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Inside King Tuff’s Green Mind

Rock and roll innovator Kyle Thomas reminds us there’s no place like home with new album, Smalltown Stardust.

by Sarah Morrison

Photo by Wyndham Garnett

Brattleboro is a small town in Vermont tucked away near the heart of the Connecticut River with a population of 12,000. Known for its urban arts scene, local cuisine, and wondrous mountain views, it also happens to be the hometown of rock and roll proprietor Kyle Thomas, aka King Tuff. Reminiscing about the good old days while stuck inside during the pandemic, Thomas made Brattleboro his muse for his new album, Smalltown Stardust. 

“One of the things that makes Brattleboro special, when I think about it, is that it’s kind of tucked into a little crevice in between a mountain and rolling hills. There’s a little river that runs along the entire centre of the town. If you were to look across the river, you’d see New Hampshire,” says Thomas. “I think there’s something special about that because I always felt like I was in my own little world there and no one could really see me. Whereas now I live in LA and I feel like I’m very exposed to the elements.”

Confined to his house in Los Angeles, the pandemic weighed heavy on Thomas who often found himself daydreaming of his life back in Brattleboro, but he got through it thanks to the help of his musical housemates, Meg Duffy (Hand Habits) and Sasami Ashworth aka Sasami. As the three roomies chipped away at their own records, they essentially turned their home into its own micro-scene. Having harnessed a collaborative chemistry over time, Thomas naturally invited Sasami on board as a co-producer and co-writer for Smalltown Stardust. 

“Sasami is all over this record in the writing. There’s a lot of strings that she arranged, and vocal harmonies, that’s all her. I would have made a very different record if we hadn’t done this together,” Thomas tells RANGE. “I was looking at it as a collection of songs and looking at where I was when I was writing it. I would often be thinking about Brattleboro and imagining myself there because I was just stuck in my house in LA. I wasn’t having experiences in the outside world,” he says.

One of Tuff’s favourite songs on the record, “The Bandits of Blue Sky,” has a small connection to the town of Brattleboro. While not purposely about any specific person, the name of a key town character does make an appearance. “I thought of this guy who used to walk up and down the streets of Brattleboro when I was a kid and his name was Red Tooth,” he says. “He was this mysterious guy. My dad knew who he was, so anytime we’d drive by him walking up and down the road he’d go ‘There’s Red Tooth!’ and me and my brother would get so excited. It’s just a strange fellow that’s always walking around. Red Tooth sounds like a bandit leader!”

Smalltown Stardust is only just a sliver of the greater story that is Brattleboro. The record, while expressing its love and appreciation for the town, is really an ode to the overall essence that lives within Thomas; a spirit that helped guide the stories of love, a desire to commune with nature, and finding religion in the mysterious wonders around you. “I feel like Smalltown Stardust encompasses what I was talking about,” he says. “I feel like I have the spirit of Brattleboro within me even though I don’t live there, it’s stuck with me and it still kind of powers what I do. I think I only really graced upon that on this record, I didn’t really go as deep as I could have in fully making it about that place. That’s maybe even a different project.”

Thomas’ tether to his hometown and the nature he grew up around has left an imprint on his soul. No matter where he may be located, nature will always be calling out for him. “I’m very much a woodland creature, I do miss the woods a lot,” he says. “Of course I think about the cabin in the woods vibe, I always imagined myself being an old wizard making oil paintings in a room full of windows, plants, books, and a wood stove.”

Visual art is also a big part of life for Thomas. While creating music can release or unlock emotions, for musicians, there also comes a pressure to stay in a lane that will allow you to continue a career. “Visual art or painting is a way to get in touch with the other side. Music became my career, and that can mess with things a little bit. It messes with creation because all of a sudden you’re thinking about ‘Are people going to like this?’ or ‘Does it relate to my previous work?’ There’s a pressure on it and there’s a pressure to make money from it. That can mess with your head while you’re making it. Visual art is not my career, but it’s something I’ve always done and I can still do it very freely and without thinking about it at all. That is healing to me. Music is very healing too but being able to create freely without thinking about anything else puts you closer to some spiritual force.”

If someone were to break down what music really was, one might say it is the art of producing pleasing or expressive combinations of tones. How can one feel embraced with so much love by just a sound or texture of sounds? It’s truly beauty within invisibility. “Music to me is the highest art form. It really can change your life and emotions and it’s invisible. It truly is like magic, it comes from somewhere else that is… who knows where it comes from? There’s only so many notes but infinite music can come from them.”

“I was thinking a lot about green, meditating on it, and just trying to milk that colour for all its worth.”

For example, fans will notice a trend with King Tuff’s use of the colour green, as it holds a significant relevance to the bigger picture of the record. “I think when I was making the album, if you focus on a colour or something while you’re writing, different sounds will come out. I was thinking a lot about green, meditating on it, and just trying to milk that colour for all its worth.” From the album cover, to his everyday wardrobe, music video locations, and even a spotlight used in a music video, green plays a major part of the world that Thomas lives in. 

With all of these pillars comes a common trend, and that is that love is all around us. Whether it’s something you experience through the world’s natural beauty, the invisible embrace of sound, or the freeing expression of creation, you’ll always be connected to a form of love. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, you feel it in the small aspects of your life and the big moments that come your way. There’s a lesson to be learned with every experience of love. The biggest thing King Tuff has learned about love in his everyday life and relationship is the art of acceptance. “Love is all about acceptance. You really gotta accept somebody’s quirks and things that don’t really fit with your ways. That’s beautiful if you love someone unconditionally, no matter how much they enrage you. You have to be patient sometimes, but I think it’s worth it in the end.”