Effectively A&R’d to the label by indie rock guitar god J Mascis, Vermont native King Tuff is so talented that Sub Pop is letting him do whatever he wants—and right now, that’s putting out zippy albums like King Tuff and performing as a power trio. He sings in a high-pitched voice with a perfect falsetto, and plays lead guitar like a beast. He didn’t come here to bore you. It’s always straight to the groove, the hook, and then the next song.
MEN’S SHOP DAILY: When did you feel like you ‘got’ what Sub Pop was about?
KING TUFF: “They were the first label that talked to me, and I didn’t even really think about it, it was no question. They had such a good vibe, everyone I talked to. They seemed really genuine, like they weren’t trying to make money off me. They just seemed like fans. Like people I would actually hang out with, as opposed to some weird record executive or something.”
MSD: Word has it that your writing process consists of months of anguished unproductivity, then a flurry of songs. Which phase are you in now?
KING TUFF: “I’m definitely in anguish right now. I’ve been on tour for the past couple years. At this point, I have to learn how to do it again. I’ve totally forgotten what it’s like to even have time to create. So I have to learn how to do it again. Or learn a new way. But I’m excited to do it again. That’s where the real passion is, writing songs and making recordings. It’s funny, though, it is anguish. But I know I can do it again.”
MSD: Your songs are so catchy, you could ghostwrite for a mainstream pop band. Have you ever written a song someone else has performed?
KING TUFF: “I haven’t done that yet, but it’s definitely something I want to try to do. Because I write a lot of songs where I’m like, well, this doesn’t sound like me—but it does sound like Taylor Swift. And I think that would be awesome if I could write a song for someone like that, or to hear someone else’s interpretation of a song that I wrote for that purpose. Because I sometimes write songs that I don’t think I can pull off. They’re not in my kind of singing style, or something. I think when I’m too fat to move, I’ll start doing that.”
MSD: Are your parents musical?
KING TUFF: “My dad plays guitar very privately. He’s the reason I play guitar. He’s a huge music fan and he’s into the same stuff I’m into. I grew up with his music collection of old psych records and stuff. They are way cool.”
MSD: Everybody says that Sub Pop is so artist-friendly. What does that mean, that they don’t tell you what to do…ever?
KING TUFF: “They’ve never been like, you have to put out an album in a month. They’ve never given me a deadline. And sometimes I need a deadline, because I’m a major procrastinator since high school. But the fact that I can be in control of the album artwork, down to the finish of the paper, that’s pretty artist-friendly. Like No Age, their new record, they’re manufacturing the first press by themselves. [Ed. note: That means No Age requested they be allowed to hand-assemble their record in order to stay true to their DIY ethic.] There’s not many labels that would do that. I feel like I could ask them for advice—ask them anything.”
Nordstrom Men’s Shop was proud to co-sponsor Sub Pop’s 25th-anniversary Silver Jubilee celebration. Watch for more interviews coming soon—and catch up with our Silver Jubilee recap and Sub Pop Mega Mart visit.
[Text and interview by Andrew Matson. Andrew writes about music and culture for publications including The Seattle Times, NPR, and The Stranger. Follow Andrew on Twitter here. Photos by Robin Stein—see more of Robin’s work here. Videos © Sub Pop and King Tuff.]