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“Above the vultures hovered
And I thought it was the end
But then I thought again
And that was when I took the hand of the other.”
On the surface, things are as they seem. The surface is just the start, though; books have pages, onions have layers, and in everything, there’s something else going on, beyond what we can see. Some people call that fate, some say it’s destiny, and others might know it as faith. To King Tuff (the stage name of Kyle Thomas), it’s The Other.
The Other is a theme that runs throughout Thomas’ new album of the same name, but that doesn’t mean he knows what it is. It’s a mystery that he’s chasing, a quest that is as fulfilling as actually achieving its objective. Is there even a goal, though, or is the destination the journey? Does it matter that Thomas only has a vague idea what this concept that has come to define his life actually is? Then again, when it comes to these forces that are larger than us, does anybody really have a concrete, provable idea of what they actually are?
In this case, ultimately, it’s about the music, and to Thomas, that part of it hasn’t been this clear in a long time. I spoke with Thomas on the phone recently, and he admitted that while he wasn’t exactly passionate about his previous album, on The Other, he again finds himself inspired and making songs that have personal significance. We also spoke about music’s medicinal properties, and about dreams, which he believes (and perhaps I do too) don’t get enough credit as legitimate experiences that are as meaningful a part of our lives as the things we see, here, smell, and touch while we’re awake.
Like the songs on The Other, The Other itself, and our conversation, it’s some mystical stuff.
Around this time last year, last May, you had first started playing the songs from this new album live. How did it feel when these tracks were out in the world for the first time? How did it feel playing them?
Well I wasn’t playing them as they are on the album. I was just doing solo shows, just with acoustic guitar, and that just a few shows, so it wasn’t like any big deal or anything. But it’s always the best to play new music, that’s my favorite thing to do. I like playing old songs, but I get most excited by playing new things.
Now that this album is nearly out, how does it feel? How do you feel about it?
I’m excited, you know. I finished the record a year ago, so it’s always this thing where it’s like you finished the record and then you’re just waiting around, watching the frickin’ squirrels and the birds sitting on your porch, just waiting. It feels good in that way that I don’t have to wait anymore.
It’s gotta be hard to be patient at that point.
I’m a pretty patient person, but when it takes a god-dang year? Come on, now! [laughs] I’m already onto other stuff in my mind.
With these songs, you’ve said that you wanted to let them lead you to where they wanted to go, so where did these songs want to go?
By that, I meant I wasn’t forcing them into one particular genre or sound. That’s just sort of the sound that came out. To me, they were all sort of existing in this other realm that I hadn’t really explored before.
How would you describe the sound of this album, as opposed to that of your previous work?
I’d say it’s a bit more cosmic, it’s a bit more… [long pause] that’s an impossible question for me [laughs]. I don’t know how to describe it; How the f-ck do I describe f-ckin’ music? I don’t really believe in it.
Well, we can at least talk about it lyrically, then: The word “cosmic” seems accurate based on the lyrical themes that you have on these songs. One of the big things that you’ve talked about a lot is the concept of “The Other,” which seems to me like it’s either some sort of mystical force, or a religious thing, or a place, or a feeling. What does that term mean to you?
A big part of it is that it’s indescribable. I couldn’t really put any kind of label on it or really tell you what it is. That’s the whole idea behind it, that it’s this thing that I know is there but I don’t know how to get to it, so I’m trying, I’m just always searching and exploring for it, you know? For me, that’s making any kind of art in general. You’re just kind of hunting for this thing that you can sometimes touch through art, you can get close to it sometimes.
It could be the dream world. I’m a big believer in that we don’t give dreams enough credit. That realm, I don’t necessarily think it’s just something that we’re creating in our minds. I believe that it’s actually another place that we go to. For half of our lives, we’re asleep, so why wouldn’t that be just the other side of our life? And maybe that is really… to me, it’s equal to reality.
I’ve always had this thought that the reason dreams are less valued than the world as we see it when we’re conscious and awake is because of the way we prioritize these memories, even though they’re both things we’re perceiving and feeling, if that makes sense.
Yeah, I just don’t know why our society has gotten so far away from any kind of mystical or magical thinking that the idea that dreams are real in some way is… people just laugh at it. People tend to just laugh off dreams, but I like to give them a little more weight than people usually do.
Have you had any profound dreams over the course of making this album that have shaped it and/or you?
I’ve definitely had all kinds of dreams. Some of them, I don’t remember, but I know that they’re there and I think that I still subconsciously get ideas from them. My buddy had a dream the other night that I was wearing a green iridescent wedding gown and I just caught a bouquet of flowers, and there was lot of paparazzi taking photos of me.
[laughs] Well that sounds like it was formative and profound.
To me, it sounds like my future [laughs].
That could also be true, if you get very lucky.
If I’m lucky.
There’s “The Other” the concept, and there’s the actual song called “The Other.” You’ve said it’s about hitting rock bottom and that it’s about a time when you didn’t necessarily know what you wanted to do anymore. When or where was this rock bottom for you?
My last record that came out in 2014… The record itself… I think it’s a fine record, but I kind of forced it out, you know? I recorded it right after I had been touring for years. I didn’t have any time, I kind of just went into the studio and came up with these songs that were just, you know… we just needed to make a record, so we made it. I wasn’t super inspired when I made it. It didn’t feel as much like a piece of art to me as other things I’ve done. It just felt like a record I was making to make a rock record. Then I toured that record non-stop to the point where I just was so burnt out from the music that it became kind of meaningless to me, you know?
So really, this new record was just about getting back to the root of why I started creating in the first place, so that’s kind of what this song is about: The search to get back to that.
So since you got burnt out touring that album non-stop, do you think it would be a good idea to tour this album less, so these songs maintain their meaning and value?
This album feels different altogether to me, because lyrically, it’s much more important to me and it’s closer to my life. It means a lot more to me than the last one did, so I don’t foresee that happening with this. And I feel much different playing these songs, and I’m playing with new people… It just feels like a new chapter, so I’m not scared of that happening again.
You say the album is very personal, but it does it also touch on issues that are current in terms of the social and political environment? It seems like that finds its way into pretty much every new song that comes out now.
It’s definitely hard to not write about those things, and there surely are moments that are referencing the modern world and what’s going on. I think that’s important for people to think about, and right now, it does feel like music is very political. It’s kind of hard not to be and hard not to look at everything as political.
But then I think about the music I love, and I’m not huge into political songs, you know? It’s not the kind of thing I want to listen to over and over again that’s going to make my heart feel warm. I like music as an escape from all of that, too. I think music is the closest thing to magic we have on Earth, so I look to it as being a medicine or a healing thing.
The Other is out 4/13 via Sub Pop. Pre-order it here.