GEN F: Tough Knuckles

Photographer John Francis Peters
July 17, 2011

He is standing across 11th Street in a topcoat when Calvin LeCompte spots him, the slope of his famous nose gaining pink in the December cold. “Dude! That’s that frickin’ guy from Sex and the City!” LeCompte wheezes. “That’s the Sex and The City guy!” And sure enough, Chris Noth, bka Mr. Big, towers within earshot of LeCompte, the paper clip of a 20-something responsible for the savant piano pop of Tough Knuckles. As the light changes, Noth looks panicked. LeCompte grins wide. “Shit man,” he says moments after Big whooshes by without eye contact. “I wish I’d had one of my records with me. I would have asked him to sign it.”

It would not have been the first time LeCompte asked an HBO folk hero to autograph an LP. Weeks earlier, after a plum opening slot for Girls at Bowery Ballroom, LeCompte bumped into Adrian Grenier of Entourage in the downstairs bar. He bolted to the merch table to retrieve Tough Knuckles’ self-titled vinyl debut, a portrait of LeCompte sketched in charcoal across the front. “’He said, ‘You don’t really want my autograph, do you man?’” LeCompte recalls. “And I was like, ‘Damn straight I don’t want your autograph. But check this out, man— it’ll make great pop art.’” Grenier obliged, his date for the evening blushed and LeCompte rushed to share his new creation with friends and strangers alike. But that one set at the Bowery, thrown together with a brand new band in the 48 hours following old friend Christopher Owens of Girls’ telephoned request, was a new beginning. Between each number, LeCompte huffed and puffed and jittered out fragments of a joke or idea. Little of it made sense.

Though he’s been writing music for years, the Tough Knuckles songbook is filled with raw, loose-toothed pop curios that feel as impulsive as everything else LeCompte does. No filter and no restraint, the wingnut movements of his mind are not bound by medium either. “I actually thought I was done with music,” he explains. “I figured, ‘Look, Cal, you make all this music. Just make a record so it doesn’t exist solely as files on the Internet,” LeCompte says. “But I did make that first record as a swan song. I figured, ‘Fuck it. I’ll make movies. I’ve actually Googled how many mediums of art there are. I could be a dancer. I could choreograph dance. I could write. You just have to make something. I don’t like making things that become nothing.” When asked if he might also try to act one day, LeCompte begins to stutter. He says he's simply no good at pretending to be anyone but Calvin LeCompte.

Stream: Tough Knuckles, VANNAWHITE

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GEN F: Tough Knuckles