Front Page

The 'Zine

Sunsphere City

Bonus Track

Market Square

Contact us!
About the site


Back to the archive

July 13, 1995 * Vol. 5, No. 17

Tuff Enough

The Tuffskins set out to prove they really are your everyday, average garage band ... and proud of it

by Randall Brown

No matter what you may overhear, stage-whispered with drunken conviction in a sticky Naugahyde booth at Gryphon's on a sweaty Saturday night, the Tuffskins are not a Weezer side project. Sure, there are a few common links (more about that later) ... but the Tuffskins have a history that pre-dates the Buzz Bin wunderkinds.

The Tuffskins are only about two years old as a band, but their roots run back to the late '80s, probably the local scene's most secret history. Even Jack Neely's exhaustively chronicled series on the local punk legacy tapered off around 1987. It's easy to understand why—to all appearances, so did the scene. But while this was a low-key period, a smattering of bands from West Knoxville, of all places, was laying down the foundation of the '90s boon. Enter the Bloo Shrooms.

They came burning like a bat outta Karns around 1986 and quickly took point position on the scene. Loud and raw at first—all the best things—they evolved into a trip-jam monster, Butthole Surfers-cum-Hawkwind. But the core of the Bloo Shroom sound was always Tim and Glen Maloof, now known as the designers of the Tuffskins.

The Brothers Maloof, Tim on bass and Glenn on guitar, rescued drummer and fellow Karns High alumnus Brad Alison from a local R&B group. Armed with some tunes Glenn created while teaching himself guitar and Tim's Sears-blue-jean-inspired name, the Tuffskins were born. When Tim left town for the charms of Los Angeles, Joel Thomas (yet another Karns grad) bought a bass and joined up in the spirit of on-the-job training.

The end result hearkens back to the loud and raw period of the Bloo Shrooms. The band's live energy is infectious. They don't stand still for a second, especially not Maloof. He invokes both Pete Townshend and Paul Simon, all but wrestling his Harmony Barcley guitar, layering deceptively simple and catchy riffs with electric vibrato and distortion.

Stylistically, the Tuffskins are one of the freshest bunch of guitar-rockers on the pike. Their sound is surf twang with a contemporary hard edge. Maloof's voice packs an angry wallop into a suede-smooth package. Alison's drumming shoots the dynamic curls, keeping massive texture shifts seamless.

To keep it from getting lost in the "Heavy-Rock-meets-Lounge-Lizard" jungle, though, the band's sound exhibits that rare jewel called Pop Sensibility—as if the Jesus and Mary Chain had a better drummer and a bigger record collection. Or imagine Superdrag obsessed with the Ventures instead of the Beatles, and you'll be on your way to the Tuffskins.

Maloof sums it up best: "Just say we're a garage band."

Lyrically, the Tuffskins' keyword is "straightforward." Maloof often hits a John Prine-ish note, turning out wry cleverness amidst the favored rock themes of love and breakup. He's also modest on the matter.

"It's simple, easy. I don't know if I'm actually trying to keep it that way, but it's about the extent of my lyrical talents."

Songs like "Superman," though, show a humble maturity much deeper than bubblegum. "I ain't nobody/ I ain't no Superman/ I'm mild mannered, I am what I am/ Ain't got no Superfriends/ Watching over me/ 'Bout as normal as anybody could be." It's not your normal rock-god grandiosity.

"I think it fits the music," says Alison. "You couldn't have the straightforward rock and roll music we play with words about demons and dungeons and dragons."

"I guess you could," counters Maloof. "If you're stupid enough. If there was a band around town like that, I'd probably go see them, though."

Hanging out recently at their South Knoxville practice pad, the Tuffskins were eager to dispel certain rumors inspired by their long-time friendship with Weezer's Brian Bell (also a West Knoxville native), who served back-up guitar duty during the Tuffskins recent studio sessions at Ripchord Records. Number one, they aren't Bell's "side project."

"We had our own songs written long before he ever recorded second guitar parts with us," explains Alison. Another, more extreme, rumor is just as false. "We're not really Weezer using a different name so we can play Knoxville clubs."

The Tuffskins recently opened for Weezer in Atlanta, and say performing in front of some 2,000 teenage fans had them spooked.

"We were expecting a worst-case scenario," admits Maloof.

"Like a TV show," says Alison. "You play a song and when it's over all you hear is the crickets chirping."

"But it went good," says Maloof, still taken aback. "They liked us."

Some of the crowd liked them a lot, much to their embarrassment. "We signed autographs," admits Thomas.

"It was humbling," says Alison. "We were just hanging out and all of a sudden about 25 kids came up to us. Why, you know? We're just a band from Knoxville."

Maybe so, but the Tuffskins are one of the bands that will help make that statement mean a whole lot more.

© Metro Pulse