Saturday, May 5th
8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
When asked to describe the title track from his new record, Kyle Thomas—aka King Tuff—takes a deep breath. “It’s a song about hitting rock bottom,” he says. “I didn’t even know what I wanted to do anymore, but I still had this urge—this feeling—like there was this possibility of something else I could be doing… and then I just followed that possibility. To me, that’s what songwriting, and art in general, is about. You’re chasing something, there is something out there calling to you and you’re trying to get at it. ‘The Other’ is basically where songs come from, it’s the hidden world, it’s the mystery. It’s the invisible hand that guides you whenever you make something. It’s the thing I had to rediscover—the sort of voice I had to follow—to bring me back to making music again in a way that felt true and good.”
After years of non-stop touring, culminating in a particularly arduous stint in support of 2014’s Black Moon Spell, Thomas found himself back in Los Angeles experiencing the flipside of the ultimate rock and roll cliche—that of an exhausted musician suddenly unsure where to go or what to do, held prisoner by a persona that he never meant to create, that bore little resemblance to the worn out person they now saw in the mirror. Thomas was suddenly at odds with the storied rock and roll misfit mythology that he’d spent the past ten years, four full-length albums, a handful of EPs, and multiple live records, unwittingly bringing to life.
“At that point I had literally been on tour for years,” recalls Thomas. “It was exhausting. Physically and mentally. At the end of it I was like, I just can’t do this. I’m essentially playing this character of King Tuff, this crazy party monster, and I don’t even drink or do drugs. It had become a weird persona, which people seemed to want from me, but it was no longer me. I just felt like it had gotten away from me.”
For a time, Thomas involved himself in projects that gave him space from all things King Tuff, and allowed him to, as he says, “go out and play music without having to actually be the boss.” Eventually, after being asked to play a handful of solo shows, Thomas began to see a way through to making new music. “I’d never played a show with just an acoustic guitar,” he says. “It just seemed like the scariest thing. I knew I wanted to write some new songs that could stand up in that kind of setting, which really opened the door to a new way of working.”
“I knew I wanted to record myself on my own time in my own space, so I put together a studio in a room in my house we called the Pine Room. It was like being inside of a wood-paneled spaceship. Suddenly I had all of this new crazy gear that I had no idea how to use in any sort of technical or ‘correct’ way. I just embraced the beauty of not knowing, which I think is where you get interesting things happening.” Thomas self-produced the record, as he did his debut, Was Dead, but on a far grander scale, this time playing every instrument aside from drums and saxophone. He pulled Shawn Everett (War On Drugs, Alabama Shakes) in to assist with the mixing process. “From the moment I started recording, it was like going home, like I had finally found myself again.”
Cut worms is a command; if you say so – got a knife?
Cut worms is a crime scene; my god, who would do such a thing? Cover your eyes!
Cut worms is a gardening hazard; they feed at night! Treat with diatomaceous earth before they affect your beans.
Cut worms can mean many things, but today, most likely, Cut Worms means Max Clarke, singing up a storm for you on his new nightcrawler of an EP, “Alien Sunset.”
Some say, if there’s anything in the world you could be doing other than music, please god go do that thing. Well, Max Clarke could have done a number of things; after going to school for illustration, steering toward a career in graphic design, and taking some handy-man type jobs, he realized that songwriting, a pastime since he was twelve years old, was the only type of work that didn’t feel like just work. Writing and finishing songs had never been an effortless task for Max, more like a trip “through heaven and hell,” but he wanted to spend his mid-20s energy on something important and personal- and hey, a little hellfire is good for the complexion.
“Alien Sunset” is a collection of home-recorded “demos” from Max’s time living in Chicago (Side A) and New York City (Side B), written in spurts, like little designated creative coffee breaks. Following the example of a prolific roommate who had endeavored to write a song a day for a year and did so for FOUR years, Max decided to dedicate his daily hour of free-time after work to mindful musical regimen. He challenged himself to record two songs a month and release them online – for better or for worse, praise or criticism. Expecting little more than a few constructive comments regarding his 8-track fidelity, he was surprised by the positive reactions to his antique sound, classic voice, and Everly Brothers style close harmonies.
Each song on “Alien Sunset” has a sturdy, four-legged American quality, but also contains a gentleness and sense of stolen privacy. The arrangements are both dense and airy, decadent without sacrificing an ounce of effervescence. For sure, something about “Alien Sunset” looks back over time’s shoulder, but it isn’t really “retro” music – it just glitters in a way you don’t often hear these days.
If this collection can be said to have any sort through-line, a whiff of motif, it revolves around the obvious delight Max takes in singing his heart out, despite variegated agony. The lyrical work moves from simple, diary-like musings, self-consciousness on the dance floor and general lust problems, to illuminated text. As a lyricist, Max draws upon the Romantics and Symbolists of the rock and roll poet tradition; “Song of the Highest Tower” was written the day Lou Reed died and is an adaptation of a poem from Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell.” The moniker itself, Cut Worms, borrows its striking and ambiguous imagery from a line in a William Blake poem: “The cut worm forgives the plow.”
For Max, making music is free passage back to the realm of ecstatic teenage feelings, and “Alien Sunset” is full of that intense, feels-so-good-to-feel-so-bad energy. Even when the lyrical content broods, the spirit sparkles, and Max’s emotive vocal performances bubble over with the tipsy dancing and diaphramic laughter of a writer lover fool who, having his wrestled his demons, hit his head upon a multitude of dead ends, and failed thrice and half times at self-immolation, has nowhere left to go but relief.