During a recent phone chat, I found out that Kyle Thomas, better known as King Tuff, actually has some roots in and around the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection: “I have a strong connection to Philly because my dad is from Cherry Hill… I grew up going to The Franklin Institute! I actually played a show at The Franklin Institute once at the planetarium, with my old band Feathers, a psychedelic folk band.” And over the past decade King Tuff has brought his brand of garage rock to the likes of The Church, Union Transfer, and World Café Live. However, King Tuff’s fifth full-length, Smalltown Stardust, which dropped this January on longtime home Sub Pop, had Thomas exploring somewhat softer sounds than his fans may be used to, but he tells me that they have apparently really been enjoying them, nonetheless: “I didn’t know how it would go over, because it’s a bit of a change of sound, but it’s been resonating with people… I think it’s one of my best sounding albums, sonically.”
Smalltown Stardust – much of which Thomas wrote on piano, which he had never done before — was written as an ode, of sorts, to the artist’s hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, a far simpler landscape than his current home of Los Angeles, which provided much of his inspiration to become a musician in the first place. However, despite being fueled by his memories of the small town, the album was recorded in Los Angeles during lockdown, alongside notable musical housemates Meg Duffy (Hand Habits) and Sasami, while the trio collaboratively worked on each of their three individual albums. Hand Habits’ Fun House dropped in 2021, Sasami’s Squeeze dropped in 2022, and now Smalltown Stardust completes the unofficial trilogy. And while this all serves as a very idealized pandemic narrative, Thomas admits that this was certainly not how he had originally intended to work on his latest album: “It was pretty collaborative with Sasami… We worked a lot on her record, too, and the Hand Habits record. We got blessed to be stuck together with a full studio.”
King Tuff is currently nearing the halfway point of a little more than a month of dates behind Smalltown Stardust, which will have him headlining Johnny Brenda’s next Wednesday, March 22nd. And Thomas tells me that the show will likely look pretty different from previous King Tuff shows: “I’m gonna be playing keys a lot, which is something I haven’t done live before.” He also tells me that, while the set will feature a bit of King Tuff’s back catalogue, he’s personally most focused on the new material: “I’m going to be playing most, if not all, of the new record, and some golden oldies as well. Some people just wanna hear the old stuff, but it’s exciting for me to play the new songs and let them grow live.” However, when I ask him what the future holds for him after these dates, he admits that he’s primarily excited to get to work on some even newer music: “There will be more touring, probably, but hopefully not too much. I wanna focus more on recording and writing and maybe do a tour per album.”
King Tuff’s show next Wednesday at Johnny Brenda’s starts a 8pm sharp, and I would highly recommend getting there early for emerging sunshine punk trio Tchotchke – a NYC-based band that rose from the ashes of Pinky Pinky and already played Philly twice last year, in support of The Lemon Twigs and BRONCHO, respectively – who are opening the show, and who Thomas tells me he’s already a big fan of: “I’m so psyched that they were down to do the tour… I played a show with them years ago when they were Pinky Pinky, but I know they have a new guitarist now. I heard the album, and I just loved the songwriting and just everything about the band.”
*Get your tickets here.