IT HAD been a whirlwind six years for folk/rock songstress KT Tunstall and she decided it was time to take stock and dream it all up again.
After being ‘discovered’ in October 2004 on Later…with Jools Holland she was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize and in 2006 she won the Brit Award for Best British Female Solo Artist.
Tunstall’s debut album Eye to the Telescope reached No 3 in the British Album Chart, went Top Ten in Canada, and sold more than a million copies in the USA. The lead single ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’ became a popular choice for contestants on American Idol.
KT consolidated her success in America in the summer of 2006 when the single ‘Suddenly I See’ featured prominently in the hit comedy-drama film The Devil Wears Prada.
Throughout 2007 and 2008 Tunstall toured relentlessly in the US and Canada and her second album Drastic Fantastic sold 50,000 in its first week of release. She even got a Grammy Nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance.
“There’s a more upbeat spirit to girl-with-guitar in America,” KT tells me. “It’s probably because they own a wider genre of singer-songwriter with folk, blues, and country. In the UK the genre tends to be sort of self-help music and that’s not necessarily bad but sometimes it can be bloody awful and totally depressing.”
Yet, in spite of all her awards and accomplishments, the 35-year-old Scot decided to take break in 2009 and travel through the Arctic, South America, and India. It was time to reflect.
“I spent the best part of 10 years trying to get somewhere but I wasn’t very successful,” KT says of her early career. “Then after appearing on the Jools Holland success happened really quickly for me and I became this overnight phenomenon.
“After that things were really happening for me in America and that was incredibly fast and exciting. For like five years it was just head down and knees up! It was only when I took a break to make this current album that I was able to sit down and digest it all.
“Looking back on it felt like I went from nought to a 100 in the blink of an eye. It was a brilliant journey and I was so grateful to have had that opportunity.”
In September last year Tunstall released her third studio album Tiger Suit and the first single ‘Fade Like a Shadow’ was very well received. To kick off the New Year, KT will play a 13 date British and Ireland tour. The tour kicks off in Galway when KT plays a ‘Róisín Dubh presents...’ show at the Live Lounge at the Radisson Blu Hotel on Saturday February 19 at 8pm.
KT cemented a settled period in her life when she married her drummer boyfriend Luke Bullen at a ceremony in Fife in September 2008. The couple spent their honeymoon backpacking around South America, India, and New Zealand, and collaborating with Neil Finn, Radiohead, and Johnny Marr along the way.
KT then took part in the Cape Farewell project in the Arctic circle alongside Jarvis Cocker and Martha Wainwright.
“The Arctic was the first trip I took after six or seven years of solid touring,” she says. “To suddenly go from being surrounded by people 24/7 to this stark, harsh, and almost uninhabited place was great but also a bit frightening.
“I was with all these great artists like Feist, Laurie Anderson, and Robyn Hitchcock and on the one hand it was a brilliant experience but on another level it was a real challenge.”
During her time away Tunstall had a slight crisis of confidence. However, when she reconvened with her old Fence Collective colleagues King Creosote and The Pictish Trail (Kenny Anderson and Johnny Lynch ) in rural Scotland she got her groove back.
In early 2009 former Ash and Bat For Lashes guitarist Charlotte Hatherley joined KT’s band and she helped the Scot to find the voice that she had always been searching for.
“Charlotte has just blown us all away,” KT says. “She’s an exceptionally talented musician and very visceral. It’s just pure emotion when she plays. It was interesting seeing her take on the role because it’d been a while since she’d had a full on lead guitar gig.
“This is probably the most heavy-riffed stuff I’ve ever written. I had all these tribal backing vocal bits planned and suddenly I discovered Charlotte could do them all. Our voices are spookily similar and it’s nice for me to have another girl in the band. Neither of us are super girly girl and we’re both really into our music.”
With her new band and material in place KT began the recording process for Tiger Suit and chose Berlin’s famous Hansa Studio as the place to do it. The studio is located near the site of the former Berlin wall and is where U2 recorded Achtung Baby and David Bowie made Low and “Heroes”.
KT could feel the significant presence of the Thin White Duke during the making of her third album.
“The room where Bowie and U2 recorded is pretty much the same as when they recorded their iconic albums there,” she states. “It wasn’t that difficult to imagine Bowie, standing all angular and cool, in the corner.
“It definitely did have an effect that some of the best music of the last 20-30 years had been made there. We were all very excited by that fact and definitely upped our game while we were in that amazing space.”
Tunstall’s new tracks such as ‘Fade like a Shadow’ and ‘Push That Knot Away’ include a swathe of electronic beats alongside her acoustic guitar and otherworldly vocals. Fiona Shepherd of The Scotsman wrote: “There is a degree of tension throughout [the album] between Tunstall’s determination to try something different and her love of a simple song.”
At the heart of this tension was whether or not to use her trademark guitar effects pedal. “I went through a period of really questioning that,” KT says. “I was wondering if I was getting known as someone who could work a piece of equipment rather than as a singer-songwriter.
“I’m glad I got over that because now I realise that it’s a really important part of what I do. Rhythm for me is up there with melody and lyrics and the pedal does help me to express that rhythmic side of my playing.”
With renewed belief in her songwriting abilities and her playing style KT Tunstall sets out on the touring circuit again. As she says: “Travel gives you a great perspective on your own patch.”
Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.