- Thu, 2005-04-21 09:56
KT Tunstall celebrates classic singer-songwriting with an articulate, accessible, immediate brew of rootsy sass, wistful quandary and after-hours atmosphere. The latest in a line of outstanding contemporary Scottish songwriters, KT's unique perspective offers a rare emotionally connecting intensity through it's gripping lyrical bite and heartfelt melody.
She grew up in the university town of St Andrew's (beautiful but sheltered, a little bubble), always knowing she had been adopted at birth. "I grew up knowing I could have had a million different lives. It makes your life mysterious and your imagination go wild."
Her debut album Eye To The Telescope is the creative consequence of that inquiring imagination. "My songs examine and explore little specific emotions or situations or stories, she explains."
I Like Music caught up with KT before the release of Other Side Of The World and her UK tour in May to talk festival plans, pedals and Princes.
“I Like Music because… it makes me feel alive.” KT Tunstall
ILM: Your new single, Other Side Of The World, is out in May. Can you give us your own personal description of it?
KT: The song is inspired by a couple of really close friends of mine. The girl is American and the guy is from St Andrews in Scotland where I live. I met them years ago and they’ve been together for about six years but never lived in the same country. I made my way down to London and they came to visit me and they just decided that they couldn’t be together anymore. I could see that they were completely in love with each other but neither was willing to sacrifice their lives, jobs and friends and there just wasn’t enough love. I’ve been in long distance relationships myself, and everything to an extent is autobiographical when you’re writing it, because it’s your perspective of it. It’s not recommended. I’m still in touch with them. Get back together!
ILM: Of all the Eye To The Telescope tracks, which one did you have the most fun recording?
KT: I think probably Stopping The Love. Two of my good mates from Edinburgh came down – Paul and Marti – to do the backing vocals. Because I’d always had this idea of having brilliant chain gang style but male backing vocals, like a male choir. So they came down and we had this wicked rhythm track to put on top of, so putting that together was great, because if was a few layers of banging different things with different things. And that was great and then me, Paul and Marti recorded the backing vocals together and Steve Osbourne the producer was saying "you need to get the spirit of it, maybe you should dance while you’re doing the vocals." And we were like, "what the…" So I’ve got a film of the three of us dancing to try and get the true soul of the backing vocal.
ILM: You’re touring in May, and recently toured with Joss Stone how was that?
KT: I was touring with Joss in February 2004, so it was quite a long time ago really, but it was great because it was the first time I’d played venues of that size, and also she is lovely. She was a great person to work with and she always made sure I was OK. Sometimes she’d have a dressing room and I’d get the toilets as mine and she’d say, "you can’t get dressed in the toilets, come in my room." The audiences were great; very open and generous. So it was so rewarding to go back in February 2005 and play the Scala, which I’d done supporting Joss, which was incredibly satisfying. May is going to be a blast! Every show we’ve done has been sold out since November and the tickets are going well and we’re doing Shepherd’s Bush Empire, so it’s kind of stepped up a level with bigger venues, so I’m just really looking forward to the challenge of that really.
ILM: You’ve been playing live since the Kent School in the USA, with The Happy Campers, when you managed to win Battle Of The Bands with one mandolin player. What’s your current favourite song to play live and your favourite live experience seeing someone else play?
KT: Singing live is interesting because it’s so subjective for the evening; how you feel and which ones you’re relating to that day. But, on the whole, False Alarm is me at my most vulnerable on this album, and it’s just a very personal song. So singing that is always pretty moving and also, there’s a little tune I do at the end of the live gigs that isn’t on the album called, Throw Me A Rope, and that is such a lovely song to sing. It’s just a little picking tune about missing your man and I always really enjoy that, because we finish with Suddenly I See, which as a band that’s the best tune to play. It’s so up and the keyboard player is hitting a bin lid with a tambourine and we’re all just going for it, and then to follow that with this little picking thing on my own, it’s such a contrast, and as a live performer it’s dynamics that’s exciting.
ILM: What’s your favourite ‘live’ experience as a punter?
KT: For sheer brilliance of performance and the ability of the musicians, I went to see Nick Cave earlier this year and it really was so impressive and such an intense experience; so crafted, it was really inspiring. It’s just such a high standard. You can tell his bar is so high when he does a show, it has to be great.
ILM: You used to sit outside your brother’s room and record his music through his door. What does he think of your music, success so far?
KT: Well, like my parents, he was a complete sceptic for years, to the point where every dinner ended up in an argument, but he’s been convinced now. And he’s loving it because he’s quite a music fan, and likes going to gigs and stuff, so he’s well into it.
ILM: You’ve played piano, then flute, then guitar. What’s your advice to young musicians?
KT: The difference now compared to when I was a kid is that there’s some amazing opportunities to play contemporary music now as a kid. I’ve even heard that local schools have electric bass guitars and logic audio set-ups and can learn how to use a four track, and can even get popular culture music lessons, which didn’t happen in my day. I would think that’s probably a better route to go. Because, although it’s really useful learning your classical and learning your theory, to be honest, I’m not convinced you need the training that I’ve done. I think it’s much more important to just nurture the creative side of what you’re doing. It’s really about nurturing it and supporting it and make sure you’re working towards stuff. Say you’re going to put on a show or a gig for friends, and then do it. That’s a really good way to work, to set yourself little goals.
ILM: Intense, heartfelt, melodic – where do you go and what’s the KT songwriting process?
KT: This album, the theme is very intimate and it’s quite personal stuff, but it’s not the only thing I write. There was about 20 songs I thought would be good for a first album. One of them is about plastic surgery and another is about an astronaut getting lost, so they just weren’t going to fit. I’ve always been a lightening bolt writer and sit there and suddenly have this idea for a title or, it’s usually a lyric with a chord structure underneath it and it usually grows out from that seed. I find now that I’ve got so much less time that I need to be more focused, which is interesting because it’s a different way of working to have to utilise these windows of time. Whereas before, if I wasn’t in the mood I didn’t bother. But it’s quite nice to have these things in the back of your mind and chew the cud on them for a while. But I don’t tend to like to plageurise myself really, so I won’t use stuff I’ve written before in a new track, because I’m a believer in the importance of the impulse at the time. For me, a song has to come from a genuine place, so I find it difficult to nab bits and pieces, which feels a bit Dr Frankenstein really.
ILM: St Andrew's – have you seen Prince Wills about?
KT: It is Prince William’s abode. I haven’t seen him but my mum has. She takes delight in texting me, ‘Prince William’s playing hockey.’ But she also got off the train at a station near St Andrews and it was horizontal rain, and she had her umbrella up in front of her face and she walked into his car, into the passenger side window where he was sitting and then took her umbrella down and looked like a wet dog and Prince William was sat there, but what can you do. Prince William noticed my mum.
ILM: Jo Wiley named you as one of her favourite artists, how’s that?
KT: Renee Zelwegger was being interviewed by Jo Wiley and she asked Jo who her favourite new artists were and she said me and Willy Mason! So Renee Zelwegger knows who I am. Jo Wiley has been amazing. She played False Alarm almost a year ago, so she’s been on the case with it from really early on. It’s impossible to explain how important it is to have someone like her championing it, it just means the world.
ILM: Tell me more about the AKAI Headrush 2 loop pedal.
KT: Basically, it’s the cheapest band in the world. I’d seen people using it with the guitar, so they’d loop guitar lines. The first person I saw using it was this guy called Son Of Dave, this amazing Canadian nylon Elvis, and I saw him at the 333 club, Old Street in London. And I was completely mesmerized. He just beatboxed and had a shaker and a mouth organ, and it was amazing. Really lo-fi blues. So I got myself one and thought there must be a way of getting beats by hitting the guitar. So a friend of mine helped me split all the signals so I could put my vocal and guitar through the pedal. Usually you’d just put one thing through. So then I just bashed my guitar and it came out sounding like a drum, and I ended up putting these beats together and it worked perfectly. And there’s nothing like a girl with a boy toy. It definitely gets people’s attention. After a gig I did I got about 600 emails from 19 year old boys saying "yeah, you were very good and all that, but what’s the pedal it’s totally amazing."
ILM: Just two years ago you were sitting on the beach in St Andrews with my friend Craig from Dogs Die in Hot Cars, bringing in the New Year, both of you vowing that in the next 12 months you would make an album. And look - you did it! What do you think made it happen this time round for you both?
KT: We both make very different types of music, but in his case there was a growing interest in Scottish based bands like his and he’d been doing that for ages. Their style hadn’t changed because of the fashion. They’re a great band and he’s a brilliant writer. For both of us I think it was really good timing. I got the feeling that really in general the pop idol TV horror music programme has become completely saturated now and I think people are just really fed up seeing untalented people becoming famous and dominating the charts. It’s just rubbish, it’s not real or genuine. The surge of quite retro bloke bands with guitars was a really good thing to happen, because it’s about real music that people were writing themselves, so Craig was part of that thing. People wanted raw energetic genuine music again, and I think that’s probably why I’ve done alright as well. Because, there’s actually not a lot of girls who are doing raw energetic, and that’s why I got Steve Osbourne to do the album, because he’d just done a lot of bloke rock, from Placebo and New Order to U2, Elbow, Doves and The Happy Mondays and no pop girls. I wanted someone to get that edge into what I was doing.
ILM: Are you able to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the journey, because you have been doing this a while now?
KT: Ironically it does feel very new though. I’ve been a live musician, but I’ve never been into the studio and recorded an album with a producer or done interviews, and I’ve never been to Texas, Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam within ten days. The interesting thing with interviews too is that it’s really enlightening. I’m asked questions I’d never asked myself, because you just kick back and write music when you’re not signed and not putting anything out. So you don’t question yourself so much. So it’s all a steep learning curve and new to me. But I’ve become more ‘Zen’ than I’ve ever been. Because people are saying, "this is going to happen" or "you’re going to get this and this," and I’m just like, "whatever." I've got this and I’m here and what’s going on here and now is incredibly satisfying, so I’m absolutely sopping up every moment. It’s not perfect, there are still moments where it’s still a bit of a painful process. Being signed to a label you have to relinquish some of your control and work as a team really, which I’m not used to doing, so it can be a bit of a fight sometimes, but it’s a challenge and it’s great.
ILM: Future plans after tour and single release? Festivals?
KT: The festie list is looking ace! 1pm on Saturday I’m on the Other Stage at Glastonbury which is gonna rule. Glastonbury is the highlight of my year. I promised myself I wasn’t going to go unless I was singing, so I just thought I wasn’t going to go and I got asked to do it last summer with Oi ve Voy and did guest vocals for them and that was such a rush, a brilliant gig. Usually the crowd will cheer but then there’ll be a bit of silence before your next song, but they were just going nuts, and I ended up dancing on the bass speaker. And we’re doing V2005, T in the Park, Oxygen.
ILM: What do you like and dislike about London?
KT: I like if there’s an Eskimo-lesbian-physical theatre show with lions you can go and see it. I went the other night to see an old 70s Jack Nicholson film by Robert Alman, and then came out and saw some flamenco in a genuine Spanish tapas restaurant and then went to a club, and walked over the bridge and saw the skyline and did five things that anywhere else to do just one of them would have been great. To do all these things at once is great and you meet amazing people. What I don’t like is that I really miss the sea and miss space and landscapes, so it’s good for me to get out now and again to somewhere beautiful.
ILM: Can you describe your favourite place on earth?
KT: The Isle of Skye. I went on holiday there last November, and I spent a week there and it was quite a good retreat holiday as everything had just started kicking off, and it’s just the most fantastic place to be. Skye in November sounded grim, but it was just beautiful. We’re doing the Isle Of Skye Festival this summer which is going to mean a lot to me because I absolutely adore it. I love the North West of America as well. Up Washington State and Oregon and stuff is really fantastic.
ILM: What is in your CD player right now?
KT: I’m listening to Willy Mason, Where Humans Eat. I’m loving that album! And to Anthony and The Johnsons, the Bright Eyes album and I’ve always got to give myself a dose of Iggy Pop.
ILM: Please tell me your favourite tune that makes you instantly smile?
KT: Well that’s why I listen to Iggy Pop. It would be Lust For Life. That’s my get me going song of the moment.
Now KT is raring to channel all her infectious energies into her own music. "I'm not exactly sure what has driven me so hard," she says. "I've never questioned it. I've never had a back-up plan. I was never going to do anything else."