KT Tunstall: Feeling Happy And Free (Interview)

Scottish musician KT Tunstall is due to perform in New Zealand in May. Last time she was here, she took part in Neil Finn’s Seven Worlds Collide project. This time around, she’s on her own, in support of her latest album, Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon.The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to KT Tunstall about her latest musical adventures and what we can expect from these upcoming shows.

Click here to listen to the interview with KT Tunstall:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: So you’re coming here in a couple of months to do a show. Are you coming solo or are you bringing a band? What’s happening?

KT: I am coming as a one woman band and I intend to make as much noise as possible as one person; which I am capable of. So it should be fun.

MD: (laughs) I know you are. I saw you in Austin, Texas at one of the Austin City Limits festivals a few years back.

KT: Aw wicked, yeah they are always good.

MD: Was the last time you were in Auckland for the Seven Worlds Collide thing with Neil Finn?

KT: Yeah that was just a totally wonderful time. It was really an awe inspiring project to be part of. You’re watching great musicians at work…Radiohead and Johnny Marr and Neil himself. It was just fantastic watching how these different artists would put songs together from scratch. It was just fantastic meeting Neil and Sharon and being part of their gang and experiencing their hospitality and their generosity. They’re amazing artists.

MD: Was there any long term thing you took away from working with all these guys?

KT: One of the brilliant things I take away was the friendship with Bic Runga. She’s wicked. I totally adore her. And we wrote together and have stayed in touch and she’s just the best. It’s not that often that you meet someone that you really click with to write and she’s just, she’s awesome. So that was great. And really just being really open to different ways of writing. It was just great to see how people think differently. And also actually both Neil’s son’s Liam and his other son beginning with E and I can’t remember his name.

MD: It’ll come to me I’ll let you know…Elroy.

KT: Elroy, Elroy. And they were just such incredibly vibrant souls and both of them had grown up with that energy and that creative freedom. And it was really very energising to be around the whole family. Good to remember to let your hair and your beard down.

MD: Both Liam and Neil have new albums coming out imminently. Now were you just performing at Sundance Film Festival?

KT: I certainly was, yeah.

MD: How does that fit in with what you do?

KT: Well I have just recently become a little bit more involved in the world of film music. I’ve been writing a couple of songs for end credits of films. And I really, really enjoy writing to a visual and creating music that’s part of something else; not just in and of itself. So the film world has always been attractive to me. Ultimately writing a soundtrack would be a real dream, something I’d love to do. I’m a huge fan of many films that have had a musician do the full soundtrack especially Nick Cave, I think he’s done a couple that have just been brilliant. So yeah that’s a bit of a dream. Also, I’m a very keen skier. So it’s always a very good excuse to get some skiing in while you’re working.

MD: I always worried about musicians being skiers because accidents happen and trees pop up.

KT: I know. I used to worry more. But I worry about it much less.

MD: Have you just been doing singular songs for films so far?

KT: Yeah so far. And I’m about to enter into a project for one of the songs on the new record. And it’s the director Chris Turner who did both the videos for my singles which is Invisible Empire and the other one is called Made Of Glass. And we got a great working relationship together and we decided to make a little short film based around the song Carried from my new record. And that will involve me writing some atmospheric music to go along with it too. So it’s really just branching out and thinking about making some more instrumental music as well as the studio album releases.

MD: When you say your new album is this something new or is it the Invisible Empire album?

KT-Tunstall-Invisible-Empire-_-Crescent-Moon-2013-1500x1500KT: No the Invisible Empire record. It’s still quite new to me. It’s relatively new (laughs).

MD: How did people react to it? That record was a bit of change for you as far as style and mood.

KT: It was a very liberating experience. Very liberating record where I ended up in a different situation with my label. I was basically on a new label. I was on Universal cos they ate EMI. And I ended up on Blue Note records in America. It was very refreshing. I ended up with a team that really just left me completely to my own devices and let me do whatever I wanted. I ended up recording in a way I had wanted to for a long time which was just straight to tape. So it was essentially live performances from start to finish and it really ups your game as a musician. You’ve got to get it right. There’s no fixing mistakes. And so it’s a very natural way of making music. It’s a very quick way of making music if you get it right. And it’s a lot mellower, the record. The songs that I wrote for this last album were certainly more introspective and more down tempo. The album’s all about voice. It’s my first record that’s all about singing.

MD: When you say that, in the past…has your voice changed or has your approach to singing changed?

KT: I think yeah. Yeah I think the attitude behind this latest record is definitely different. Before I was kind of very preoccupied with the whole package of being a rhythm guitarist and being a writer and delivering a punch when I was playing and I kind of lost that need to do that in a way that allowed me to just relax and stop trying so hard. And that resulted in a richer record. It feels like it’s the most honest album I’ve made so far.

MD: And of course it was recorded in Tucson, Arizona which is a long way from London.

KT: (laughs) Yeah, it’s a long way from the rain.

MD: How much does the location weave its way into the recording process?

KT: Yeah I find that very interesting. You choose your location carefully. I do anyway when I’m making the record. The record before was made in Berlin because I was really excited by involving some electronica and taking some influences from that music. So that was perfect for that. And this time it was really just meeting Howe Gelb, who’s the front guy of Giant Sand, an alt country band out there. That was why I went to Tucson because he lives there. We always laugh because he’d always been told because his music sounds like the desert and he would totally rubbish that and say that you had to have that inner desert to make it sound like that. It’s all about the inner desert. I feel that the landscape was a really strong influence. I spent quite a long time out there. It’s just very meditative and it makes you turn and learn. It’s a very peaceful place I think.

MD: And how does the collaborative relationship between you and Howe Gelb work? On the surface it wouldn’t seem like an obvious thing.

KT: No. The Scottish pop star and the old punk. It was really just a kind of personality click that  happened rather than a musical one. Then that made it more interesting in terms that it was so different. We hadn’t actually heard each other’s music at all before we kind of made friends and decided it would be fun to do something together. And so it was very unselfconscious I think what we entered into. We didn’t have any expectations. There were no rules as to how we were going to do anything. I knew that it was going to be good for me to work with Howe because I’d been on such a formulaic roller coaster. Working on a major label. It’s very competitive, being signed to a major. You’re always pitched against whoever’s successful at the time. And I was just getting very tired of that. It just doesn’t make sense to me. To be competitive when you’re making music, it’s just not helpful at all. It was really great to step out of that and not have rules and not have a formula. And Howe was very good at coaxing me out of those habits, especially for the second half of the record. It really stepped outside the structure of stuff I’d done before.

MD: And did you also work with him on something called The Coincidentalist?

KT: I did. I sang on one of the songs on his solo record which was great. I was very pleased to be asked to sing on that song, Lucky, which is great. I loved that song.

MD: So since it has been almost a year since the record are you thinking about what you are going to do next? Are you going to continue to kind of work in this lower key way and style of music?

KT: Yeah I think I need a breather. I feel like I enjoyed making this last record so much. It’s the easiest album I’ve made so far. It came so naturally. I was given so much freedom. It’s kind of given me a taste for even more really. So I want to just percolate for a while and see what comes next rather than pushing it. And I’m very excited about the film stuff and certainly interested in pursuing that and seeing what I can do in that field. But in the mean time I’m very excited to play these gigs.

MD: Oh yes. I think there was some discussion on one of your message board groups that they were afraid you were going to give up music for film music.

KT: (laughs) I don’t know if anyone really gives up making. I’m going to spare myself the embarrassment of retiring. I might just take a holiday for a while.

MD: There was quite a bit of kerfuffle about your personal life went into turmoil last year and  you sold a lot of your assets and you were reported as homeless, which is kind of ridiculous. I’m just curious as to how that worked out for you.

KT: It’s worked out great thank you. You kind of choose how these things go for you. It’s all about your state of mind and your approach. I saw it as a very… I was very grateful for the opportunity that I wanted to change about my life and I ended up in a much better place. So, yeah, I’m very happy and feeling very free.

KT Tunstall will perform at The Studio in Auckland on May 3rd and Bodega in Wellington on May 4th. Click here for more tour and ticket information.