Exclusive: An Intimate Sit-down With Singer/Songwriter KT Tunstall
She has already proven herself as a talented singer/songwriter, bringing us hits such as “Big Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See”, but in an exclusive interview with www.celebrityeverything.com, KT Tunstall opens up about her personal experiences and the many intricacies behind her artistic process. The kindred spirit’s eclectic unique sounds, ability to write touchingly relatable lyrics and innovative ambition, shows us her music goes much deeper than the ear can hear, and leaves little doubt she will indeed continue to wow us with her creative genius in the future. KT has no plans of stopping anytime soon, “…I’m still very hungry!” the Grammy nominated performer declares with an eager smile on her face. Just hours before her intimate performance at NYC’s City Winery, the Scottish songstress took time to give us a behind the scenes look at who KT Tunstall really is, and how her many personal experiences has helped shape the artist she is today and plans on being in the future.
Q: You’ve done so many unique and wonderful things in your life, before we dive in, in a sentence, who is KT Tunstall?
KT Tunstall: Oh my God! KT Tunstall these days definitely feels separate from Kate, which I think is superbly healthy. This didn’t use to be the case. I was very defined by what I did, and in the last few years I’ve just had this really very soul-enriching separation from what I am doing compared to what my life is and who I am. So, identity has been a really big thing for me the last few years. It’s been a difficult process of kind of cutting some umbilical cord about being who you are, but ultimately just a huge relief knowing if I have my hands chopped off in some dreadful wood chopping accident that I will be ok; I will still be me. And if I can’t play guitar it’s OK, if that was taken away I would now be at peace with it. But the question was who is KT Tunstall, and my answer to that is I am still very hungry! I wasn’t sure if I was and I’ve started writing a new record and it’s really apparent that I am still very hungry to go out and share and experience and see what can happen.
Q: Going back to your roots, you came from a family where there was no direct access to music; so how did you discover your passion and when did you first know you wanted to be a singer songwriter?
KT: As a late bloomer, definitely, but it would be unfair on my folks to say I didn’t have access because they were really open to me trying whatever I wanted to try, but they weren’t musical. At 4 years old, I asked my mom for a piano and they got me one and I had this lovely old second hand piano in my bedroom. I started off as this like f***ing Mozart prodigy child and it was just a very slow and downward trajectory. I got amazing results in the exams learning classical. I just got less and less interested in the classical training and then at 15, I first picked up the guitar and taught myself. I started writing doing a bit of song writing on piano but it was really bad. And then as soon as I found my instrument, which was guitar, that’s when it started, at like 15.
Q: Being adopted and having found your biological mother, did she enlighten you to any musical talents in your biological family?
KT: Apparently my biological father who is Irish, I never found him, was an excellent singer. Not massively surprising finding an Irish guy who could sing. So she said it didn’t come from her, she hadn’t been musical but she did say he had a lovely voice.
Q: Sadly your first marriage ended in divorce. It’s been suggested that your dating a certain music producer… is this true? And would you ever consider re-marrying if you found the right person?
KT: Really who? I want to know whom I might be dating? (laughs) Oh god yeah for sure! I am so not anti-marriage – not at all; it’s a beautiful thing. I understand now that it would be very different with the right person. So I’m all for it again… not for making the same mistakes though.
Q: Now that we’ve covered background, let’s chat about your music: what was it like the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
KT: It was so f***ing cool and I remember it really vividly! It was an amazing DJ called Joe Wiley who is on radio one in the UK; she has been a real seminal player in terms of breaking new artists. She looks like Kim Gordon; she’s got like crazy rock blonde hair, but she’s the most maternal kind of big sisterly lovely person. I was shooting a video, which was also weird, and I was sitting getting my makeup done and I hadn’t really hadn’t had other people doing my hair and make-up, and it was weird and wonderful, and then the radio’s playing. We knew that it was going to get played. She played it first the first time and after ten years, all I ever wanted when I was trying to get somewhere was just to have the opportunity of people listening. I was used to playing in pubs and bars where everyone is drinking and no one is really listening to you. Give me an attentive audience and I am sure that I can sway some people. And then just to know you’re on the radio where everyone tuning in to and listening to, it was really magical!
Q: Your lyrics really touch people emotionally, where do you get the inspiration for your songs?
KT: Usually from scenarios that I see in other people, which remind me of things I’ve been through myself. So it’s a kind of connectivity between my own feelings and what I’m seeing. So I’m definitely quite conversational in a lot of the lyrics, but they’ll always come back around to something that I’ve gone through myself. It was funny with the first album because it’s the first album and no one knows who you are and it is really personal. And then I noticed with the second and the third album I was getting more and more observational with the lyrics, and it was more about other people and hypothetical situations. I think it was definitely me freaking out about being known and knowing that there was an audience of people waiting to hear what I had to say. I was being like the noncommittal type of person in the relationship, and just refusing to really say how I was feeling. I think it was just a privacy issue; I was feeling really weird about being famous and thankfully on this last record it didn’t matter anymore, it got back to super personal, which is good.
Q: Being a successful songwriter is such a challenge; describe for me your writing process?
KT: It’s changed a little bit since I was younger…I just didn’t give a s**t when I was younger and I would just write songs; I mean “Black Horse” and “Suddenly I See,” both half an hour, done! Couple of the best half hours of my life! And then I’ve got that slightly Neil Young thing of what comes out first is sacred, so I get slightly nervous about messing with what comes out of my subconscious because it feels like it’s coming from out of somewhere ethereal… you’re not really in control of it. Then it’s your brain tinkering with your deep brain, and usually your deep brain knows best. But I have been a little bit more careful in recent year of really crafting and working a little harder on songs. And then I also had a little book of prose poetry from my journals and from that I practiced just writing lyrics with no music. One song I’ll play tonight, “Yellow Flower,” is a piece of journal writing I’ve gone back to then written music to afterwards. It’s almost like someone else has given you words to write music to, so that is cool.
Q: You’ve been coined for creating “Nature Techno,” can you explain to me what exactly it is?
KT: Nature Techno I coined that for the third record, Tiger Suit, because I was really interested in incorporating electronica into my music. I just spent years thinking it was impossible because electronic instruments were soulless and I don’t mean that in other music, because I’ve enjoyed a lot of music that moved me very deeply that was electronic, I just felt with the kind of music I write it didn’t really feel like they could work together. I was completely wrong and had an amazing time.
We were talking about all the dance music that you love like Left Field, Chemical Brothers, DJ Shadow, all the like really good 90s techno. So as I was writing these songs on the acoustic guitar, I was really thinking about the fact that this primal beat is just the beginning of time phenomenon. It’s not just in nature; it is our nature – our human nature. It feels like something that’s very innate in human beings… to want to feel rhythm. I mean your heart beats doing a regular rhythm every day, all day. You’ve got it inside your body. So Nature Techno really came from the fact that when I’m dancing to Left Field it’s exactly the same as if I’m dancing to Eddie Cochran, or if I’m dancing to you know, 1920’s blues music. It’s just about a boot stamping on the floor and that’s all it is. So I wanted to really see if I could write acoustic songs that have EDM elements.
Q: Do you have a pre-show routine or ritual?
KT: Cheese… no it’s not actually usually this amount of cheese. I am pretty shambolic before a gig. I’ve never taken as much time as I should, and I think it’s something I would love to cultivate but it’s not working. What I’m doing, the shamble, seems to be working. But no, I scramble around deciding what to wear about half an hour before the gig and put my make-up on.
Q: What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the music industry?
KT: It’s very different from when I started. I mean I can’t believe that when my record first came out there was no YouTube! I sound like a f***ing grandma, but it’s incredible that that didn’t exist. But when I’m asked that question the thing that seems true to me is that the thing you think is weird about you, that you need to change to try and appease a record company or try and get fans is probably the thing that’s making you interesting and the thing that’s making you different from other people. I’ll hear some young singers who are really trying to sound like other singers. And there’s just no point in doing that! You’re just wasting your time! Hopefully you’ll find your way out of it and find your voice in the end, but yeah, don’t try to sound like other people.
Q: What can we expect next from KT Tunstall?
KT: Well, I’m writing a new album and it’s really exciting! That last record kind of threw me a little bit because…it was a very sedate, emotional, slow, quiet record. So I did these solo tours for beautiful theatres all over the world and I was coming off stage going it was really emotional, but I was just missing that little bit kind of buzz. I was off touring and I thought I needed to take a break and then I did a few gigs like this where I was doing the older stuff. I just want to sweat! So it’s got to be a physical experience for me. This new stuff that I’m writing now is just back to really big bold pop songs and lots and lots of joy, so I got some big plans for what I want to do with it! Hopefully it’ll be out next year!