King Tuff


Wed Mar 01 2023 at 08:30 pm


2501 Kettner Blvd San Diego CA 92101 | San Diego, CA

There are times in our life when we feel magic in the air. When new love arrives, or we findourselves lost in a moment of creation with others who share our vision. A sense that: this iswho I want to be. This is what I want to share.It’s a fleeting feeling and one that Kyle Thomas, the singer-songwriter who records andperforms as King Tuff, found himself longing for in the spring of 2020.But knowing he couldn’t simply recreate this time in his life at will, Thomas—who hails fromBrattleboro, Vermont—set out to write a love letter to those cherished moments of inspirationand to the small town that formed him. The one where he first nurtured his songwritingimpulses, bouncing ideas off other like-minded artists. The kind of place where the changing ofthe seasons always delivered a sense of perspective and fresh artistic inspiration. Where he felta deeper connection with nature and sense of community that had once been so close at hand.“I wanted to make an album to remind myself that life is magical,” he reflects.And so, Thomas seized upon his memories, creating what he calls “an album about love andnature and youth.”The result is Smalltown Stardust, a spiritual, tender and ultimately joyous record that mightcome as a shock to those with only a passing knowledge of the artist’s back catalog. OnSmalltown Stardust, Thomas takes us on his journey to a place where past and present collide,where he can be a dreamer in love with all that he sees. Images of his youth abound: fromRoute 91 which runs through his hometown (in “Smalltown Stardust”); to Redtooth, a spectrewho used to roam the streets (“Bandits Of Blue Sky”); to old friends, old haunts and old dreams(“Always Find Me”); to Vermont’s Rock River, which gave its name to a song of a torch stillburning for past love: “Those days are gone and we can’t rewind/ Cuz people grow and placeschange/ But my love for you will never fade away.”But at the core of Smalltown Stardust is Thomas’s desire to commune with nature on a spirituallevel. Images of the natural world, from blizzards to green mountains to cloudy days, fill thesongs and create a setting unmistakably far away from Los Angeles. “I consider nature to be myreligion,” he explains, and Smalltown Stardust is nothing if not a spiritual exploration. Thomas’sidentification as a sort of eternal spiritual seeker is underscored in one of the album’s sweetestmoments, “A Meditation,” which features a home audio recording of Thomas as an eight yearold, trying his hand at leading a meditation. It’s a journey that he continues to this day, as heintones on “Portrait of God”: “Walking in the woods, wading in the river” and “breathing in themountain air” before heading back to a place where he finds himself “Oil painting in my garage/Let my colors flow/ I’m working on my portrait of God.”While so much of Smalltown Stardust invokes idealized traces and places of Thomas’s past, thealbum’s recording process made his communal vision a reality. Thomas’s Los Angeles home in2020 formed a micro-scene of sorts, with housemates Meg Duffy (Hand Habits) and SasamiAshworth recording their own heralded albums (2021’s Fun House and 2022’s Squeeze,respectively) at the same time. A shared spirit dominated an era spent largely on the premises,with Thomas serving as engineer and contributor to both records, and Ashworth working as coproducer on Smalltown Stardust. Thomas describes the time with a fitting metaphor: “I’vealways thrived around other people making things. You want to bloom with each other.”Ashworth’s contributions are vital to the album: she co-wrote a majority of the record andcontributed vocals, arrangements, and instrumentation to each song. As Thomas notes, “I triedto follow her vision a lot. It helps to open your world to collaborators. You always get somethingcompletely different than you would have expected.”With the gorgeous orchestral tones of “Love Letter to Plants,” it’s immediately clear that Thomasis declaring a wider vision of what his music can be. Gone are many of the squalling guitars ofprevious King Tuff records, replaced with thoughtful, tender touches of cello and violin on “LoveLetter to Plants,” “Pebbles In A Stream” and “The Bandits Of Blue Sky”; a plaintive saxophoneon “Always Find Me”; and orchestral vocal harmonies with Ashworth that lift the songs to acelestial plane. (Though the rollicking, joyous leads on “Portrait of God” show Thomas hasn’tlost his touch on guitar.) On “How I Love,” Thomas makes clear that all of this is by design: “Solost in nothing but noise for so many years, I forgot to love.”In the end, Smalltown Stardust is not merely a nostalgia trip. In making the record, Thomas notonly conjured a special time in his life, he found new inspiration, surrounded by a small circle ofcollaborators and a sense of love and wonder for nature. If the first King Tuff record was contentto merely state Thomas was no longer dead, Smalltown Stardust is a paean to what that lifemeans. A statement of belief and a hymnal to the magic still to behold all around us. “I’m adifferent person now than I was 20 years ago when I first started it. But oddly, when I firststarted the band, it was more like this,” he says. Which is to say, things have come full circle. Oras Thomas intones on “The Wheel”:“Ooh we were just kids then…Caught up in the turning of the wheel….And it’s coming ‘round again.”

Where is it happening?

2501 Kettner Blvd San Diego CA 92101, San Diego, United States

Event Location & Nearby Stays:

Casbah San Diego

Host or Publisher Casbah San Diego

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