King Tuff Describes the Evil Colors of His New Songs

Vermont's King Tuff might have synesthesia, (the neurological phenomenon which activates multiple senses at once i.e. 'smelling' words or 'hearing' colors), and not even know it. Speaking to SPIN, the King (real name: Kyle Thomas) described the grungy sounds on his latest album, Black Moon Spell, in vivid colors - "silvery ... volcanic sparkles ... oily orange" a typical account of so-called "synesthetes."

But when we called up Sub Pop's garage rock superstar, Tuff said he didn't think he had synesthesia, despite describing the symptoms perfectly. Hearing color is why Tuff chose a purple album cover, which he also designed.

"We kept thinking it was purple. It was totally because of the music that I made it [that way,]" he tells us over the phone.

Those colors that come flowing from songs like the Edgar Winter Group-inspired "Eyes Of The Muse" or the Rolling Stones-inspired "Loser's Wall" are as scuffed and faded as the classic rock anthems they pay homage to.

But aside from a vivid "Rainbow's Run," Spell also conjures up demons, UFOs and other creatures from the crypt. King Tuff seems to be wrestling between the cheery, poppy tone of his lyrics with the inherent evil in his sludgy guitar riffs. The one-sheet for the album describes it best: "God and The Devil actually have very similar interests. They both love electric guitars and they both want you to listen to Black Moon Spell and freak the fuck out."

The album's titular opener will get you headbanging, especially if you've been into Ty Segall lately, but also if you teethed yourself on Zeppelin. Like a bat soaring right out of Ramones-ville, "Demon From Hell" jangles on three chords enough to make Johnny blush, while "Black Holes In Stereo" is a rousing incantation about possessed radios, but it's unclear if it's haunted by ghosts or Nicki Minaj singles. The slower "Staircase of Diamonds" may remind you of our own Andrew Jackson Jihad, specifically their song "Coffin Dance," but Tuff said he's familiar with the Phoenix band in name only.

When asked if he's ever done any Satanic rituals, Tuff said, "I wouldn't say I've done them on purpose, but things happen."

Tuff also does vocals in Witch, the stoner metal quartet that notably has Dinosaur Jr's shaggy frontman J Mascis on drums. Mascis' longtime buddy Dave Sweetapple is on bass and Annihilation Time's Graham Clise rocks guitar.

Tuff said Mascis is "historically socially awkward," but after knowing him for awhile, he opens up in the best way.

"He doesn't say much, but when he does, it's pretty funny," Tuff said.

One thing King Tuff has repeatedly mentioned in interviews is his love for oil painting, a passion he's had since he was a kid. If he weren't touring across the planet, he'd be channeling his inner Van Gogh. One of his personal favorites is a giant hobo he painted that now lives above his couch.

"I've been doing that [oil painting] when I feel the inspiration," Tuff said. "[B]ut it's hard as Hell. It's like every time I start one I have to relearn how to do it. Of course, I never learned how to do it in the first place. I just make it up. It's like every painting you have to sort of wrestle with it and dance with it until all the pieces fall into place."

King Tuff is scheduled to play Crescent Ballroom on Friday, September 26.

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Troy Farah is an independent journalist and documentary field producer. He has worked with VICE, Fusion, LA Weekly, Golf Digest, BNN, Tucson Weekly, and Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Troy Farah