Before Kyle Thomas was best known as irreverent garage rocker King Tuff, he was living in his parents’ house in Brattleboro, Vermont and bouncing between a freewheeling throng of musical acts. First there was the psych folk collective Feathers. Then punk outfit Happy Birthday. And somewhere along the way, he was recruited to front stoner metal band Witch, which famously featured Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis on drums. Nowadays, Thomas lives in East L.A. and Witch is lying mostly dormant, but he and Mascis are still running in similar circles, thanks (at least in part) to a shared label home at Sub Pop Records.
In more recent years, both Mascis and Thomas have kept busy doing the solo thing. Last month, Mascis gave us Tied to a Star, a mostly (but not strictly) acoustic outing that follows in the footsteps of 2011’s up-close-and-personal Several Shades of Why. At one point Chan Marshall even shows up, offering a honey-voiced foil to Mascis’s husky falsetto. This week, King Tuff drops Black Moon Spell, an album that delivers on the promise of 2012’s crazy-catchy self-titled release. There are big, crunching riffs and lyrics delivered with whining irreverence. Thomas calls it “a heavily weird, heavenly dark, hysterically magical rock-‘n’-roll sexperience,” and Ty Segall plays drums on the title track.
In the coming weeks, both Mascis and Thomas hit the road for tours in support of their new records. In anticipation, the famously laconic Mascis phoned a late-to-rise Thomas to talk (and not talk) about co-ops, hardware stores, and band practice. —Aly Comingore
J MASCIS: What are you, in L.A. right now?
KYLE THOMAS: I think so. Just waiting for the madness to begin.
MASCIS: Your record comes out soon or something?
THOMAS: [laughs] September 23. Yours came out yesterday or some shit, right?
MASCIS: Yeah, it’s hard to tell these days.
THOMAS: I try not to pay attention too much. When does your tour start?
MASCIS: Right around your album release.
THOMAS: Oh, shit.
MASCIS: Do you go to China on your tour?
THOMAS: [laughs] I’ve never been to China. I don’t know why. Have you been there?
MASCIS: I’ve been to Hong Kong. I guess that’s close. But not the mainland.
THOMAS: I haven’t even been to Japan. I’m waiting for them to send me. I don’t know what the fuck is going on.
MASCIS: Yeah, you ought to get over there. I’ve been there quite a few times. Three times, maybe?
THOMAS: Is it cool?
MASCIS: Yeah. They have the best food of any country I’ve been to.
THOMAS: That’s always my downfall on tour, the food. I just want to eat everything.
MASCIS: They usually hook you up pretty good, take you to the hotspots you’d never find because everything’s on the 13th floor of some building and you can’t read any of the signs. There’s this one spot I like where everything’s in one building; the hotel is on one floor, the club’s on another floor, there’s a guitar shop on another floor, a record store on another floor, and then a clothing spot. You never have to leave the building.
THOMAS: It’s like a fantasy world.
THOMAS: Have you gone to that weird restaurant where they serve all the food out of little toilets?
MASCIS: No, never heard of that one.
THOMAS: [laughs] They serve the meals out of these little miniature toilets and the food is, like, in the toilet bowl.
MASCIS: That doesn’t sound appetizing for some reason.
THOMAS: I think it’s supposed to fuck with your brain.
MASCIS: That sounds like when you get to eat the monkey brains while they’re still alive.
THOMAS: I can’t even think about that right now.
MASCIS: So is there a co-op type scene where you’re living in L.A.?
THOMAS: I was waiting for the co-op question. [laughs] There is no co-op here. The closest thing is probably Whole Foods, which is not a co-op. That’s the one thing everyone misses about Vermont—you don’t get all the good co-op gossip.
MASCIS: Yeah, where do you go? What’s the central meeting point? What part of town are you in?
THOMAS: I’m in East L.A., like Mount Washington, Highland Park. There’s a little strip that they’re gentrifying, trying to make a hip spot, but you go there and it’s just kind of barren. Nobody hangs out anywhere in L.A. There’s no loitering in L.A., so I don’t know what to do with myself.
MASCIS: Do you have a car?
THOMAS: I have a 15-passenger van, which is not fun to drive in L.A. ever.
MASCIS: You’d have to valet park that everywhere, I’d imagine.
THOMAS: I have done that before. I mostly just stay at my house, though. Nobody really hangs out anywhere, which is the opposite of my life in Vermont.
MASCIS: So you do prefer that style of living, not hanging or hanging? [laughs]
THOMAS: [laughs] Well, it’s weird to go from being a townie to being a hermit, I guess. I like both. But I do miss being an absolute bum on the street. That was pretty cool.
MASCIS: I’m a consummate townie. I’m still in the same town I grew up in.
THOMAS: There’s something about being a townie. They run the show.
MASCIS: I know. How do you even know where to buy a light bulb in L.A.?
THOMAS: I don’t. I make my girlfriend do that.
MASCIS: The hardware store. That’s the cool spot in Brattleboro.
THOMAS: That is the classic Brattleboro institution. I was there the other day and thinking, “If this place ever closed, I don’t know if I could come back to this town.”
MASCIS: I think it’s the best hardware store I’ve ever been to. It’s good for Christmas shopping, filled with knick-knacks you can buy.
THOMAS: Buy some Sharpies, some chains.
MASCIS: You can get a matching hammer and utility knife set.
THOMAS: [laughs] Wow. Is that what you’re going to get [Mascis’ son] Rory this year?
MASCIS: No, he already has that. I’m not sure what I’m going to get him, but he’ll tell me. I’m sure he has a giant list, so I’m not worried about it.
THOMAS: You’re the man, man.
MASCIS: Yeah. [pause] I recently visited Thurston in London and he seems to have kind of the same setup, he just moved it to London. There’s some club down the street where Wolf Eyes and Magik Markers plays and he plays. It’s interesting how he moved all the way to London but his life feels exactly the same.
THOMAS: Well, that’s exactly what happened to me moving here. I moved here and then all these people from Brattleboro started moving here, and they’re still coming. It’s turning into mini-Brattleboro.
MASCIS: Is your mom coming?
THOMAS: [laughs] She’s trying. I don’t think she’d like living in L.A. too much, though.
MASCIS: Why not? She doesn’t like the sunshine?
THOMAS: She’s a gardener. Trying to grow plants here is impossible. It’s like trying to grow shit in sand.
MASCIS: I tend to get depressed in L.A. I can’t handle the same weather everyday. It freaks me out after a while.
THOMAS: It’s really weird. This is the longest period I’ve been here without being on tour and it’s really the same exact day over and over again. I have no sense of time. It’s very strange. It feels like a weird dream.
MASCIS: I just can’t handle it. I guess I need snow. I don’t know.
THOMAS: I definitely miss the seasons. I don’t think I can live here forever. It’s kind of maddening, the perfect weather, as odd as that may seem.
MASCIS: Where’s the next spot you’re going to move to, then?
THOMAS: I don’t know. I like the northwest okay. I think that could be an option. Have you ever been to Ashland, Oregon?
MASCIS: I don’t think so—
THOMAS: It’s a really good stop during that drive from San Francisco to Portland. There’s a co-op there, and it’s seriously like bizarre-o Brattleboro. It’s a little hippie town, and I go into that co-op and I feel like I’m in Brattleboro, but it’s like the West Coast version, so everyone looks more beautiful and healthier and they’re all smiling. It’s very strange. I get freaked out when I go in there because it’s so similar.
MASCIS: Is it as big?
THOMAS: Yeah. It’s seriously like the same exact place. They’ve got all kinds of sweet shit in there. You’d love it.
MASCIS: Yeah, I don’t remember.
THOMAS: [laughs] It’s a tour secret.
MASCIS: Did you play a gig there?
THOMAS: No, but I want to. They’re famous for their Shakespeare festival and shit.
MASCIS: Oh, god.
THOMAS: It’s seriously exactly like Brattleboro, but like a cartoon hippie version. There’s a guy outside the co-op playing acoustic guitar and it’s just like that scene from Animal House where you wanna John Belushi that shit.
MASCIS: I have that feeling a lot.
THOMAS: You have that in the end of your new video, I noticed.
MASCIS: Oh yeah, that’s true.
THOMAS: Sometimes you just gotta Belushi that shit.
MASCIS: I know. I wish you could somehow get away with it, make it legal, like you could get a pass for doing it just because it was in the movie. Blowin’ off some steam. The last time I wanted to do that I think it was like an oboe or something.
THOMAS: [laughs] I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone play an oboe.
MASCIS: It’s pretty annoying if they’re not really good at it. Or maybe even if they are. [pauses] So how are you going to get ready for your tour?
THOMAS: Mostly sitting and staring, then maybe practice a couple times. [laughs] I’m not a huge practicer, which is probably not a good thing because my band definitely needs to practice.
MASCIS: That’s why you should play in Ashland first. Warm up.
THOMAS: [laughs] I don’t know. I want to practice. It just takes so much work.
MASCIS: It’s just not fun to practice.
THOMAS: I think we’re on the same page with that. Every time we play a Witch show, three years go by and then we’ll have one practice before. You gotta keep it raw.
MASCIS: There’s no audience when you practice, you’re not getting paid when you practice. There’s really no upside to it.
THOMAS: What is the point?
MASCIS: How’s your skating?
THOMAS: Oh boy. You know, I never was a great skater. I can do an ollie. I can probably come close to a kickflip. But jumping was never really my strong point. I like to just ride around. You still got your double skateboard trick?
MASCIS: Yeah. That’s my standby.
THOMAS: It’s a classic.
MASCIS: It confuses a lot of people.
THOMAS: [laughs] It goes against the forces of nature.
MASCIS: I guess kids don’t learn it these days. It’s funny to watch them trying to do it.
THOMAS: It’s not easy.
MASCIS: I mean, it’s pretty easy. [laughs]
THOMAS: [laughs] You get any new guitars lately?
MASCIS: Guitars? No.
THOMAS: I got this guitar that’s pretty fuckin’ sweet. It’s a Vox Apache. It’s like a $300 guitar, but it’s got an amp and a drum machine built into it.
MASCIS: Oh yeah. Are you going to use that on tour?
THOMAS: I’m just going to fire my band. [laughs]