When Kyle Thomas was a teen in rustic Brattleboro, Vt., he was a huge baseball enthusiast who ran with a mostly jock in-crowd.
“But once I got into high school, everything changed,” says the man now known as King Tuff; the long-haired, Dali-mustached, tattooed rocker plays San Francisco tonight.
“My new coach was such a jerk, I didn’t even feel like trying to play baseball anymore,” he says. “And I only went to one day of football practice, and that was enough, because the dude was like a drill sergeant. So I just got into music instead.”
Thomas quit sports overnight, and at first, he paid quite a price. The snubbing he received from his old teammates quickly turned nasty.
“So it was the same old story — getting hassled in the hallways, people spitting in your face and stuff,” he says. “But all those popular kids from high school? Now they look like s---, they’re depressed and high school was their golden age. But the messed-up kids? Sure, that time sucked for us, but we ended up really doing something as adults.”
Thomas didn’t need any close confidantes. He bought an eight-track recorder and started making Beatles-inspired music at home, christening the project King Tuff — a cool name he had thought about for years.
He completed several album-length demos. “But I didn’t really do anything with them — I’d maybe give some to friends, but that was it — and then I started playing with all these other bands,” says the guitarist, who joined Feathers, Happy Birthday and Witch, the side project of Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis. “So I just forgot about the King Tuff thing for a while.”
The King Tuff concept — sugary 1960s garage-pop coupled with gory splatterpunk lyrics and sung in Thomas’ high Peter Noone-ish lilt — wouldn’t die.
He finally reissued early material as his indie debut “Was Dead” and the ensuing buzz landed him a contract with Sub Pop Records, which released his eponymous sophomore recording in deluxe gatefold form, with a set of cards for every song, illustrated by his cartoonist brother Luke Thomas (who also designed the neon-orange cover’s wicked demon logo).
“Nowadays, it’s all MP3s with no artwork,” King Tuff says. “I wanted to give people a CD that they’d want to keep around.”
Also an artist who exhibits in galleries, King Tuff sketches vivid scenarios in “Stranger,” “Bad Thing” and “Unusual World.” Hence his publishing company moniker, KT Paints. “It’s about how, when I’m an old man, I’m going to be an oil painter,” he says. “I think that’s where my focus will eventually shift.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. today
Contact: (415) 621-4455; www.bottomofthehill.com