King Tuff shares a wild video for “Portrait of God,” the rollicking new single from his recently announced new album, Smalltown Stardust, out January 27th via Sub Pop.
“If you were to ask me what my religion is I would say 3 things: Music, Art, and Nature. Those are the things I’ve dedicated my life to and which bring me the purest of joy,” Thomas explains. “Often when I’m making art or music I feel something guiding me- call it god, call it Magic, call it Jim… whatever it is, it makes me happy! My god is probably something totally different than yours, and that’s a beautiful thing! I was thinking about that one day, so I wrote this song. What does your god look like? Is it a frog sitting atop a mushroom? A fifteen headed cobra? A swirling vortex? Old white guy with a long white beard is the only wrong answer!”
At the core of Smalltown Stardust lies Thomas’s desire to commune with nature on a spiritual level. Images of the natural world, from blizzards to green mountains to cloudy days, fill the songs and create a setting unmistakably far away from Los Angeles, as evidenced in the “Portrait of God” video, shot in the rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula. “It’s one of my favorite places on Earth, perhaps the most magical forest I’ve ever seen! It was honestly hard to concentrate on making the video when there was so much mossy love around us,” says Thomas. The video, directed by Nicola and Juliana Giraffe, co-stars SASAMI, who also co-wrote and co-produced the album.
While so much of Smalltown Stardust invokes idealized traces and places of Thomas’s past, the album’s recording process made his communal vision a reality. Thomas’s Los Angeles home in 2020 formed a micro-scene of sorts, with housemates Meg Duffy (Hand Habits) and Sasami Ashworth recording their own heralded albums (2021’s Fun House and 2022’s Squeeze, respectively) at the same time. A shared spirit dominated an era spent largely on the premises, with Thomas serving as engineer and contributor to both records, and Ashworth working as co-producer on Smalltown Stardust. Thomas describes the time with a fitting metaphor: “I’ve always thrived around other people making things. You want to bloom with each other.” Ashworth’s contributions are vital to the album: she co-wrote a majority of the record and contributed vocals, arrangements, and instrumentation to each song. As Thomas notes, “I tried to follow her vision a lot. It helps to open your world to collaborators. You always get something completely different than you would have expected.”
In the end, Smalltown Stardust is not merely a nostalgia trip. In making the record, Thomas not only conjured a special time in his life, he found new inspiration, surrounded by a small circle of collaborators and a sense of love and wonder for nature. If the first King Tuff record was content to merely state Thomas was no longer dead, Smalltown Stardust is a paean to what that life means. A statement of belief and a hymnal to the magic still to behold all around us. “I’m a different person now than I was 20 years ago when I first started it. But oddly, when I first started the band, it was more like this,” he says. Which is to say, things have come full circle.
Photo Courtesy: Wyndham Garnett