KT Tunstall Interview
By: Cara Carriveau
Cara: Music critics seem to adore you. Do you regularly read reviews of your performances and albums, and does what the critics say really matter to you?
K: I have definitely had a pretty good run through the critical gauntlet so far! I do read reviews the week of release, as well as live reviews. I’d love to say that they don’t matter, but they do affect me. The good ones are armour, and the bad ones can get through any iron breast plate! In the end, no, they don’t really matter. And a bad one only hurts if I agree with it.
Cara: Your third studio album, “Tiger Suit”, was recorded in Berlin at the very same studio where several legendary albums, including David Bowie’s “Heroes”, U2’s “Achtung Baby”, and Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”, were made…was that a bit intimidating or was it motivational?
K: Absolutely motivational. I have worked at well known studios before; Rockfield in Wales for example, where it’s history of Queen and Led Zeppelin I did find intimidating when I was there. But I think it’s all about your headspace at the time you record. Hansa is a beautiful studio, and it felt like it was ours for the 3 weeks we practically lived there.
Cara: Being such a talented a singer/songwriter…what other singer/songwriters impress you?
K: Why thank you! Bowie, Dylan, Chrissie Hynde, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, The Kinks, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Damon Albarn, Thom Yorke, Beck, Sufjan Stevens, PJ Harvey, there are a lot. People who have an easy grasp on melody and rhythm, and posses the ability to surprise you with a twist.
Cara: Touring can pose a challenge when you are trying live a healthy lifestyle, and especially for someone as environmentally conscious as you…how do you deal with those challenges when you’re on the road?
K: Ha! Eco-friendly single malt whisky anyone?! It isn’t an environmentally-friendly job, that’s for sure. So the challenge is to clean up where it’s possible; we try and cut down on bus waste & chemicals, use ethically produced and eco-aware merchandise, and contact venues ahead of time to ask for their help in cutting down on waste and emissions.
Cara: Female artists are normally marketed completely differently than male artists. Have you had to put your foot down regarding over-sexualizing yourself? Not to say you aren’t sexy…but K.T. Tunstall is certainly seen as a talented original singer/songwriter vs. other talented female singer/songwriters who have a completely different, sexualized image.
K: I feel a lot more adrogynous as a performer than the super feminine, pin-up pop star. Men and women ARE very different, and sexuality is a powerful and intrinsic part of most good music. I’ve never been pushed in that direction; I’ve flirted with it a bit now and then in photo shoots. As long as sexuality comes from a place of empowerment and expression rather than commercial gain, it’s something to be celebrated.
Cara: What is your writing style? Can you sit down with the goal of writing a new song, or must it organically happen?
K: My style is… ‘lightning bolt’! I get a laser-beam of an idea pouncing upon my brain, and my songs are usually written really quickly. I’m not good at sitting down to write; usually an idea makes me have to stop what I’m doing and grab a guitar. But when I write with other people, I sit down to write as it’s to a shedule. It’s a little weird, but good discipline.
Cara: How did “Tiger Suit” come to fruition? What’s the back-story on the album title?
K: I knew I wanted to progress, try and impress myself, excite my own ears. I’d got back into dance music via LCD Soundsystem and my friends’ band, Silver Columns, and a concept began to form which I ended up calling ‘nature techno’ which was a marriage of roots music and electronic dance music. Tribal pop music. I’ve had a recurring dream since I was a kid about petting a tiger in my garden, and it’s not until I’m inside the house looking back at it that I feel terrified of what could have happened to me. I think it’s about jumping in head first and worrying about consequences later. It also refers to the armour needed when you go on stage to augment the part of yourself that stands in front of people and opens up to deliver the songs.
Cara: “Tiger Suit” is certainly a different sounding album than the previous two…was that intentional? How are your fans reacting during your live shows?
K: Absolutely intentional. Jim Abbiss and I bonded over a love of Leftfield, The Cocteau Twins, Bow Wow Wow and The Cure. We made a pact to embrace electronica and make something surprising together.
The fans on tour have been amazing. They seem really into the new stuff – we play Tiger Suit almost in it’s entirity, and it’s character has affected the re-vamping of some of the old tunes too. And I have a truly kick-arse band. However, I attempt to kick equal arse when I play solo!
Cara: A pleasure chatting with you, K.T. You are absolutely one of the most talented, genuine people in the music business today.
K: Thank you so much, I really appreciate that. Good questions! Xxx
KT Tunstall Biography
KT Tunstall has had a recurring dream since she was a child. She sees a tiger in her garden and goes outside to stroke it. She returns indoors and is seized by the fear that she could have been killed. Over the years, it has occurred to her that the reason the tiger responds so passively is that she herself is disguised as a tiger. That she is wearing a tiger suit
Tunstall has tapped into that childlike boldness in the making of her third album, Tiger Suit, which heralds the beginning of a new musical adventure for the multi-platinum, Scottish-born singer and songwriter. Organic instrumentation is blended with dance-friendly textures, the results of which Tunstall has dubbed as “Nature Techno” to encapsulate the album’s collision of raw, upfront rootsiness and sleek electronic textures. “Think Eddie Cochrane meets [British electronic duo] Leftfield,” she suggests. “The songs exist in other worlds for me, and I was trying to evoke a sense of place through how they sounded. I really went out of my comfort zone and wandered off further than expected. It made me realize I can do anything. There are no rules, there are no constraints, it’s just about what you’ve got the balls to do.
But before all the ballsiness, there was self-doubt. Tunstall hadn’t stepped off the merry-go-round since scoring with her platinum 2006 debut album Eye To The Telescope (which spawned three hit singles, the Grammy-nominated “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” “Suddenly I See,” and “Other Side of the World”) through its Top 10 follow-up, 2007’s Drastic Fantastic (featuring the multi-week No. 1 Triple A airplay smash “Hold On”). She eventually faltered on an illuminating trip to Greenland as part of the Cape Farewell project, where she lived on a boat with a group of artists, writers, and musicians who were invited to create their own response to the harsh landscape and the specter of climate change
“After years of touring and being babied, it was humbling to go somewhere where life is hard,” she says. “I experienced one of my worst gigs ever in the town of Uummannaq. My confidence was so low, I felt like a jingle writer. I didn’t want to be on stage and I’ve never felt like that. I just wished for a simpler life and not to be in this weird creative rat race. I wanted to get off the boat and live there.”
So she did get off the boat, metaphorically, taking time out to travel with her husband (and drummer) Luke Bullen. Over the course of a transformative three months, Tunstall went horseback riding with gauchos in Chile, explored the wild nature of the Galapagos Islands, walked Peru’s Inca Trail to the ruined city of Machu Picchu, visited the Barefoot College Of Tilonia in India, jammed with local musicians in the Rajasthani desert, and traveled the length of New Zealand in a vintage VW camper van, landing in Auckland just in time to participate in Neil Finn’s 7 Worlds Collide jamboree
“The whole trip was about locking in to something more primal,” Tunstall says. “What I realized was that I’ve always felt feral and I still do. As a kid I wanted to be outside in the bushes or in a tent. I wanted adventure.” But before the adventure could continue, she was persuaded to take a year off to write and reflect. “It was important to digest my own reaction to this massive shift in my life,” Tunstall says. “Everyone says, ‘Oh, you seem to handle success so well,’ when, in fact, I don’t think I’ve even really processed it. I don’t know if I will until I’m an old woman looking back on it.”
Suitably recharged, Tunstall began working on new material, demoing tracks in her newly built, solarpowered home studio. She reunited with her long-time collaborators Martin Terefe and Jimmy Hogarth, both of whom contributed to Drastic Fantastic and Eye To The Telescope. She then headed to the U.S. to work with songwriter-producers Linda Perry and Greg Kurstin, averaging a song per day
Eventually, Tunstall amassed a staggering 75 new songs to choose from and decided to team up with Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele, Kasabian) to helped her sort through them and unlock a new sound palette. The pair bonded over a shared love of The Cocteau Twins, Bow Wow Wow, Ali Farka Touré and classic club sounds. “I love the rawness of dance music,” Tunstall says. “I wanted to feel that excitement of losing yourself in the music when I listened back to my own stuff. Plus, I knew I needed to inject some fresh energy into the sound. It was actually Linda Perry who kicked my arse about it. She said, ‘Your only problem is that you give a f**k about what everybody else thinks.’ She was completely right. It was a sound piece of advice at the right time.”
Tiger Suit was recorded in Berlin’s Hansa Studios, where several legendary albums, including David Bowie’s Heroes, U2’s Achtung Baby, and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, were made. “There’s a lovely selfsufficiency in Berlin, where people are just doing whatever they want to,” Tunstall says. “It really informed everything. There was an angular nature to what we were playing and a fierceness that I felt was very appropriate for what I’d written.”
The Berlin odyssey set the scene for Tunstall’s awakening to the wonderful world of synthesizers. “I was very scared of them because I felt that they would be an albatross around the music,” she says. But that was before IAMX, aka former Sneaker Pimp Chris Corner, supplied her with a couple of “transporting” arrangements. “Then every synth came out of the box and I entered a world that I am completely smitten with now.” Pride of place in Tunstall’s armory went to the Yamaha CS-80 —
Vangelis’ weapon of choice on the Blade Runner soundtrack — which she describes as “a huge beast, like playing a couch.”
Without sacrificing any of her personal storytelling touch, the sonic landscape of Tiger Suit shifts from the uninhibited tribal yelp of “Uummannaq Song,” inspired by her Greenland foray, to the analog drone-meets-oriental chime and flutter of “Lost,” by way of “Push That Knot Away,” which she calls a signature track on the album. “It’s about confronting fear rather than running away.” Then there’s the rollicking first single, “Fade Like A Shadow,” which Tunstall explains is about a person who haunted her for many months. “The person is still very much alive, but my interactions with them led to these weird, almost visitation-like feelings that I found difficult to shake off.”
Elements of all the influences that make up Tiger Suit come together on “(Still A) Weirdo.” A beautiful acoustic guitar line floats through organic and electronic rhythm sounds, while the lyrics are some of Tunstall’s most personal. “It’s one of those rare moments where you can see yourself objectively and look into your own emotional machinery and realize what you are,” Tunstall says. The journey continues through the extra-terrestrial blues of “Golden Frames” (featuring the formidable Seasick Steve), and the glam strut of the anecdotal “Madame Trudeaux,” to the up-tempo swagger and hum of “Glamour Puss.
“Making the album felt a bit like an archaeological dig,” Tunstall says. “I had to dig deep to uncover what most turns me on. The best way I can describe it is that I discovered the indigenous part of myself by going back to campfire dance music just as much as club dance music. When I grind my boot heel into the floor, it’s connected to when I went clubbing in Berlin. Losing yourself in the middle of nowhere around a fire is no different to losing yourself surrounded by hundreds of people
on a dancefloor.
Check out some live photos here!