isn’t it so beautifully bizarre?” he asks on “Psycho Star,” providing one of the record’s central tenets. At a time when everything in the world feels so deeply spoiled and the concept of making meaning out of the void seems both pointless and impossible, why not try?

Thomas self-produced the record, as he did his 2007 debut, Was Dead, but on a far grander scale. He recorded it at The Pine Room, the home studio Thomas built to work on the record, and playing every instrument aside from drums and saxophone. He pulled Shawn Everett (War On Drugs, Alabama Shakes) in to assist with the mixing process.

While it would be easy to think of The Other as a kind of reinvention for King Tuff, Thomas views the entire experience of the record as a kind of reset that’s not totally removed from what he’s done in the past. “I can’t help but sound like me,” he says. “It’s just that this time I let the songs lead me where they wanted to go, instead of trying to push them into a certain zone. King Tuff was always just supposed to be me. When I started doing this as a teenager, it was whatever I wanted it to be. King Tuff was never supposed to be just one thing. It was supposed to be everything.”
Cut Worms
Cut Worms
Despite a .300 batting average and a 63 mph curveball from the mound, Cut Worms’ Max Clarke was the black sheep of his baseball-centric, Midwestern family. He was drawn to the creative shadows, drawn to the basement 4-track and late nights in the art studio as much as he was the dugout. He had a born knack for conjuring warm sounds and fine images. His songs in particular crackle with the heat of a love-struck nostalgia: golden threads of storytelling, like visceral memories, woven together with a palpable Everly Brothers’ influence and 50s/60s naiveté. But the kid still has a pretty mean curve. Like one of his creative pillars David Lynch, Clarke’s songs and artwork are also curveballs with a curious underbelly.
A Cut Worms song may impress an innocent summer stroll across fields of tall grass and lavender — but there’s undoubtedly a severed ear out in there in the grass. Some unseen dark forces are always lurking at the edges of songs’ sunbursts. Bright, beautiful lap steel or a cheery harmonica accompaniment often belie an impending doom or crestfallen narrator.
Clarke didn’t necessarily seek out a life as fulltime musician. Before releasing music under the moniker of Cut Worms, Clarke went to school for illustration with the idea of a sensible career in graphic design, then took on a string of handy- man type odd jobs. Still, songwriting – that semi-secret practice Clarke had been cultivating since the age of 12 – kept gnawing at him. It was the only sort of work that didn’t feel like work. Plus, if there’s ever a time to do something as unreliable, unrealistic, and imprudent as throwing yourself wholly into music, might as well be done when you’re in your twenties.
A number of songs that make up his LP, Hollow Ground, bloomed from his time in Chicago during period of driven creativity. In particular, “Like Going Down Sideways” and “Don’t Want To Say Good-Bye” find new life on Hollow Ground, polished from their initial appearances on Cut Worms’ 2017 introductory Alien Sunset EP. Both still fizzle with a lo-fi 60s sound, but cleaned up, they gleam.
The remainder of Hollow Ground was written in Clarke’s current home in Brooklyn, where he still home-demos songs. The record was recorded partially in Los Angeles at the home studio of Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, and partially in New York with Jason Finkel at Gary’s Electric. Clarke, who plays keyboards, bass, and lap steel in addition to his main guitar, handled most of the instrumentation across the set. He explains he’s always strove toward a specific musical aesthetic, and Hollow Ground marks the closest he’s gotten to hitting it thus far.
Hollow Ground is imbued with a sharp, self-aware lyricism; as strong as the music is here, Clarke shows an affinity for evocative storytelling, striking the balance between cerebral and simplicity. Look no further than the chiming, rollicking standout “Cash For Gold.” For a song with so much sock hop energy, it’s actually about being trapped in one’s introvert head — stuck on the couch or against the wall at the edges of the dance floor.
Sometimes, on Hollow Ground, we find characters impossibly lustful, sometimes brooding, while in other parts they fumble along, hopeful and painfully self-aware. If the music can be said to have any sort of through-line, it revolves around Clarke’s obvious delight in singing his heart out through varying degrees of agony. His songwriting both evokes and explores the raw realm of youth, its weightlessness and possibilities, but channels it through the lens of someone more restrained, who’s been through it all before. Someone who’s old enough to know better but still gets drawn back in to the romanticism of teenage feelings – and knows how to take the listener along, too.
Venue Information:
The Crocodile
2200 2nd Ave
Seattle, WA, 98121
http://www.thecrocodile.com/