image//abby banks words//rob duffy
Born out of the thriving art community of Brattleboro, Vermont, the poppy, rock and roll trio of Happy Birthday has had quite a busy month with the release of their self-titled album and appearance at SXSW. Guitarist and songwriter Kyle Thomas took a few minutes to talk to us about the dynamics of the band, recent music, and comic books.
Before Happy Birthday formed, you worked solo under the name King Tuff. Do you think of Happy Birthday as the next progression or incarnation of King Tuff or something completely separate?
It’s definitely similar in some ways in that it’s kind of more poppy songs that I write, but it’s definitely very different because I worked on these songs with [bassist] Chris and [drummer] Ruth. There’s a lot of similarities, but it’s definitely a different thing and I think it would be weird if I called it a “King Tuff” album.
Yeah. King Tuff definitely feels more like a sort of “bedroom” solo effort while Happy Birthday really feels like a full band thing.
Yeah, King Tuff has just been me recording all the instruments myself and just doing it that way, so that’s probably the main reason why it’s different.
How did you guys meet?
I’ve known Ruth for almost ten years. She moved to Brattleboro and I had known her sister Meryl before that since Meryl lived here. And when Ruth moved to town she needed a place to live so she moved in with me. And then I met Chris through his brother Kurt, so I’ve known them both for a really long time and we’ve always done random music stuff together.
How is the writing process for you different with a full band rather than working solo on King Tuff stuff?
I actually like it a lot, I like working with other people because they have ideas that I never would have thought of. Chris is really smart with chords and notes and stuff, so he’ll do something really slight but it will totally change the whole feeling of the song. And that’s awesome for me because I feel like the songs are good when I start them out, but when I start to get these other elements it just takes them to the next level.
While “Happy Birthday” isn’t the most Google-friendly name, I managed to find a video of you guys playing at SXSW. What was your experience like as a new band playing that festival?
We actually have a new guy playing bass with us, my friend Alan. Chris isn’t really doing touring with us, he’s just working on the music part. So that video you saw was probably one of our first shows with the new bass player. It was really exciting because he’s a really good friend of mine, so it was fun to just kinda “go for it”. We had ten shows and we just kind of did it, we didn’t even really practice. We practiced with unplugged acoustic instruments, so we couldn’t even hear ourselves when we practiced. We just kind of went for it, so it was exciting in that satisfaction. We’re still trying to get a live thing together, so it’s getting there.
Right now I would have to say 2010, because I really didn’t like new music for a long time. I was really into 60s, 70s, and 80s stuff, but then a few years ago I just decided that I really wanted to like new music and now it’s the stuff that excites me the most. There’s a lot of really good bands happening right now.
What have you been listening to?
Well, obviously last year I got into that Animal Collective record and Dirty Projectors and stuff. I love the Vivian Girls. I dunno, I like most stuff. I’m trying to change my attitude to like everything, and I do. I find I can get into stuff if I just let myself. And obviously I really like a lot of Top 40 hip-hop. I like all the hits basically.
What are you up to when you’re not playing music?
I draw and paint and just kind of hang out in my little town. There’s a lot of artists and musicians here so we just hang out and talk about life. [Laughs] While drinking espresso, obviously.
The Sub Pop website mentioned that you like comic books, is that true?
Yeah, it’s very true.
What have you been reading, from one comic book aficionado to another?
Well, me and my brother have always been into comics because my dad has an awesome comic book collection, and a lot of it is 60s underground stuff, starting with like R. Crumb but also a lot of lesser-known shit too. So we’ve always been into the really weird stuff. But then in recent years we’ve been into like Jack Kirby and Gary Panter, stuff like that. And then I really like Chris Forgues, he’s a friend of ours who does the *Powr Mastrs*comic, and Ben Jones with his Paper Rad stuff. That stuff is all really good.
To find out more about this artist, check their MySpace page.