King Tuff - Photo by Tobin Copeland Turner

King Tuff will be playing the Phono del Sol Music & Food Festival, July 11th at Potrero del Sol Park in San Francisco. Get your tickets before it's too late!

It would not be totally accurate to call King Tuff wicked, and yet, something about the term seems to fit. Kyle Thomas, the man behind the persona — if you can even call the exaggerated personality a “persona” — doesn’t suggest he’s capable of any evil or vicious proclivities, but his music, particularly that on the most recent Black Moon Spell, makes you wonder: is there some darkness that Thomas has been hiding all along?

“I got madness in my brain,” he sings on his newest album. “Pleased to meet you, I'm gonna eat you, cause I'm batshit insane.”

He’s come a little way from the scuzzy punk life-as-art ways of Was Dead and its predecessors, and with Black Moon Spell, it’s clear that he’s been gunning for something a little different. It’s a mysterious turn of topic for the rocker, and the album’s supernatural leanings conjecture that something spooky is at play.

But for all its ghastly tendencies, King Tuff doesn’t want to talk about the record. “I’m almost in a different place now from when we made the record, so it’s a little hard for me to remember what its all about,” he utters with a wheezy laugh. “I have a good time playing those songs, you know. It’s rock music, there’s not much I can say about it.”

But there is, really. He says that the album came from a different place than previous works, but for a specific reason: more people had a hand in it.

“It just felt dark when we were making it. [Producer] Bobby [Harlow]’s a little bit of a darker guy, so there definitely was that influence in there, as opposed to me living in Vermont and singing about my jewelry.”

It’s true — the days of “Freak When I’m Dead” lyrics like “When you bury my body, make sure I'm wearing all of my rings” are six feet under by now. Black Moon Spell was something from another world. “The other [albums], I wrote them all myself, and with this one we had the band very involved in the writing,” he says. “It was the first time I had done a record that way, so the vibe is different.”

But these days, Tuff is evolving.

“Sometimes you gotta experiment with different things to realize you want to do it your old way or another different way. I’m ready to do something else at this point.”

King Tuff doesn’t attribute his changing sound to any one place or sound, he does offer a lot of respect for the Bay. He (like basically everyone else) was bummed to miss Green Day’s surprise show at 924 Gilman recently.

“When I was young, that was one of the first bands I got really into, so I think those kind of influences, they’re in there whether you show them out in the open or not,” he says. “I think you can hear little bits of them through . . . I think it’s in there for sure. I will always love Green Day.”

The love doesn’t end there. His drummer, Old Gary lives in San Francisco, and it seems like King Tuff is in town frequently. However, the band is based in Los Angeles, and says he’ll be working on the next album there (perhaps with “good bud” Ty Segall). As he says, “it’s having a real kind of renaissance right now.”

“Because it’s stealing all our musicians?” I ask.

“Hey mannnn,” he crows. “You know, I don’t know what to say about it. I love the Bay too, let me just say that.”

Tuffy is a force, and he stands out in a mundane lineup of the standard garage rocker fare. He’s wild and unpredictable, in a way that makes you feel like you’re not keeping up, and he’s fun, in a way that makes you forget about anything else going on in your own life.

That’s the way his live shows roll, anyway. He’s an unfiltered maniac on stage. “I really like playing a lot of the songs [on Black Moon Spell],” Tuff says. “[They’re] Usually a little bit faster when we play live.”

They’re definitely faster, as he says, but they’re also fiercer. They impact like a kick in the gut, and they’re loud and abrasive. They’re perfect, really.

But something new is coming for King Tuff, though it’s not clear exactly what yet.

“I guess I’m gonna go back to fucking around by myself,” he says, “exploring some different territories and not having any big thing in mind.”

He pauses.

“Just letting it happen.”

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