“When I play my Stratocaster, I feel like an innocent kid,” Kyle Thomas sings on monster-rocker “Bad Thing” from his self-titled Sub Pop debut. The 29-year-old songwriter, who moonlights in a variety of bands (Happy Birthday, Witch, Feathers), is following up the excellent-but-decidedly-more-bare-bones Was Dead, the 2007 release that endeared his King Tuff moniker to many a punk-rock message-board lurker.
By contrast, King Tuff is a huge-sounding record, and its epic nature is due in no small part to Thomas’s guitar work, though the modest axe slinger gives most of the credit to producer Bobby Harlow (The Go, Conspiracy of Owls). “I made it in a real studio this time,” Thomas says. “I worked with a producer so it was in other people’s hands, the sound quality of it. I made a lot of demos that sound a lot like the old album because I made them at home on the same machine. I wanted to see what it would be like to record in a studio and take it up a notch.”
“Take it up a notch” he did: From the rollicking country of “Baby Just Break the Rules” to the poppy smoking ode “Alone and Stoned”; from the goofy motivational anthem “Keep On Movin’,” to the ecstatic riffstraganza of “Stranger,” King Tuff runs an impressive stylistic gamut, guitars leading the way throughout. eMusic’s Austin L. Ray thought it only fitting, then, to ring up Thomas to find out which guitarists, past and present, influence his six-stringing.
The Wipers’ Greg Sage
Well, I love Greg Sage. He just really has a style that's all his own. His solos are long and kind of like flowing melodies instead of just shredding. I think that I really like more melodic styles and not showing off. He just has a cool tone, too.
Happy Birthday’s Chris Wiseman
Chris Wiseman was in Happy Birthday with me. He's a guitar teacher and he's really well versed in a lot of different styles. He's interesting because he knows so much about theory. He's a trained jazz guitar player, but he's not normal in any way. I never really heard anyone else who played like him. He really taught me a lot of cool things about guitar and things like that. He's so passionate about it. With all of the bands I played in, I feel like my songwriting evolved over time. I feel like everyone I played with has an influence on me. Chris, and his brother Kurt, who I played in Settlers with, both had an influence on me with the weirder side of guitar playing.
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong
I was obsessed with Green Day when I was in fifth grade, which was when I started playing guitar. I gotta throw that in there. It must have been Dookie. It's really special to a lot of people like us. It's how I found punk music, really. It's super catchy and super simple. I just started off playing single notes and you can play that kind of music just on single notes.
Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth
He's just really insane. I don't think anyone else sounds like that. It's really melodic and super complicated. It's not math rock. It's still melodic and gets caught in your head. It's just really individual for him, I think.
The Television guitars are influential as well. They had two guitars playing that were interlocking and insane. I can't really shred. That's why I'm into more melodic stuff. I like when guitar solos are more like sing-y and you can fuck around with them when you play live and can change them around.
Hound Dog Taylor
He's actually like super sloppy, but that's why I like it. I like people who aren't technically good, but it's the imperfections that make them awesome. He's in kind of a power trio — electric with a drummer and another guy playing bass on a guitar. It's pretty sloppy and it really has a groove to it.
He's extremely weird. He does a lot of really weird stuff, but it has an anthem feel to it. He always plays major chords a lot. I'm always drawn more towards major chords for whatever reason.